Eagles Canyon Raceway Report
As I mentioned in my report in the December Ragtop, CVAR was to hold the first ever sanctioned race at a brand new road course called Eagles Canyon Raceway. The pre-opening publicity for the track told a story of a state of the art race facility in the making, with a design produced with the help of a Formula 1 consultant. I couldn’t miss that opportunity. Our eldest daughter Jennifer lives in Arlington and she agreed to allow us to bring our Labrador, Gracie for the weekend so we avoided both boarding and hotel costs for the weekend. The commute to the race track was a little long but it worked out, well almost.
The track is northwest of Denton near a little town called Slidell. Most people have heard of the Slidell on IH10 in Louisiana but there is one in Texas too. Based on the road kill I expected Slidell to be the home of the Skunks but they are the Greyhounds. Nostradamus must have studied there because the school motto is “On Track and Leading the Pack”. The school district must cover a large portion of Wise County because there was not much else in Slidell.
The race track is a work in progress. As you drive in the entrance you are well below the track level with a massive dirt fill on your left. From that vantage point it looks more like a landfill. The racers paddock area is split into two areas, one up the hill by the grid and HQ building and another down in the “flats” below the dirt pile. We were told that the upper paddock area was full so we hunted out a nice area big enough for 3 Triumph’s and trailers. We were pleasantly surprised to find wide paved access roads and a packed gravel parking area in place. We had arrived on Friday morning and we were early enough to find a spot where we could park the cars on the pavement. The other two Triumphs, Larry and Tom Young in a TR3A and Bobby Whitehead in a GT6 arrived later in the day.
My plan was to come on Friday to take advantage of the extra practice day. I needed to learn the track and I also desired to cut down on the weather related risks that come with racing in December. Imagine having your race weekend ruined by wind, rain, ice or possibly snow. CVAR, like most vintage racing organizations, has a pricing structure that allows racers to race one or two days on the weekend and for an extra charge they often provide a practice day. For the big national events, like the ones the SVRA holds in Mid Ohio, Road America and other famous tracks, the practice day is on Thursday with 3 days of racing. Those events have almost double the CVAR entry fee. With CVAR I normally pay $200.00 for the weekend and it was another $100.00 for the practice day. Not to worry, I saved on the hotel and kennel bills!
Practice sessions with CVAR are simple. All open wheel cars are on the track at one time for a half hour and all closed wheeled cars follow, continuing throughout the day. Usually practice days have limited participation and people are off the track making adjustments to their cars limiting the on track numbers somewhat. Not this time. With a brand new track, this practice day was over-subscribed. Everyone had the same idea, come Friday to learn the track and everybody that came went out every session that they could.
As soon as we unpacked I headed out onto the track with some 40 cars ranging from Corvettes to Minis. I followed some guys that had made the earlier session and took the first lap slowly, gradually picking up the pace. It was very windy and the track was dirty from the dust-up and the new pavement lacked grip. Brand new pavement is grainy with gaps between the pebbles called voids. With use the pavement will compress and smooth out a little and grip will improve. We had dirt filling the voids and as a result the track was very slick. That is what you get with a new race track.
My first impression was that the track was very challenging. Most people know what the term “off-camber” means. Eagles Canyon is loaded with turns that fall off to the outside. You turn left and the track falls off to the right. It must be a Formula 1 design thing. By the end of the day Friday most people were commenting that the track was challenging but they often used a different word, scary. I agreed.
I’ll try and describe a lap around Eagles Canyon for you. We start by lining up two by two as we come around the final turn leading us up an uphill front straight with family and friends watching from second story observation deck of the main HQ building. You take the green flag just as the straightaway crests the gentle slope and you drop downhill into a braking zone to prepare for a quick off-camber right followed immediately by a silky left turn going back uphill. If nobody is entering the track from the poorly located pit entry you move all the way to the right and you are full throttle uphill toward the first of four pairs of left hand turns. This set is just mildly off camber but during the Saturday morning practice, in the rain, a Corvette went off into the future grassy run-off area causing a course clearing black flag. It was unsafe to continue with the risk of somebody following him in and he was mired in the mud, but I digress.
After completing turns 3 and 4 we head downhill to a particularly nice complex of turns 5 and 6. Without being on the track it is hard to explain but you move to the far left side as you start down hill into 5 then you move to the middle of the track and dip down into a gully to prepare for 6. As you start uphill you try to set a late apex because you want to complete this uphill right-hander and wind it up for the uphill straight that follows. Before you know it you have crested and you’re in a down hill braking zone which is hard to judge. After braking it you navigate a second set of left hander’s. The first one of this pair is a little camber but the second one opens up to lead you onto the longest straight on the track. The track is a little bumpy here and will probably end up being repaved.
The back straight ends in a 90 degree left turn which goes up and over a rise, followed by a downhill off-camber right hand sweeper reminiscent of the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. This pair of turns, 9 and 10, would be a joy if it was flat or on-camber but as designed it is the definition of scary. It will probably get better after a racing groove develops, but for now the row of hay bales off to the left on the dropping terrain reminds you to behave as you sweep to the right and course toward another downhill braking zone. Another pair of left-handers awaits but if you can get the braking right these two are great fun, and you better get it right because you must now tackle an uphill right hand carousel turn. Make a mistake here and you lose plenty of time.
