Speed Ventures at Spring Mountain Raceway, November 1, 2004
The Radical Challenge Shootout
Radical West Racing School

Radical West rented six shiny, almost new Radicals to us Go-Fast Crack Addicts

Following up from the last chapter.....So we did this thing called the Speed Ventures Radical Challenge at Spring Mountain Raceway in Pahrump, NV.

Our travel plan was that Wayne, Terry, and I would drive to Pahrump in separate vehicles, using the 2-way radios for communication.  Wayne finally got his Evo back, and he needs to put on 500-600 easy break in miles before he can start hammering it.  I was hoping that I would get the S2000 back in time for the drive to Pahrump, so I could do the same thing.   Unfortunately, the S2000 still ain't done.  Trusting Wayne's car to make it 500 miles to Pahrump and back seemed to be a bet that I ain't gonna make, especially since the road from Baker to Pahrump is a deserted, triple digit speed road that looks like Death Valley.  Taking the truck wouldn't be any fun......so I figured I'll fire up the F355 and buzz that to Pahrump.  Now the F355 isn't a dependable car, but I figure between the Evo and the F355, it would be a good bet that both cars would not break at the same part of the deserted road and leave us stranded.   Terry is going to drive up as a passenger in a friend's Porsche Turbo, and then they were off to the SEMA show to check out what the car geeks are up to.  I figure rather than leave the wife stranded with the baby for a few nights, our itinerary for the event would be:

1.  Sunday night: Halloween night.  Take baby Kayla out to Main Street in Huntington Beach, where they are blocking off the road to the pier for the evening.  All the shop owners are handing out candy, renting those inflatable bouncy trampoline thingys for the kids, games, slides, balloons, etc.  Kayla is still too young to play on most of the games, but she is happy to check out all the other kids running around in their costumes.

2.  Late Sunday night/ Monday morning: Get 3 hours sleep, leave Huntington Beach at 3:30 a.m.

3.  Monday Morning 3:45 a.m. Meet Terry at a gas station in Yorba Linda/Corona

We took the backroad 127-178-372 Highways from Baker to Pahrump

4.  Monday Morning 7:21 a.m., roll into Spring Mountain Raceway, just in time for the 7:30 a.m. driver's meeting.  Aaron said to be there at 7:00 a.m., but nothing is gonna happen until 7:30.  He just said 7:00 a.m. to make sure no one is late.  I ain't late for track events!

5. Whup some ass at the Radical Challenge

6.  Sleep at Pahrump Monday night, and then blast back early in the morning back to Huntington Beach.

Steps 1-3 go exactly according to plan.  We pull into Baker, get some gas, and then blast down the deserted road to Pahrump.  We are following Wayne, and he is ecstatic about getting the Evo back.  We are buzzing down the 127 Highway, and Wayne is talking on the two-way radio about how the Evo has to be one of the best cars around for the price.  The F355 is flying around like the perfect GT car that it is.  I'm starting to think that the F355 is made for longer trips like this.  It is comfortable, the sound is great, good power, and it is steady as a rock at high speeds.

The only way to fly to Pahrump

About 30 miles from Pahrump, Wayne says, "Uh oh....there is this funny noise coming from my car".  Terry and I pull up along side the Evo at 70 mph for a visual inspection, to see if anything has fallen off the car, or if anything is dragging.  We can't see anything.  We pull over on the road, and look closer, but still don't see anything.  Wayne says it is a whining noise, and it gets louder with speed.  Hummmm.  Terry drives the rest of the way with Wayne into Pahrump, to see if he can diagnosis it.  No luck.  Damn.   We pull in, grab some McDonald's, and we meet a guy who works at the track.  He says that if we are running 1:43/1:44 laptimes, we are doing pretty damn good on the school cars.  We eat, and pull into Spring Mountain Raceway at 7:21 a.m.  I have conquered Father Time yet again.  Now if I could just conquer Raceaflais....

