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wheelsmithy SuperDork
9/30/18 10:29 a.m.

Pound for pound, in my opinion, this is the best thing on the interwebs right now. 

dr_strangeland New Reader
9/30/18 3:12 p.m.

Wow, thanks! 


I wanted to say that I really appreciate all the positive feedback, and everyone's comments. I have been inspired by hillclimbing like nothing before. I hope I can convey some of that excitement and passion in my posts.

loosecannon Dork
9/30/18 3:21 p.m.

Hillclimb stuff seems to translate to Autocross well. I look forward to updates and would like to see some video, too

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/1/18 10:13 a.m.

I think suspension compliance and travel is probably more important in hillclimb than autox. 

Drag may be more important - I can tell you that hardtops definitely make a difference in drag, and if you pull the soft top out at the same time there's not a huge weight penalty.

loosecannon Dork
10/1/18 8:57 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

You're probably right but I imagine that a car set up for hillclimb would be pretty good at autocross. Lots of downforce at low speeds and the ability to change direction quickly seem like good autocross characteristics. A dedicated autocross car like mine doesn't have the brakes for hillclimb but my suspension is pretty compliant. I can bottom my splitter out by jumping on the front of the car, it's that soft

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
10/1/18 9:30 p.m.

Yeah, I can see how a good hillclimb car would be good at autox, but I'm not sure it would definitely work the other way around. I'm assuming that speeds are higher in hillclimb but that's because I've always run in fairly confined parking lots.

dr_strangeland New Reader
10/2/18 10:11 a.m.

Well, this car gets autocrossed religiously. I just spent the weekend prepping and running it in the last event of the NWR-SCCA season. It ran beautifully, but I was not on my game and spun on my fastest run. I needed about three seconds over the CP mustang and just couldn't quite get there. The car was perfect though.


I would love to embed YouTube videos, but I can't make it work. It sucks! I have put links to video into my posts but apparently it's not obvious enough.

There are tons of autocross videos of the car in various stages of development, here's one:


AClockworkGarage HalfDork
10/2/18 2:43 p.m.

I don't know that you were off your game. The track was drying out and playing into the CP car's slicks.

loosecannon Dork
10/2/18 8:41 p.m.
dr_strangeland said:

Well, this car gets autocrossed religiously. I just spent the weekend prepping and running it in the last event of the NWR-SCCA season. It ran beautifully, but I was not on my game and spun on my fastest run. I needed about three seconds over the CP mustang and just couldn't quite get there. The car was perfect though.


I would love to embed YouTube videos, but I can't make it work. It sucks! I have put links to video into my posts but apparently it's not obvious enough.

There are tons of autocross videos of the car in various stages of development, here's one:


When on your YouTube page, click on "Share" then copy the link. To add to your post, click on the Link symbol and paste the link in the box. Then type whatever you want it to say in the box above that. Your video link should appear in your post.

dr_strangeland New Reader
10/2/18 9:57 p.m.

Still, that doesn't embed the video, it just provides alternate text for the link. I guess that's better than nothing.


Event #5 of the 2018 NHA season was Hoopa, in northern California. It's the furthest away from me, with a 9+ hour transit, and also the hottest event of the calendar. I was a little reluctant to sign up as a result, but before I could make a decision about whether to attend, the event was canceled due to lack of interest. Next year I'll sign up for Hoopa as early as possible. 

Event #4 was much closer to me, in the Columbia River gorge, less than four hours from Seattle. 



dr_strangeland New Reader
10/2/18 10:38 p.m.

Maryhill 2018: The first chapter


Because the transit to Maryhill was relatively short, we didn't bother with a trailer. The car was going to drive there... and drive back. Let's hope I didn't break it. 


This time there was no last minute thrash. On Thursday evening I loaded up the car with tools, energy drinks, and water sprayer, and headed into the Cascades. It's a fairly straight shot over the mountains to The Dalles, and later in the day the traffic was light. After an overnight at the hotel, I spent Friday morning in the parking lot, doing random setup on the car.

These alignment bolts are a season old, but they had stretched and were moving at Freezeout, so in the trash they went. 


