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Viper Days at Putnam Park
Dan Drives a Road Course
Aug 10, 2008
The Viper Club of America has a racing school for their
members which travels to many track across the U.S.
during the year.  It is called
Viper Days and a champion-
ship takes place in various categories for those drivers
who attend all the events.  This weekend, they were in
Indiana at
Putnam Park, a 1.77-mile road course located
30 miles south-west of Indianapolis.

I purchased a Dodge Viper in June and had barely driven
it.  It is misery putting around town behind a mini-van going
40 mph!  I had only had a few fun excursion to the country
in it.  So, I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by.

I went to bed really late the night before and slept horribly,
sweating and awakening every half hour.  Perhaps I was  
nervous about today's event.  I've raced go-karts, drag
raced, auto-crossed and driven stock cars and Formula
Fords on an oval.  I had never been on a road course
before.

Friday was a test and tune day for the pro drivers.  
Saturday and Sunday were classes and driving.  However,
I skipped the training classes and driving on Saturday.  I
was the only person to just show up on Sunday.  I did not
know what to expect.  All I knew was that I had to wear
long sleeves and bring a helmet.  
I was surprised by all the big trailers and rigs and all of
the professional looking race cars and gear.  I would
soon find that there were 4 different groups that were
identified by a color.  I was in group green, which was for
beginners. There was around ten of us.

I showed up late and missed the drivers meeting.  But
no worries, everyone there was super helpful and quick
to help me get going.  

Down at the track,  I was handed a driving manual for
later perusal, some big numbers to stick on my car, a
track map and someone stuck some radio beacon
thing in my car.  

Next I headed over to tech inspection.  That went pretty
quick and the guy gave me some helpful tips.  Luckily my
car passed. They were in a big hurry to get me caught up
with everyone and the guy let me store my stuff in his
race trailer.  I had brought a cooler of drinks (non-
alcoholic!), my GPS, cell phone and camera.  I also took
out my tool kit, and my floor mat.  

I was assigned a car instructor.  His name was Dave.  
We piled into his low slung Corvette, which was shod in
slicks, and got fastened in with his 5 point safety harness.  
With a radio device in my helmet, we could talk back and
forth.  We headed out onto the track during a "white"
session.   He was going to show me the racing line.

We screamed down the front straight.  I glanced at the
speedo and it said 120.   We came over a hill and there
was this  90-degree right hander.  I was pressed hard
against my belts as he braked hard for the turn.

We screamed through the course and you could hear the
tires shredding.  I was holding on tight.  I was wondering
if we were about to flip over.  He assured me we were
not.  After several laps, I began to feel kind of sick to my
stomach, which is extremely unusual for me.  I think it
was because I was looking straight down at the track in
front of the car and not out at the general view.  Afterward
I developed a pain in my stomach that lasted the entire
morning.  Once I figured out I should loosen my belt, I
was fine the rest of the day.  I guess you need looser
clothing when you're racing.

To be honest, what I had really expected was to go out by
myself and drive my car around this track at speeds I've
taken the car on some country roads, which to me would
be a safe reasonable speed on a track - nothing too hard
on the tires or brakes.  I also figured that most Viper
owners would be old rich guys who would be going kind
of slow.  I guessed I'd be passing people and wishing
they'd get out of my way.

To my surprise, they were going so fast that I began
thinking of turning tail and going home!  Our speed was
way beyond what I'd ever done though turns.  The
instructor happened to tell me about taking a girl out
yesterday for this and she chickened out and left.  I'm
glad he said that as it made my macho side kick in and I
decided to give it a shot.

The track is out in the country and is picturesque.  It was
a wonderful day weather-wise.  Putnam Park is a nice
facility.  Its safe too as most of it has a lot of runoff areas
and there are a lot of corner workers, an ambulance, etc.  
There are ten turns; 8 right-handers and 2 left-handers.  
There are also berms.

Before I knew it, my group was out there running and I
was still sitting there in the paddock!   I would end up
only getting in 9 laps.  My instructor got into my
passenger seat, put on his gloves and helment and
hooked my helmet into his helmet intercom, and off we
went.  He wears these long leather gloves for protection
in case of an accident.

Now that I was behind the wheel, I felt much more
comfortable about going fast.  I just put my faith in
Dave's advice and followed his instructions.  I kept
getting faster each lap and the car continued to stick.  
My first lap was 1:47:641 and my last lap of the first
session was 1:38:499.  I quickly found that the car (and I)
could handle the speed, and we were flying!

No sooner than I had gotten finished and parked in the
paddock, I had to run over to the tower for a class.  I then
saw the guys I was running with and discovered
I was the
old guy!  There were even a couple teenagers there! The
class instructor, Skip, kept me afterwards.  He quickly
told me about the weak points mechanically on a Viper
and what things I should consider upgrading first.  

Dave and I was soon out on the course again for the
second session.  This time my first lap was 1:41:718
and my last lap was 1:36:179.  This time I was able to
run the whole half hour and I did 15 laps.  I finished
around noon time.

There was a big break after that for me.  I stopped by the
snack bar and bought a hamburger, then headed over to
where Dave, his wife, and his friend were hanging out.  
An hour-long Viper race started and we went over to sit
in the stands and watch that.  

None of my friends showed up today, so I didn't get any
video or photos of me driving full-tilt boogie.  In case any
of them ever read this, let me tell you that you're all
LAME!!!  Anyway, I took my little pocket camera and
snapped the shots you see on this page.

I got back on the track around 3:45.  I got my lap time
down to 1:34:178, when I noticed my gas tank was
empty!  I exited the track on lap 8.  I had just filled the
tank this morning.  I soon found out I did have gas, and
that the g-forces were making it look like it was empty.  
I decided to play it safe and I headed over to the gas
pump.  They had 104 octane unleaded!  Unfortunately
it was $9/gallon.  They only take cash and I only had
twenties, so I put in $40 worth.  My car only gets 9
mpg on the highway, and probably 4-5 mpg here, so I
figure I was paying  at least $2 a mile.