We get to the track, and John Morris and Radical West have six shiny Radicals all setup for us to drive.  The deal is that we have two people to each car, and each person gets four sessions.  Except for Jason Rhoades and James Gunn-Wilkinson (I thought only chicks had hyphenated names?), who are sharing a set of four sessions, with each of them getting two sessions.  Wayne is sharing the car with them.  My "teammate" in the Radical is John Wurth, which is good for me, as John doesn't crash or spin much, so he won't screw up the car.  Unlike some of the other guys we have in this competition.....

To make sure that everything is "even", we draw numbers out of a hat to see who gets which Radical.  This way, Bitterman is prevented from telling Morris, "Hey, I organized this event, give me the faster car with the best tires, etc".  In this group of notorious Cheating Bastards, nothing is left unchecked.  Bitterman was trying to figure out a way to equalize the cars with ballast, since there are those of us who are a lean, mean 167 lbs. and can bench press 35 lbs over our body weight,  and we got others who are upwards of 200 lbs and can't push their bodies off the couch.  The fatties were crying for ballast.  There must have been 200 emails trying to figure out ballast/handicaps for weight.  Here's a sample. Since no one could figure out a way to safely add plates of metal to the car, the ballast idea was thrown out, and a wild ass guess was used to approximate how much of a handicap extra body weight would be in terms of laptimes.   For the purposes of this article, I'm not gonna focus on the Bitterman Weight/Lap Handicapping Formula, as people could have starved themselves and lost the 30 lbs in 3 weeks if they really wanted to be lighter and faster...

Rhoades and James Gunn-Wilkinson are going to try to win and only run two sessions!
(Photo by McCannless)

At the driver's meeting, John Morris and Co. talk to us about the cars, and basically said if you crash them, you are paying for them.  If you spin too many times, you may forfeit your session, or just be asked to leave.  Which I understand perfectly, as these are almost brand new Radical race cars.  What I couldn't understand is why John would let twelve speed-crazed individuals have the opportunity to thrash on six relatively new Radicals for an entire day.  I wouldn't let any of these guys drive any of my cars on the track!  I've seen the damage that they have done to clutches, motors, suspension components, splitters, brakes, body work, etc. 

John also talks about the improvements that they are planning to do since they bought the Spring Mountain track from Rupert.  They are adding almost another 2 miles to the existing track configuration, so they can run multiples groups at the same time, or just have one big track.  The track additions are scheduled to be completed in early 2005.

Morris and Co. are adding more track, condos, pool, starter building, etc.
Click here for bigger

The Radicals have RA1 tires on them and sequential shifters.  During the meeting, the plan is to have each person drive the first session with a Radical West instructor in the passenger seat to "sign us off".  The instructors are looking to make sure that we are using the sequential transmission properly, we have a good line, we are not abusing the car, and we have good car control.  In my first session with my instructor, my goal is to be as smooth and safe as possible, show him that I know the line, that I'm not thrashing the sequential tranny, etc, so I can boot his ass out of the car ASAP. 

After the first session, the leader board looks like this:

1. Bitterman 1:46.3
2. Rhoades 1:46.670
3. James Gunn-Wilkinson 1:46.701
4. Will 1:48.114
5. Wurth 1:48.908
6. McCannless 1:52.073
7. Rylan 1:55.420
8. Oka 1:56.180
9. Wayne 1:57.671
10. JP 1:58.671
11. Laifatt 1:59.708
12. Hayashi 1:59.708
13. Terry 2:01.111

Analysis of Lap Times After the First Session:
Bitterman was expected to run fairly fast, as he has been in a Radical for a couple of sessions PRIOR to this event.  Cheating Bastard.  Kinda like scheduling a "Spec Karting Event at Dromo One Indoor Karting Championship", but the organizers get more seat time prior to the event than anyone else.  Sound familiar?  And Bitterman also didn't have an instructor in his car, whereas most of us had an instructor in the car for the entire session. 

Rhoades and JGW have never driven a Radical before, and only get two sessions each for the entire day compared to everyone else getting four sessions.   Rhoades and JGW succeed in their cone dodging quest to get some fast laps in with minimal seat time, taking the 2nd and 3rd spot.  Pretty impressive, much better than I thought they would. However, James Gunn-Wilkensen almost gets thrown out of the event, as his instructor thought he was out of control and was going to spin and crash the car.   James was a late entry to the event, and he missed the email thread where Aaron said to drive calm and under control in the first session to show the instructors that we won't damage the car.  These Radicals are going to be used in a TV episode later in the week, so Radical West did not want to be short a car for the six actors that were coming into town. 