The next item was to raise the rear of the car substantially. The wing was pushing the rear of the car down at least an inch at highway speeds, and the car was in danger of bottoming out, not to mention compromised on suspension travel. I raised the car several turns in the rear, which looked a bit strange at static height, but felt perfect at speed.


Then it was off to the hill itself for registration.



Maryhill is in a gorgeous location, surrounded by giant wind turbines and open range. The road itself is an experimental highway built by a local businessman to promote road building as a way to drive economic progress. It was less of a success than he might have hoped, but it pioneered road building techniques with horseshoe curves and a fantastically constant gradient. It's quite something, and the Maryhill Museum has preserved it and repaved it in recent years. It's a time capsule, and it's wonderful.


The car got through tech without issue, and it was time to head back to The Dalles for some local grub, super hoppy Northwest beer, and  some sleep before practice runs on Saturday.

It was warm, dry, and the forecast was perfect. I was looking forward to a full weekend of runs.


Floating Doc
Floating Doc HalfDork
10/2/18 10:49 p.m.

And I'm looking forward to the next installment!

ValourUnbound New Reader
10/3/18 11:48 a.m.

Maryhill! I've been there.

Or rather, I've been near there. 

I believe this is the same Maryhill that Oregon Trail Rally uses, more or less. The closest I got was across the way (valley?) at the spectator spot right off of 97. The area really is beautiful, albeit a bit eerie after dark with all the windmills blinking.

Can't wait to see/read more.


dr_strangeland New Reader
10/3/18 11:43 p.m.

Yes, my understanding is that the Oregon Trail Rally uses the entire Maryhill Loops road, including the unimproved upper section, which sounds awesome and super sketch all at the same time. Large sections of the road surface are simply missing up there. 


Saturday, Maryhill #1


This is a beautiful piece of pavement, with an utterly constant grade and constant radius corners that flow into one another, and from the upper parking lot you can see it winding like a snake down the tinder-dry shoulders of the Columbia River Gorge. Local entrepreneur Sam Hill (really!) may have given Maryhill an imposing residence to use as a museum, but to me, this road is his real legacy. Closed to vehicular traffic most of the year, this would be a rare opportunity to drive this hundred-year-old masterpiece.


Drivers milled around the pit area, fueling cars and swapping wheels. The paddock was filled with wild builds, almost every SCCA class was represented, and then some.



We were divided into run groups, and I was to run in the afternoon. Ideal, as it meant running during the morning on Sunday, but I was eager to get in the car and take some runs. The sun was up and temperatures were climbing into the 90s.

On Saturday morning, I worked the grid, which is mostly about hustling drivers back to the starting line after they get back down the hill, so we can get as many runs in a possible. Having a golf umbrella keeps the sun at bay, and there's a lot of down-time to look at cars and rehydrate. Finally, morning runs are over, and it's time to wolf down a sandwich for lunch. Then, put on protective gear, and get in the car in the sweltering heat.


I gridded, and before long I was at the starting line, among some of the most eclectic and crazy machinery I'd ever seen at a competitive event.


This was going to be good!


By the end of the afternoon run session, I'd clicked off a decent progression of runs. The car was getting hot, but not dangerously so, and there was a dramatic difference in feel at speed with the downforce I'd added. It was an addictive course. The first corner is a really fast, wide bend that can be taken flat out with enough grip and aero. The car wasn't there yet, and I still had to back off and tap the brakes, but I'm sure that I can get it there. My final run is the fastest, a 2:14.8.


Reviewing the video, it's clear that there's a lot of time on the table. I go too deep into a few corners, and I'm sure that I can get on the throttle earlier after the hairpins, and brake later in a couple places. In all, there's a lot of improvement to be made. 


It was a good day! I didn't get sunburned, the car was in one piece and was running well. Alignment cams weren't moving around, and the car felt dramatically more stable and predictable with the frame rail reinforcements and the roof in place. It felt much less sketchy over rough sections - although it's true that Maryhill has the nicest surface of the hills in the NHA calendar, there are still some bumpy asphalt patches in the most critical braking zones.


Time to head back to The Dalles, where we found icy drinks and various fried nourishment.



It was time for bed. In my mind, all I could see was a winding road heading into a stand of trees, immense wind turbines spinning majestically on the golden slopes of the hill above, a surreal and beautiful scene. 



Sweet dreams.


