It all started with one question: “Hey, did you guys see that Western Endurance Racing Championship is doing a six-hour Enduro at Miller?” Next thing you know, we’re loaded up in three cars with our HPD Honda Fit in tow, making the 12-hour drive out to Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. By the way, do you know how Tooele is pronounced? That was one of the small debates we had during our trek, along with why hamburgers are called hamburgers when they clearly don’t have any ham in them. There is a lot of knowledge to be shared when you’re on the road with five of your buddies for such a long drive.
Before long, we found ourselves on the final stretch, cruising through the back roads of Utah, counting down the miles until we reached the track. After one close encounter with a local sheriff, who had some interesting opinions he shared about Larry Miller’s auto dealerships, and we soon found ourselves pulling up to the world class facility. Luckily, the sheriff let our team captain off with just a warning, thanks to the quick wit of his co-driver. I have nothing against Buttonwillow or Willow Springs. They’re great tracks, and we’ve all spent many hours trying to master their curves, but as soon as Miller comes into sight, you can’t help but feel the excitement.
We made the most of our weekend there. Three drivers and three crew members practicing on Friday, sprint races on Saturday and Sunday, and of course, the enduro on Saturday night. This is our first year as a team racing our Honda Fit. A rag-tag group from Honda Performance Development, we were finally able to convince our bosses to give us a car to race. It wasn’t an Indycar or sports car that we’re used to working on, but a B-Spec Honda Fit. We converted the car to PTF/E3 car for NASA and have been campaigning it most of the year.
This was our first endurance race, and we came to find out that this was also the first NASA Western Endurance Racing Championship at Miller, their first six hour endurance race, and the first ever night race at Miller. It truly was a weekend of firsts, and an exciting one at that.
We decided to take the opportunity to work on pit stops and driver changes, something we found we definitely needed to practice. Having never done them before as racers, there were a lot of small things that seem like they would be easy to do, but during the race they suddenly were a lot harder to get right. Then there was the track, the 3.06-mile outer loop had every type of corner you could want. Wide-open-throttle sweepers, tight decreasing-radius turns, deceivingly wide-exit turns, tight twisty sections. It took a while to learn how to get around there fast — especially when driving a small mini-van.
After the practice and sprint race sessions, we were downloading data, looking at videos, comparing lines and, of course, claiming bragging rights over the fastest lap. Everything a real racer wants to do when sharing a car. We certainly weren’t driving one of our ARX sports cars, but we felt every bit as into the track as those pros surely do.
The race held a lot of excitement. Heavy winds came through, creating dust storms that brought visibility down to near zero at times. Together with our pals at Team Honda Research West in their Acura ILX, we circled the track, at one point calling in rain on one side of the track and dust storms on the other side. As night fell, we continued carving up the track as fast as we could, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to set new fast laps, and trying to lasso every ES car that blew by us in a fury of sound and light.
We had no delusions of coming away on top in our class. The car is not built up to spec, and we just wanted the practice. As the hours ticked by, we saw the field slowly dwindle. Sixteen cars started the race, and as midnight approached, we were one of only 10 remaining. As the final minutes started ticking away, we all felt a renewed sense of energy and excitement as we watched our car make its final laps. WERC race director, Karen Salvaggio was rolling by on her four-wheeler with a smile on her face, obviously feeding off the excitement we were all so glad to share with her.
Finally, that white flag came, and everyone made their way out to the hot-pit wall to wait for the checkered. When it finally flew, cheers went up as all the crews and racers welcomed their drivers. We made it! A 12-hour drive from home, sleeping in tents at the track in heavy winds, eating off a tiny Foreman grill for three days straight, practices, sprint races, six hours of endurance racing and a feeling of joy and accomplishment that can only come from giving it your all, pushing your limits, and coming out in one piece. That’s what NASA’s WERC is all about.
Thank you to everyone at NASA, WERC and Miller Motorsports Park for putting on such a great event. We can’t wait for next year. 12 hours, anyone?
|Honda Research West1
|No Points Agha