James Gunn was taking a cone-dodger approach to this shootout. He's thinking Solo Nationals, and you only get two runs, and he has never been on this track before.  So James is out there, THROWING the Radical around into turns with his instructor, catching it just before it spins, and at the same time trying to remember where the turns go, so he might be going real fast on the wrong line,  etc.   The instructor bails out of the car after only a few laps.  Rhoades is thinking that James must have impressed the instructor with his smoothness, and got signed off quickly.  Rhoades only got one solo lap in his first session, and most of us got zero solo laps.

In reality, the instructor got out of the car thinking that James is going to crash the car within the next five minutes, and he let the powers that be know about it.  James is thinking he has to start hauling ass and understand the limits of this car ASAP, as he only has one more session to post a fast laptime.  Some of the instructors are not happy about the way some of us are driving, as we are being too aggressive.  Anyways, kudos to JGW for posting the 3rd fastest time in a car he has never been in, and on a track he has never driven on, in session 1. That's impressive, and I don't impress easily.  Anyways, after a long talk and explanations, James and Rhoades are allowed to stay and complete their next session, despite hauling ass in their first session.  They narrow avoid a DNF!

People are ragging on me about my laptimes, which I don't quite understand, as I thought the goal would be to get rid of the instructor ASAP, so it would be best to be an "ideal student" and go relatively slow and smooth to show that you aren't going to break the car.  I treated the session as a "throwaway session", as the penalty for going too fast and botching a shift,  missing a turn, or spinning might mean you have to have an instructor accompany you again in session 2.  Which would kill your session 2 lap times.

Morris also has a Stohr race car.  1000 lbs or so, 180-220 HP.

In Wayne's first session, he's driving like he's out to get a 502.  Wayne is one of those guys that bitches and complains about not getting enough sleep the night before a track event, mainly because he is all amped up about going to the track.  Last night he got about 3 hours of sleep before the drive up.  Anyways, he's not paying attention to the line, and is just trying to get used to the shifter and brakes on the car.  His instructor thinks his student is retarded.  Wayne looks like a crack addict that hasn't slept in four days.   For those that need more excuses, look at The Reverend's Garage for the excuse generator.

Meanwhile, about 3 people get dinged and have to go back out with instructors for part of their second session.  Rhoades and JGW luck out, as no instructor wants to get back in the car with them, for fear of their lives.

The Radicals are pretty damn fun to drive.  Brakes are really good, and the car handles great.  These are going to be the new "school cars" for the Radical West driving school.  They could be much faster, as these cars are "tuned down" and have throttle stops on them, meaning that we are only allowed about 85% power as opposed to using the full potential of the Hayabusa motor.  If we added slicks and a little more aero, we would really be flying around the track, and would have dropped another couple of seconds off the posted laptimes.  The Radical won an award for "Track Day Car of the Year" from Car Magazine.  It supposedly has (or had) the fastest time around the Nurburgring of any "street legal" car. (it is legal in some European nations)

After session 2, the leader board gets shuffled around quite a bit.  It looks like this:

1. Will 1:44.798 Faster by 3.2 seconds than his last session
2. Bitterman 1:44.884 Faster by 1.5 seconds this session
3. Rylan 1:45.931 picks up 10 seconds
4. Wurth 1:46.546 is faster by 2.5 seconds
5. Rhoades 1:46.670 (Did not run second session)
6. James Gunn-Wilkinson 1:46.701 (Did not run second session)
7. Oka 1:47.595 is faster by 8.6 seconds
8. McCannless 1:47.915 is faster by 4.2 seconds
9. Hayashi 1:48.241 is faster by 11.5 seconds
10. Laifatt 1:50.637 is faster by 9 seconds
11. Wayne 1:53.261 is faster by 6 seconds
12. Terry 1:55.088 drops 3.8 seconds
13. JP 1:55.154 drops 3.5 seconds.