AnthonyGS Reader
10/4/18 3:11 a.m.

Love Miata’s, loved my 7 years in the pacific NW in the navy.  I loved the scenery, roads, and learned about beer while living there.  I owned a red 92 when I lived there.  I got one of the first test sets of FM springs back in the day and used AGX shocks with them.  I had 16” Koseis and ran 215/45 Azenus when they were new.  I had so much fun in the roads up there.

When I was really young, dad was an south TX officer, probably president.  He organized and did lots of hill climbs on our hill country roads.  I wish I could do them now.  

Wife and I are Maryhill wine club members to boot; gorgeous area.  I wish we could visit more often.

Also over almost 2 decades ago or so FM was looking into a 200 mph Miata build.  I argued with then hardtop or no chance on the pointy Miata board.  They tried convincing me their top down testing showed it possible.  It seems we’ve all learned a lot since then.  I’m not as argumentative, and a hardtop does reduce drag, a lot.  

It’s a pain in the butt, but controlling airflow under the car and in the wheelwells is huge too.  Look under a Ferrari sometime.  

Dad was a good racecar builder back in the day (crew chief at usac, scca, nascar and some dump called le mans too).  Between that and formal education, I’ve learned a few tidbits.  Now I have cars and funds, but almost no free time due to work.  


This thread is great!  I need more.  It may be the key to me making time to mod my beautiful Miata.  Finding a Laguna blue 94 and making it very pretty again was it’s own adventure.  As for stiffness, I already have a roll bar and FM chassis braces that need installed.  I plan on doing the front sub braces under the fenders too.  It’s hard for the suspension to work as intended if the chassis is marshmallowey.



dr_strangeland New Reader
10/8/18 12:42 p.m.

Thanks! I feel like of those things the chassis braces will make the most difference, followed by the other two mods. If you put in a roll-bar, the hillclimbs seem quite relaxed in a stock powered miata. 

After a fairly reasonable night's sleep in The Dalles, it was back to the hill for another day of runs. Sunday was looking to be even hotter than Saturday, and the lack of shade meant golf umbrellas and sunblock were critical safety items. 


Sunday - Maryhill #1


The first thing I noticed were timing sheets from Saturday. I'd run 18th overall. Not terrible for a minimally prepared car with a stock motor, but there was still huge room for improvement. 

It was still fairly cool in the paddock, but that wouldn't last. At least the first few runs would be relatively cool.



Preparing the car consisted of carefully placing a sponsor banner across the top of the windshield.

Now it looked like a race car!

I'd been experimenting with camera placement, and found the nose camera gave me a great view with lots of intake noises. I couldn't see my steering inputs, but I have a camera in the car for that. Watching someone work the controls of a car is interesting, and extremely useful for me to figure out exactly what I am doing in the car, but for compelling footage, sticking the camera a couple of feet above the road seemed hard to beat.

I'd been reviewing my lines and braking points, and had a pretty good strategy when I got in the car. It paid off with a first run of 134.689, 2 tenths faster than my fastest time from Saturday.

Great! Now I just needed to push harder!

Run two was nearly a disaster. I missed a shift at the bottom of the hill, and trying to make up time, I went too deep into the hairpin after the first straight, and had to blow my apex just to keep the car on the road. No ABS meant I had to manage the car right to the edge of the pavement, and by the time I was at the top the timer showed a 137.540. I'd gone slower, a lot slower. Pushing harder wasn't going to get me where I needed to go. 

I took a moment to try and calm my nerves. My hands were shaking and I felt sick. I needed to drive this car home, and if I wanted to run the rest of the season I couldn't afford to put it off the course.


In "Speed Secrets" Ross Bentley suggests that the first thing a driver should work on perfecting is the line. Braking later and getting on the power sooner in the corner come after the line can no longer be improved. So I went back to basics, and decided to keep my braking points conservative, and focus only on cleaning up my lines. 

It worked!

There was clearly plenty of improvement to be had, as my times kept falling. I ran a 134.045, and then a 133.577. We were given the opportunity to take a fifth run, but I declined as the car was getting really hot, and I felt like a 133 was a solid improvement over Saturday. I was ready to get out of the car and take off my helmet and gloves.

Saturday's fastest run: smoother, cleaner, faster.


