For the first time in ages, I'm nervous about a track day. It's Texas World Speedway. I'm back in a tail-happy 944 just like my old one that got t-boned here. Even though I've personally never driven this track, I'm still intensely afraid of deja vu.
Anyone who downplays or shrugs off getting back on the wagon after a major on-track oops can please eversokindly eat my shorts.
I know, deep-down, it must be done. Texas World Speedway is probably not long for this world. The last dates they're scheduling for now are in May and sure enough, weekends are booked nearly solid 'til then. There are talks of a replacement track in the works. Finally, people just love this place. I can't just not drive it. It feels like I'm missing out on an essential piece of track dork knowledge: the experience of having driven TWS.
Then there's the principle of the matter. This track ate my car, so I must confront that. Technically, it was the drivers on the track who caused my car to turn into a big Gulf blue banana. In my head, though, it's somehow associated with the strip of pavement that really didn't do anything wrong except be located in College Station. That's completely illogical, but still a thought that runs through my head.
Point being, I must go back and reattempt to drive this track. The very last HPDE here that will be hosted by my region of the Porsche Club of America opened for registration, so I jumped on it. They're an extremely friendly group with a reputation for decent instruction, other people with 944s will be there, and it should be (barring any catastrophes) a good shake-down before the car runs at LeMons in November.
I can't shake the nerves, regardless. My car, of course, decided to make it worse.
I've had a lot more time to just go drive the thing lately. If I have a spare moment, I should work in a handful of laps. I'm dreadfully slow in my own car, and that just won't stand.
Finally, I'd worked down to its last bit of gas. Both 944s I've had tend to be very tail-happy as the fuel tank goes empty. This 1984 944 is another crapcan racer rolling on the original suspension from my original 1983 car with all of its glass except the windshield removed. Judge Phil called its springy, high ride "comfy."
The surprise!oversteer issue with low fuel got so bad that the previous owner of my first car attached a 45 lb. weight in the tire well to weigh the rear end down with the hatch gone. We removed that weight because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and promptly binned the car in the first driver's stint of the race. Oops.
I suspect this oversteer issue is exactly what happened to the first car: it went light in the rear, the handling characteristics of the car had changed dramatically from what the driver was then used to, and it spun.
I spun the car twice in two laps when I took it out that day. If I wanted deja vu, oh boy, did I ever get it. I've been getting better at catching slides when the car gets out from under me, but these were very sudden and more of a snap.
Panicked pleas on Porsche forums ensued: how did the rest of you crapcan 944 racers deal with the handling issue? Several folks kept the glass hatch on, others made sure they ran with better suspension and the general consensus was to lower the rump or weigh it down somehow.
I didn't have time for any of these fixes this week, so I filled the car back up to test and see what was going on with it. I'd noticed a chunked tire on the left front—the tire that would have been loaded both times I spun. I couldn't tell if that was damaged before or after the spins, so I went out with over half a tank of gas to test.
It was the low gas. The car did okay even on borked tires. There was a little vibration, but I really had to manhandle the car to get the rear end to step out with a little over half a tank of gas.
With short thirty minute trackday sessions in my future, I figured I'd keep the tank over half full with no problems whatsoever. I mean, it lasted through LeMons in March by keeping the tank full, right? Right.
Still, these spins didn't help my worries about running TWS in a 944. There are walls and more cars to spin into there. I could easily do exactly what my first driver did, and then I'd have the guilt of wrecking my LeMons car before the race.
So, a point of order: track days have a heavy emphasis on safety. There are always a lot of street cars, and everyone wants to go home in one piece. Accidents are freak occurrences. They happen, but perhaps I should be worried about more likely scenarios like a zebra running across the track.
I'd been tinkering with and refreshing the car lately, too. "One of your fans doesn't work," mentioned the tech who did my track inspection. Okay, the other fan still works, though. This should be no big deal.
Nope. I wanted to do a few laps before I put the car on the trailer since I'd been working on so many things. Sure enough, the coolant boiled over in the parking lot when there was a bit less air running through the radiator. The oil light came on when revs dropped past a certain point, too.
Oh, and I was so stressed out that I couldn't find third gear a couple times. My shifter has a little slop in it and sometimes, if you accidentally grab it and push it to the side of where the gear is, NOPE. Can't find third. It's a gentle reminder to calm down, but talk about bad timing.
I asked the guy who sold me my last 944 to help diagnose the issue. I wasn't sure what was wrong, and at this point, I've got a peeing 944 and I'm holding back tears because I can't just show up with a car that's going to be a perpetual menace. I'm stressed out, I hadn't had time to grab lunch yet and it was already 4 in the afternoon, and I just wanted some lunch and a nap with Fluffy Bunny—and maybe to go back in time and punch whoever invented watercooling for engines in the face, too. My broken car was too much. Just too much.
According to the previous owner, the oil light issue was apparently normal. That's what happens when there's not enough power going to the oil pump. Don't lug the engine, stupid. Shift down.
We ran a couple other laps to test, eating more daylight. The 944's water temperature was fine on track, but quickly went up whenever I pulled off the track. It never went up so high as to overheat, but it certainly boiled the coolant over pretty quick whenever I just pootled around the paddock. Sure enough, one missing fan makes that much of a difference.
I'm going to see if I can avoid idling the car for very long this weekend, just to keep it on track where there's more air going through the radiator to cool it. It drives wonderfully on track, with fuel over the rear end.
But yeah: this is the first time I've been this nervous about a trackday that I can ever remember. My first trackday was fine—it was at Harris Hill where there's not much to hit, and I was still on a "Yay! I can do this? They're letting me do this. I can't believe I can do this. YAY!" high. Even Circuit of the Americas, where there are very expensive slices of wall to hit, was not bad. The things to hit are far away, and I was in a car that I knew worked reliably: the Lancer. Not one of my hooptie 944s.
I'm staring down an experience that ate my car this weekend, and punching it in the balls. Wish me luck.