Analysis of Laptimes for Session 2
I go out in the second session, and run a 1:48.x.  I suck at getting used to driving someone else's race car.  But, you will notice that I dropped 11 seconds off my laptime from the first session, more than anyone else in the pack, proving that I was treating that first session as a "throwaway session"  I figure I'll slowly keep building up my speed, and not screw up and spin the car.  Since it appears that everyone else was working their ass off in the first session, I figure I should compare my second session time (when I was trying) to everyone else's first session (when they were already starting to try to run their fastest lap).  This would have put me 5th overall after the first session, instead of 12th. (Yeah, that is how I decided to "spin" this). So after Session 2, the two people with experience in driving a Radical BEFORE this event are now 1st and 2nd in this pack of time obsessed drivers.  Wayne is spending more time on the phone trying to call Mitsubishi, Road Race Engineering, etc, trying to figure out what to do with his car instead of focusing on driving.  

We then have lunch, and during the lunch break I pull out our Cheating Bastard bag of tricks.  After asking permission from John Morris,  Wayne and I put Hot Lap timers in our car so we can get instantaneous feedback on our laptimes, instead of waiting for the computer print out after the session like everyone else.  Hey, the rules of the event didn't say anything about banning Hot Lap equipment.  The only problem is that the co-drivers of our two cars (Wurth, Rhoades, JGW) will also be able to take advantage of the timing equipment, but we figure we can live with that.

Wayne is happy that he can put the Hot Lap Timers on our assigned Radicals

After session 3, now the leader board looks like this:

1. Rhoades 1:44.335 In his second session (and last), opens up a hefty half second lead.  2 seconds faster that last session. 
2. Will 1:44.798 Slower by 3/10ths this session.  He's done.
3. Bitterman 1:44.832 Only faster by 5/100ths.  He's shot his load for the day
4. James Gunn-Wilkinson 1:45.152 In only his second session, holds 4th place, and gains 1.6 seconds.
5. Rylan 1:45.931 Slower than last session
6. McCannless 1:47.300 Half a second faster
7. Wurth 1:47.963 Slower by 1.5 seconds. 
8. Hayashi 1:47.298 A full second faster.  Here I come!
9. Oka 1:47.853 Slower by 3/10ths
10. Terry 1:50.568 5 seconds faster than previous session
11. Wayne 1:50.461  3 seconds faster than previous session
12. Laifatt 1:50.637 Timer didn't work on this session
13. JP 1:54.718 drops a second

Analysis of laptimes after session 3:
Rhoades vaults himself into first place running his final session.  He is now ahead of Bitterman and Will, who seemed to have hit the limit on how fast they can go in these cars.  Gunn-Wilkinson is in 4th place, still very nice for the first time on this track.  Rylan seems to have slowed down, along with Wurth.  I gain another second, and there is definitely more where that came from.  So I think I have a shot at moving into a podium position.  Terry and Wayne are now getting used to the car, and have dropped to the 1:50 range. 

Wayne is worried about his Evo, and is making calls to see what to do.  Now he thinks it could be the transmission, or the front differential.  He decides to drive it down to Las Vegas Mitsubishi before they close to see if there is a quick fix for it, so he can drive it back home. Otherwise, he has to worry about finding a tow truck to go from Vegas to Huntington Beach. He gives up his 4th session in the Radical, and then heads to Vegas around 2:00 p.m. to talk to a Mitsubishi dealer.  Since Rhoades and James have only run two sessions, they talk amongst themselves and Rhoades lets James have the session, as he has less track time at Pahrump than anyone else at the track.   You gonna give a cone-dodging National Champ an extra run session? Uh oh, that could be trouble...

We go out for the 4th session.  Finally, I feel comfortable in the car, except that the pedals are too far away, and steering wheel too close.  I am slowly becoming "At One" with the car, the Zen feeling is starting to kick in.  You racers know what I mean, it is that moment when you finally feel connected to the car, and it acts like an extension of your body.  I look at the Hot Lap, and I'm in the 1:45's, so I figure I can maybe finish a respectable 4th or so in the Radical Challenge.  On my last lap I push a little harder, hoping to get into the 1:44's, but I botch one of the turns.  I park the car, and let my "car mate" Wurth strap in for his last session.