Today's work assignment was Station A, right after the first corner and most importantly, in the shade.

The afternoon runs went without incident, and it was time to pack up the car and head back into town for a well-deserved pint. The car was still running perfectly, and I was happy with the progress that had been made. I felt like the car could get below a 2:10, and I was going to come back in September and run that time. At least, that was the plan.

Before then, though, I had some improvements to make.

AClockworkGarage HalfDork
10/8/18 1:46 p.m.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

dr_strangeland New Reader
10/8/18 10:05 p.m.

Event #4: Maryhill (August)

Goldendale, WA - August 5, 2018

Best run: 2:13.577

Run progression: 142.544, 139.699, 134.889, 135.004 - 134.689, 137.540, 134.045, 133.577

20th overall (out of 47)

Tires: BFG Rival-S, 245/40/15

Aero front: GV style lip

Aero rear: Bumper cut, APR GTC-300 at 0deg AOA

dr_strangeland New Reader
10/8/18 10:08 p.m.
AClockworkGarage said:

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Heavy is good. Heavy is reliable. And if it doesn't work, you can always hit them with it. 

dr_strangeland New Reader
10/15/18 12:41 p.m.

No updates as I spent the past few days getting ready for and running the car at an autocross event down at Dallesport.



The car was fantastic, but I'm getting detonation at full boost. I'm going to pull some timing, but this is new, so I'm wondering whether I'll have to pull the head and see if there's just a mass of carbon deposits in there, or just build an engine like I was thinking about doing anyway... Either way, I'm very happy with this result.

badwaytolive Reader
10/16/18 2:28 p.m.

Great thread!

Thanks for sharing!

dr_strangeland New Reader
10/23/18 7:46 p.m.

Thanks! I'm really enjoying reliving the summer, personally. And going through about a million photos.

I spent the past weekend fiddling with the tune and autocrossing the car. It has been running great, the more I tweak the tune the better it's been doing. I'm very happy with the way it's been running, on the whole.

But I should get back to the story.


Event #5 - Hoopa

This looks like a really interesting road, with cool scenery and some challenging sections, and with 1160 feet of elevation gain, one of the steeper courses we get to run. It's the hottest event on the NHA calendar, and also the furthest drive for me. This kept me from registering for the event really early in the season, which was a mistake. We will need more interest next year to get this event to happen. Bummer. 

Once again I had a few weeks of extra time to work on the car. It was time to tackle the front aero, and do some other minor upgrades. It was off to Home Depot for me. I needed to build a splitter.

dr_strangeland New Reader
10/23/18 7:53 p.m.

Event #5: Hoopa

Hoopa, CA - July 22, 2018

Status: canceled due to lack of interest

Best run: n/a


Event #6: Bogus Basin

Status: canceled pending new venue

Best run: n/a

Notes: Bogus Basin has not happened for several years, but remains on the calendar pending the availability of a new site

dr_strangeland New Reader
11/23/18 4:41 p.m.

Crunch time at work has been killing me. We just launched the pro version of the tomorrow.me Android app, and I've been heads down just trying to get it stable and feature complete, and trying to catch up to iOS. Whee! I haven't had any extra time to read the forum, let alone compose posts on my thread.



In the meantime, however, I did take a long weekend to put some road shoes on the car and drive it down the Pacific Coastal Highway to Napa and back to Seattle. It was good to just turn off and drive. I didn't really get online, but I did take a few pictures.




Honestly, the car is wonderful on the road. I know that seems crazy, but hear me out.

With the Fox shocks set to 7 clicks from full soft, it's actually surprisingly plush and compliant. The frame rails, roll bar, seam welding and butterfly brace have all helped it feel like a bigger and more capable vehicle. It's not a particularly loud car, but there is a fair amount of rattle and hum, but I'm used to wearing earplugs from before the turbo, and I find it to be a soothing and comfortable place to be. Yes, it smells of heat and brakes and sunblock and hypoid oil, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have a heater and defrost, still. The OMP seats have turned out to be excellent, at least for my frame. I've felt worse after a day at the office than I do after 13 hours in this Miata. 


You might have noticed something new at the front of the car.  

It grew a splitter! (That's cone damage on the endplate, if you're wondering.)