Once you get up that hill you are all out to the final pair of lefthanders leading back to the front straight. You are looking eyeball level at a massive wall of hay bales which just happen to protect you from crashing through and landing in that lower paddock area. You need to brake as late as possible to get the most out of the final straight and then complete 2 turns while setting yourself up for a good run down the front straight. If you are worrying about the hay bales you may blink, lose your rhythm and get a slow start down the front straight.
That’s a lap around Eagles Canyon. I did quite a few on Friday but I noticed that the car had started missing. I knew the battery needed charging so I borrowed a generator hook-up from Pinnacle Motorsports. The track does not have electric service in the paddock as of yet. After a good charge over lunch I check the car over in preparation for the next session and I found the real cause of the miss. The rear SU float bowl mounting bolt had sheared off and the bowl was hanging by the jet tube. Talk about messing with the mixture! Truth be told it was an almost disaster. During that session I was black flagged for dumping fuel on the track. I knew that I had filled the tank to the very brim and under that condition I can spill a little fuel out the overflow tube. The workers checked my fuel cell and hoses for leaks and gave me the all clear. What none of us knew was that the fuel was dumping out the SU overflow. Fortunately it dumps behind the right front wheel well away from the header.
The bolt that holds the float bowl on an HS6 fits through the bottom of the bowl and has a 3/8” shoulder with a 1/4” course thread. It’s an odd combination compounded by the special rubber washer that isolates the engine vibration from the float bowl. I didn’t have a spare of the specialty bolt so I did a session with a ¼”unshouldered bolt holding it in place while securing the rubber bushing behind a flat washer. Due to the lack of a shoulder I had to tighten the bolt up very snug. I was looking for a sense of security. I didn’t want the float bowl to come off again. One session with this arrangement was enough. I had a serious power loss problem caused by the fuel frothing. With the extreme elevation changes the car actually died on track at one point while it tried to run on one carburetor. Another time, coming back up to turn 6 it slowed so dramatically that I almost got hit from behind by an Alfa coupe.
I called it quits for the day and decided to find a proper solution. After scouring the pits, Jeff Sloan of British Auto Specialists in Fort Worth put me in touch with Byron from Sports Car Warehouse in Arlington. He was sure he had one and he promised to wait for us to get there. The HS6 carburetor was not used in many cars. I think it was one year in the TR4A, some Jaguars and a lot of Volvo’s. I felt very lucky when after an hour of hunting Byron located a proper bolt. Repairs took less than 10 minutes on Saturday morning. We had three sessions in the rain on Saturday and the track was even scarier. As the day progressed I started worrying about my car. At first I thought it was just the slick track. Every time I tried to put down the power it would seem to spin the tires. I run a Detroit Locket and I was concerned that the right rear wasn’t locking. Other drivers were complaining about not being able to put down the power so I accepted it at first. By the last session of the day the real problem was clear; a slipping clutch. Gradually the clutch started acting like a centrifugal clutch while shifting; it would take a little while to spin up to speed. Once engaged it would hold its grip, but with the elevation changes there was no way to run this track without gear changes. For the last session on Saturday the car really didn’t want to get moving from the hot grid. I was parked uphill and it slipped quite a bit, but once on track it got me through the race.
Sunday was a whole other story. The rainy weather broke and was replaced with a cold wind. Due to the condition of the clutch I had planned to miss the morning warm-up but I mistimed the drive in from Arlington and missed the morning race session as well. I forgot that the warm-up session schedule called for combining groups and the races started earlier than I expected. I viewed this as not so bad because the track was still trying to dry up and with only one race left I could abuse my clutch until it cried uncle. That happened very quickly under racing conditions. Trying to keep up in the dry I abused the living daylights out of it and all of the sudden I had almost no clutch. I was lucky to be able to drive off the track and when the workers stopped me to ask what happened I couldn’t get it to move. A little push and I was headed downhill to the lower level paddock. I hoped that a little cooling down would give me a little bit of clutch to drive on the trailer, but there was nothing. I can rev it up all I want and it wouldn’t move a bit. Luckily there were plenty of pushers around to help load it on the trailer.
You may be wondering how one can destroy a clutch. The first pressure plate I had in this car was an AP Racing clutch. It operated more like an on-off switch. With the close ratio gear set in the transmission and a camshaft that doesn’t “come-in” until 4,000 RPM it took a lot of slipping to get the car to move. Loading on the trailer was very touchy, slip-sliding away. I’ve since read that it is advisable to get a winch for loading and that is why you see people pushing racecars around the paddocks in most racing series. I recently replaced the pressure plate with a stock TR6 plate but did not replace the disc. I suppose I could have looked up the thickness spec for a clutch disc and measured it but I wasn’t that smart. It looked OK!
Well that’s it. The racing season is over and the car is parked until the end of February. Everything is in working order short a clutch job, and that is minor in the larger scheme of things. 2008 should be a great racing year in CVAR. For the February race we are going to have at least 5 Triumphs on hand at TWS, my TR4A, a TR4 from Missouri, a GT6 a TR6 and a Spitfire. Come and see us February 23rd and 24th.