There was a Corvette Z06 that was in my group, and
we had some sparring.  There was also a Cadillac XLR
Roadster in my group.  I passed this guy numerous
times as well as a Viper.  I also let several faster Vipers
pass me.  My instructor seemed impressed at how fast
I was learning.  He'd ask me what I did wrong here and
there and also if I heard my tires telling me I was on the
edge of adhesion.

Session four began at 5:10pm.  I turned a 1:34:815 my
first lap and I worked that down to a 1:32:514.  It is a nice
feeling knowing when you hit the apexes just right and
you get through fast and smooth.  These cars are
amazing!  The grip is fantastic, even with street tires
(Michelin Pilot Sports.)  I must have scrubbed at least
5000 miles off those tires today.  Seeing as how they
are $1800 a set, it is kind of expensive.  Oh!  I didn't
even do any shifting once I got up to speed, I just left it
in 4th gear for the whole session.  It had the torque to
pick me up from the slowest corner.  It was very exciting
flooring the car down the main straight, hitting 120 mph,
jumping on the brakes for a few seconds, releasing, then
turning hard for turn one .  It was also a little unnerving.  
You just had to put your faith in the car.  I had not had
this car checked out when I bought it and I had been
especially concerned about how the tires and brakes
would perform.  The car worked flawlessly all day!

There were about 4 times during the day that I had close
calls and almost went off the track.  It seemed most
people in every group had an off track excursion during
the day, but not I.  These were thrilling moments;
entering a turn too fast or turning in too soon, and then
barely saving it!   Ah, I have such wonderful car control.

I was relaxed and not nervous, yet driving these beasts
at full blast for a half hour at a time does put a strain on
your system.  There's the concentration involved, the
g-forces and trying to keep yourself planted in your seat
when you only have a regular seat belt.  And of course
you're worried about losing it at some of the tougher
corners.  I also noticed how important concentrating is,
for when I would have a conversation with Dave,  or
when some passing took place, a moments lapse of
concentration slowed my pace considerably for a few
corners until I got back into focus.

Another exciting moment for me happened when I let
this green Viper pass me as we headed into turn 8 -
Dead Bear Turn.  He lost control at the exit and spun
off the track, but then he spun back into the track in
front of me.  I had slowed immediately and luckily
avoided him!  Dave said that the most likely place for
a person to wipe out is at the turn after they've just
passed someone.   I also learned to stick to my line
when I was behind someone and ignore where they
were driving so as not to follow them, because you
might just follow them right off the course if they make a
mistake.

I stuck around for the trophy presentation afterward.  
There was a 18 year old kid in a new Viper who turned
a 1:25 lap.  He had been on my ass at some points on
the course in the last session and I finally let him by.   I
also found out that the winner of the unlimited Viper race
was the only woman participating this weekend.  She
drove a 1:15 lap!  So much for everyone else's male
egos!   They said she's been racing for 14 years.  

I take away from this day a lot more confidence in the
cornering and braking of my car.   I love my car a lot
more now.

I was happy to find that I could drive this fast and I feel
reassured about my car control.  I found out I could go
a lot faster than I had imagined.  I really need to return
though for more learning and practice.

Oh yeah, everyone loved the candy apple paint job on
my car.  It is such a perfect paint job that I worry about
stone chips and smashing the low front end.  But the
paint seemed to have survived the day just fine.  I did
have some tire marbles to clean off and of course some
bugs and brake dust.

If you have a Viper, Z06, etc, I HIGHLY recommend you
take it to a road course and discover their amazing
capabilities.  I would not have discovered it without the
help I received today.  A drag strip or an auto-cross is
not the same at all.
Some Porsches showed up today too
Me and Dave
My car going through tech inspection
Front straight heading down to turn 1
3 Vipers going through Dead Bear Turn
Reminders to myself for next time:

1) Drive real slow through the paddock and pits

2) The starter guy will hold you up until he wants you to go - then GO!

3) Put your hand out the window and point to which side you want the guy on your tail to pass you.
Stay on it - you don't want him hitting you in the rear.

4) Wave to the slow guy that lets you go around him, if safe to.

5) Hold fist up in the air outside window when you are preparing to exit the track

6) Watch the corner workers for flags, and be sure to wave to them after the checkered flag during the
cool off lap to show your appreciation for their work.

7) Keep head steady and use eyes - look forward to track ahead (upcoming turns, apexes, cars and corner
workers) and not down at where you're at.

8) Park where you can hear the speaker system and away from loud semi engines that might be running.

9) Keep windows down and keep your elbow inside the car.

10) Don't forget to be ready to shuffle steer for sharp corners.

11) Don't forget to tap brakes to weight transfer at sharp turns

12) Rumblestrips are slick.  It is ok to hit them on the inside of the turn if they are not upsetting your
balance, but stay off the ones on the outside of the turns.

13) Remove any lose objects inside car.

14) Bring a tire guage to check air pressure once tires are heated up.

15) Take numbers off car before heading home, as it attracts more police scrutiny.
Things to do to the Viper:

1) Replace brake lines with stainless steel
2) Use O'tooles brake fluid
3) Replace seat belts with 5-point harnesses
4) Replace plastic power steering pulley with alloy one
5) Replace plastic tire valve caps with metal ones
6) Keep eye on ball joint covers, they can rot and split, spitting grease onto the brake rotor
7) Always check power steering fluid cap as it can become loose.
8) Check to see if recall 998 was done was properly.
9) Replace crimped hose clamp
DAN'S PHOTO JOURNALS