So, I had added rear downforce, and I was very happy with the results. Now it was time to balance the car. I was noticing a lot of noise from the front tires in the video from the front of the car, and this car has always had trouble turning in. Any front downforce I could get, I would be happy with. I looked at the X Prepared rules, and I'm allowed to run a splitter up to 6 inches out from the outline of the front bumper. That's quite a bit of splitter. I actually underestimated how large the blank needed to be, and it's not as big as it should be. I need to build another one, but for now this will do.



It's held up in six places - it bolts to the tabs by the steering rack, and then from the sway bar bracket bolts, and finally in the front from some bumper support points. 


It's 0.5" birch ply. I thought about using a thinner ply but they were just too flexible. This is incredibly tough, and has survived a great deal of abuse already. Since I am in the PNW, I will go with marine ply next time. It has been hard to keep enough paint on it to seal it sufficiently. Still, it's very functional, and I've been happy with the results. 

The endplates are within a few square inches of the legal limit of 100 square inches per endplate. They are also birch plywood, reinforced with aluminum straps. There's an aluminum angle running along the trailing edge for support and acting as a gurney flap. Next revision it will sit on top of the splitter and run all the way across. 


I will say that the front end doesn't push in fast sweepers, at all, the only way to get any push is to take a corner too slowly... at 50+ mph, it just sticks and sticks.

But in the end, it would have to prove itself on the hill.



There have been other upgrades, too.

I finally replaced the ancient stock brake lines with stainless units from 949 Racing, and replaced the fluid with fresh Motul RBF 600.


There was also a set of Hoosier A7s on 15x9 Advantis. I knew I could just fit these and go.


So, those were the modifications I was taking to Maryhill for the final event. The big one. September. The car was bringing a bunch of upgrades. But could I beat my previous time? 

We would have to see. The weather was going to be dry and hot. We booked a hotel in The Dalles, loaded the slicks into the support vehicle, and rolled out.

dr_strangeland New Reader
1/18/19 8:14 a.m.

Maryhill #2: The final chapter

Another hillclimb, another beautiful evening drive down to the Gorge. The car was still street legal for the moment, but hitting my weight targets means I can't keep it that way much longer. I'll miss these transits next year, but those wipers and mirrors and headlights are just too heavy to keep. I think.




It was a typical Pacific Northwest weekend in mid-September: warm and tinder-dry, with a haze of cirrus up high in the sky, nothing but sun in the forecast. The brutal heat of the first event was gone, and I'm pretty sure nobody missed it, although when signing up for work assignments it was clear that the fully shaded first corner was still a plumb assignment. Instead, I picked a station far up the hill, where there was no cover. Umbrellas and sunblock might be mandatory, but the reward would be a panoramic view of the Columbia River valley, with the Loops  cutting upward into the gentle sweep of the hills, a testament to one man's vision of an automotive future, now an interactive museum piece.


Look at this ruler-flat gradient.


To allow vehicles of the time to climb the hill, the maximum gradient had to be strictly limited. To achieve this constant incline, the road was carefully cut into the side of the hill, winding upwards, around and into the folds in the landscape, at once organic and mathematically precise, state of the art engineering that has been obsoleted by other technological advances - the highway that bypasses the old road is just an artless strip of concrete running straight down the hill, made practical by huge improvements in internal combustion engine technology. It works, just like any modern road, and is mostly memorable as a slow downhill slog stuck behind some that motorhome that simply won't pull over and let anyone by.


Maryhill Loops, though, is the opposite of forgettable. I've only driven the road a total of 12 times so far, and yet it's seared into my brain, and every now and then, when I'm daydreaming, it will unspool before me in my mind, one corner after another.


I can't help it.


I dream about this road. If you drove it, you'd understand.



Thursday was spent at the hotel, doing normal hotel things.


Since it was actually supposed to freeze overnight, the slicks came inside. I'm sure the rest of the guests thought we were utterly crazy! I confirmed their suspicions by cutting up some aluminum bar stock and ghetto fabricating some fuel line supports on the porch.


That's better. I know I'm supposed to use the stock supports here, but I had trouble fitting them in place, and now the lines aren't going anywhere. It just feels right to work on a car in a hotel parking lot. At least this time I didn't have to fix the alignment cams - I took the car to Firestone and had it aligned before the weekend. I think they're regretting giving me the lifetime alignment deal.

