Tuesday, September 30, 2014

MRLS Trip - Part 2: Miatas at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

I've decided I'm going to separate the blog from the trip into 3 basic parts to make it easier to write and organize.  Part 1 will be the trip to Monterey, part 2 will be the actual Miatas at MRLS event coverage and part 3 will be the trip home.  Part 3 was very eventful! 

Low-res pics from the event are on this page below. I'll slowly be editing and adding my favorites to the website as time permits.  High-res car shots and MRLS photos I've edited so far are in my Automotive GalleryHigh-res landscapes I've edited so far from the trip are in my Landscape Gallery.   I took over 700 photos over the course of the trip, so it may take me a little longer than I'd like to go through them all. 

MRLS Trip Part 2 - Miatas at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
As with most adventures, Friday started out with a fuel stop for caffeine and a pastry. Oh, and we got fruit and water for the rest of the day too. Rick and I met up with the Flyin' Miata group so we could join the caravan to Wolf Hill at MRLS bright and early.  The organizers had saved us a prime spot on the grid. For the Miata's 25th Anniversary celebration, MRLS was trying to break the record for a Miata gathering by spelling out "MX-5 25" with actual Miatas. Over 1200 cars showed up for the record attempt and photos.  

Wolf Hill was dusty and hot.  All the work gone into detailing the cars was gone in mere moments, but no one was really concerned as Miata after Miata of all shapes and sizes rolled into the field.  Almost every conceivable Miata variable was represented from insanely modified race car, to slammed street sweeper sand even show quality stock cars from every generation.  I tried my best to take a good cross-section of photos, and even a panoramic from the bottom of the hill, but my camera couldn't do a shred of justice to the massive gathering in front of me. It was an odd sight.  Once the massive Miata gathering was arranged, helicopters arrived to take the arial photos and footage of the “MX-5 25” spelled out across the dusty hill-side.  Mazda capped off the afternoon with a quick drive by of Miatas from every generation, including the newly unveiled 2016 ND Miata.  

I spent most of Saturday and Sunday hanging out with the FM crew in the paddocks and helping them with customers at their booth.  The Miata scene is an interesting mix of all ages and demographics.  Out of all the car shows and events I’ve been to, the Miata fans seem to be some of the most humble and accommodating. It was great to get the chance to share some of FM’s magic with the crowds, answer questions, and talk about the many modifications that could be done to the iconic little car.  FM had a total of 7 cars from their fleet present: Keith Tanner’s Targa Miata, “Whoosh":- A turbocharged NA, “Igor”- a turbocharged NB, an Exocet kit car, the “Catfish” kit car, “Betty”- a V8 powered NC, and of course “Nancy”- the supercharged NC Miata we had driven across country from Colorado. Most of these cars were present only for show at the booth, but Igor, the Exocet and the Targa car were all going to see some track duty.

Sunday morning I learned a very important lesson:  “ALWAYS bring a helmet to the racetrack”. I knew I wasn’t driving the track and wasn’t planning on getting any track time at the event, so I left my helmet at home to save room in the trunk for camera gear and essentials.  However, fate was on my side and I was able to borrow a helmet from a very kind volunteer, which gave me the chance to ride along in two track sessions. I think from now on I will adopt the "Always bring your helmet… JUST IN CASE" policy any time I am going to the track.  ANY track.  

My first ride was with the always generous Bill Cardell, owner of Flyin’ Miata, in “Igor”. I’ve actually been lucky enough to get some track time in Igor at this year’s FM Summer Camp, so I can tell you from first-hand experience…. it is an absolute blast to drive!  Bill gave me what he modestly called “the slow tour” of Laguna Seca.  This was my first time on a “real” race track, and any intimidation I had before we left quickly turned to pure smiles.  I think a good term for it would be Giddy. I thought this was the highlight of the trip and the greatest thing I had experienced in a car all year…. until we got back to the paddock.  As I walked back to the FM booth, Keith Tanner shouted “Grab a helmet and get over here!”  This would be exciting!

Keith’s pride and joy is a 1994 Miata that he has raced across the country, even competing in 2 Targa Newfoundland races.  This 570 hp V8 beast can barely be called a Miata.  As we entered the track and hit the first corner, the Miatas seemed to scatter in fear from the sheer noise of the massive V8.  Keith was all smiles as he playfully guided the Martini themed cruise-missile through the track with the skill and confidence of a professional racer. We were obviously the fastest Miata on the track.  My face hurt from smiling as we roared past EVERYTHING on the straight aways.  “This is like the greatest video game EVER!” I remarked at one point, to which Keith just smirked and replied “I have  Allllllllll the cheat codes.” Whenever Keith would see a competitive car in front of us, a subtle change would come over his face that reminded me very much of a shark about to snack on a baby seal.  This very focused and intense gaze would last until we had passed whatever obstacle was holding us up, then his usual smirk would return. He is a very competitive guy, but it’s all in good fun.

We got back to the paddocks and my face was frozen in a grin that I couldn’t hide if I wanted to.  I had gotten TWO amazing ride-alongs on one of the greatest tracks in America.  The only thing better would have been to drive it.  Maybe next year.

I had walked away from this experience knowing one other truth…. I MUST HAVE A RACE CAR.  Some how.  Some way.  I NEEEEEEEEEEEED it.  

Things had slowed down at the FM booth, so I decided I had to get some photos before leaving. I walked around the edge of almost the entire track, taking photos and watching the constant stream of Miatas fight for dominance in every corner.  Unfortunately, I needed to leave a day earlier than the rest of the crew to make sure I was home in Grand Junction Monday night.  After taking a quite a few photos and saying my good-byes, I spent a few moments thanking Teri Cardell, one of FM’s owners, for letting me tag along.  This trip was the highlight of my summer!

I was losing daylight, and needed to get on the road, so with one last look over my shoulder at Laguna Seca, I revved up Nancy and hit the interstate for the first day of the trip home.  Little did I suspect the surprise Mother Nature had in store for me Monday…

Rick Giving Nancy a bath before Miatas at MRLS
 BillGiving Betty a bath before Miatas at MRLS
 The Monterey invasion!
 Record Breaking Miata Gathering at Wolf Hill MRLS

Entering MRLS for the first time...

 Goodwin Racing Miata
 FM Catfish Kit car
 Our View of the Paddocks
 Ready for business.

 Mike and Rick holding down the fort!
 Pretending to be a photographer...