Yeah, looks legit. They came pretty close to the specs I gave them, although they insisted on a few degrees of toe in. Not ideal, but at least it's easy to drive on the highway now. It feels very planted, with around 3.5f 2.75r in terms of camber and a tenth of toe in front, and zero in the rear.


It was time to head over to the hill and get registered.



We pulled into the pits with plenty of time to spare. The hardcore faithful were already all there, RVs and tab trailers and sketchy hillclimb cars arrayed everywhere across the hayfields. Tech was thorough, but the car passed without issue. I was told to bring a rechargeable extinguisher with a proper expiry date for next year. The one I had was new, but didn't have a date stamp. I'm fine with this, I would like to carry a larger extinguisher anyway, and I'm changing the mounting location for next season as well. If I need to use the extinguisher, I want it to work. It's not a guarantee that my car won't end up a charred hulk - but it's better than praying.



After tech, the car could have stayed at the hill overnight, but I didn't feel right leaving it for some reason. Maybe I had a premonition of things to come, maybe I just didn't want to be separated from my crappy little racecar. Either way, The Dalles was only 20 minutes away, and after a plate of fried catfish and a couple microbrews, it was time for some fitful sleep.



As with autocross, hillclimbs are organized by people that wake up early, very early. In many cases, long before my brain has started working. No matter, the first run would be nice and slow. Saturday was a practice day, right? 'Don't try and break a record on Saturday' was something everyone seemed to be fond of saying to the novices. I was just hoping to get a good feel for the car on slicks. I'd never driven on slicks before. Driving up a hill on a narrow road with no guardrails and a 20 mph speed limit seemed like a great way to learn! Right?



As luck would have it, we were placed into the morning run group. This meant running in the afternoon during the next day, which would likely result in less than desirable air temps, but it wasn't as brutally hot as the first Maryhill event of the season, so I didn't let it bother me too much. Besides... the car wasn't really competitive in class. I was focused on improving on my personal times. Would the upgrades make any difference?


In short: Yes.



The little car and I had our best day of the season, putting down a 2:19, a 2:16, a 2:13 and a 2:11, beating my previous fastest time by almost 2 seconds. I was certain that a 2:09 was in reach, there was time to be had in the bottom section and I was still trying to find the limits of grip. It would have to wait for Sunday, though. Saturday was a success, and despite overheating on the hill (still) the car was running perfectly. I even turned down the boost a few pounds for the day, just to keep things cooler and to force myself to focus on lines instead of times. Looking at the video, I'm happy with my driving, for once.



Morning runs were done, and it was time to wolf down some quality gas station sandwiches, put on sunblock and head back up the hill to our assigned corner station. Red flag? Check. Radio? Check. One full sized dry chemical extinguisher? Check.


I was manning the radio at our station, and as such I was responsible for calling out each car as it passed our station, so hill control could follow the progress of the car and start the next vehicle as soon as practical, or, if a car failed to reach a station, send emergency services to the right place on the hill. Simple enough. The first few cars went by, and I tried to memorize the car numbers as they flashed past our corner. There wasn't a lot of time to get it right.


I was so focused on trying to pay attention to the cars coming up the hill that I didn't even notice when, far below us, the number 28 Camaro quietly launched itself off the outside of the corner at station D. Everyone else at the corner exclaimed in dismay, but by the time I looked up, there was nothing to be seen.

Just an ominous, empty, silent stretch of road.

And then... smoke.



'Red flag!' The radio lit up with chatter. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. The corner workers at Station D had followed the car down the hill, but the radio itself wasn't mobile. The corner stations at Maryhill use VHF single-din radios powered by a car battery. They're powerful, but they aren't exactly portable. What was happening at the crash site was hidden from us by the hillside, but what we could see were billowing clouds of smoke that were getting darker, and thicker, and growing by the second.

The car was burning.


One of our workers decided to run down the course with our fire extinguisher. There wasn't much else to do other than watch and listen to the radio. By now we knew the driver was ok, uninjured, and out of the vehicle.


Also, the hill was now on fire.


Like, really on fire.


Despite the efforts of the course workers, and seven expended extinguishers, the hill was now burning. In hindsight it's not clear what would have helped, even an onboard extinguisher might not have been enough to stop the Loops from burning down that Saturday. The Camaro slid from where it landed all the way down to the bottom of the hill, through hundreds of yards of dry grass, finally coming to rest in a dry streambed.


The issue? A hung throttle.


The corner at station D is much too sharp to take flat out. As the car powered out of the hairpin, it would have been critical to brake or at least lift. Even a few tenths of a second too long on the power would make it very difficult to recover.




Into thin air...


By now, the fire had started to spread, and the wind was driving it down the valley. Hill control had called in emergency services, but Maryhill is pretty remote. The sheriff showed up and promptly stopped us from using the road to evacuate. I'm sure it made sense to them at the time, but now there were dozens of course workers trapped above the fire line, unable to get back down the hill. There was nothing to do but watch the hill go up in flames, helplessly. If the fire moved up the hill, we could be in serious trouble, as there was no other way down. If it moved down the hill, it could easily end up at the pits where all our cars and support vehicles were parked.


A tank truck arrived, but they might as well have tried to put the fire out with a water pistol. By now both sides of the valley were burning, and the fire was approaching highway 97.



We stood around the upper parking lot, wondering how serious the fire was going to get, and thinking about how to shelter in place. Flames raced up the far hillside of the valley, aided by the wind, and within a few minutes the fire line was in reach of the highway. Finally, we got word over the radio: we were to evacuate through the unused top portion of the Maryhill Loops. We would use a section of road that had been paved more than a hundred years ago, and unlike the rest of the road, had not been maintained.


"Let's go!" The course workers piled into the transport bus. The drivers that had made it up the hill before the crash started their cars. One way or another, we were going up the valley. At the top of the road, a sheriff's deputy would be waiting with boltcutters to let us out. Simple enough, right?


I'm going to say that it's pretty amazing that everyone made it safely out of the valley. There were huge sections of roadway that were completely missing, where the surface had fallen away into the valley below. The bus was just barely narrow enough to keep both wheels on the paved surface at once. I hoped I'd have time to jump out of the front door before it went over the side, but if the roadway gave way there wouldn't be a lot of warning. The race cars crept along behind us, picking their way through the potholes. If they high-centered on the broken pavement the situation could get even more complicated. The bus crashed through bushes and small trees that were growing all over the road. On the shoulder lay the carcass of a cow, now nothing but a skeleton and bleached white strands of hide. Abandoned farm machinery from a century ago poked out of the brush. I wondered how many punctures the race cars were going to get.



It probably took us no more than a couple of minutes to get to the top of the road. "They use this as a stage for the Oregon trail rally" shouts the bus driver, maybe to inform us, maybe to reassure us that there wasn't anything large and unmovable under any of the bushes we were crashing through. I didn't care. At this point I would have been fine driving, or even walking back down the road. I felt like a grass fire posed less danger than tumbling down a cliff in a school bus.


The deputy was waiting by the open gate, boltcutters in hand, looking worried, waving us through the open gate. The bus driver wasn't waiting around. There was a chance they would close the main highway if the fire seemed likely to jump it - and then there would be no way to get to our cars, and no way for anyone to move them.


I wished, not for the first time that day, that I had left the keys in the racecar.


By the time we passed the fire, the flames were licking the edge of the highway. Emergency vehicles lined the shoulder.  Smoke poured down the valley on the wind, hiding the pit area. It was impossible to see where the fire line was. It didn't matter. I was getting my car, and getting it out of there. I owed it that much.


At the pits, chaos. Everyone was trying to unblock their vehicles, load their trailers and get their combinations together. The more elaborate camps were now a logistical liability. We'd arrived late, and that meant our pit was right by the entrance, which suddenly seemed very convenient.



The car was still on slicks, but that didn't matter. We threw everything into the support vehicle, and joined the line of vehicles streaming out of the valley.


Safely across the Columbia river, I pulled into at a gas station. It was time to crack open a cheap lager, pick up the car, and start to slowly swap tires. In the distance, smoke drifted from the still-burning valley. An acrid stench hung in the air. Exhaustion started to creep over me.

The season was over, and my car was still in one piece. And so was I.


Suddenly, the only thing I wanted in the whole world was a shower.

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