Jason feeling pretty good about his low 1:44.x after two sessions

For the last few laps of the session, there are six of us huddled around the AMB timing system, watching the laptimes click off.   Unfortunately for me, everyone else seems to be faster in this last session.  After just about everyone has run, it looks like Jason Rhoades is gonna be the winner, despite only running two sessions.  Damn those cone-dodgers!   James Gunn is running his third and final session, and we are all standing by the AMB laptop, watching the laptimes.  Jason appears to be sweating a bit, worried that James is gonna throw down fast time of the day.  Near the end of the session, James is clicking off quicker and quicker laptimes.  Sure enough, on his last lap, James runs a 1:43.x, crushing the rest of the competition.   I jokingly tell Jason he's a moron, that you are not supposed to invite guys that are faster than you to events like this.  He should be like me, and invite uh.....cannon fodder! (ha!) On his two last laps of the day, James drops into the 1:43's, crushing us all in the First Ever Speed Ventures Radical West Radical Challenge Shootout.  I'm watching John Wurth's lap times, since we are in the same car, and it looks like I'm gonna beat him by a 1/10th of a second.  Ha!  I can rag on him for the next year about that.  But Wurth isn't gonna have any of that, and is looking intently at the Hot Lap timer as he is ripping around the course, and on his second to the last lap he runs a 1:45.652, thus beating me by .08 seconds in the same car.  He raises his fist triumphantly as he sees the time click on the Hot Lap timer.  Shit!   I'm never gonna hear the end of this!

The leaderboard looks like this after the final session:

1. James Gunn-Wilkinson 1:43.189 Ouch! Drops 2 seconds from his 2nd session
2. Rhoades 1:44.335 Time from his second session
3. Rylan 1:44.642 Faster by 1.3 seconds from his previous session
4. Bitterman 1:44.713 1/10th quicker.  Can't go no mo faster!
5. Will 1:44.798 5/100ths quicker. Can't go no mo faster!
6. Wurth 1:45.652 Drops a second from his previous fastest lap
7. Hayashi 1:45.739 Drop 1.5 seconds from last session.  I need one more session!
8. Laifatt 1:46.753 drops 4 seconds from his second session
9. McCannless 1:47.399 Slower by half a second from previous session
10. Oka 1:47.315 drops 2/10ths
11. Terry 1:49.115 drops 1.5 seconds
12. Wayne 1:50.461 Time from 3rd session, did not run 4th
13. JP 1:54.718 a second slower this time around

Complete laptimes are posted here, just like they are after every Speedventures Event.  Why can't all organizations do this?  And why can't those shifter kart races do stuff like this?  Wurth and Bitterman are kicking every other organization's ass in this department.  I think their timing and scoring results are better than the F1/Indy/World Challenge time keepers!

Nice looking Radical with custom paint job

Final Analysis:
It took me too long to get used to the car, and I screwed up by wasting that first session trying to show the instructor that I was a responsible driver.  I should have turned up the wick immediately, so I can start to get used to the car like Rhoades/Rylan/James did.   I'm sure I could have been a 1:44 guy had I done that.  I don't think I could have gotten into the 1:43's unless I had a few more sessions.  James Gunn kicked everyone's ass, despite never being on the Pahrump track before.   Rhoades only ran two sessions, (17 solo laps) and took out everyone but James (who ran 35 solo laps, since his instructor bailed early in the first session).  I guess this proves that Pahrump is a.....rinky dink autocross type of track that belongs in a Walmart parking lot.  Just kidding! Pahrump is actually a very good, very fun track, technical track.  And it is close to a casino!  After Morris adds another 2 miles or so to it, its gonna be pretty awesome.

Bitterman and Will drove multiple sessions in a Radical prior to his event, so they were fast pretty quickly in the early sessions, but then burned out and had nothing left.  I mean, think about it:  I dropped another 1.5 seconds on my 4th session, which gives indication that there is probably room for improvment.  I was only a second off from Bitterman and Will, and they were no longer improving on their times.  They woulda coulda shoulda been toast had I had another 1-2 sessions. (I can justify anything in my mind)  Rylan kinda surprised people by taking 3rd, but then again his S2000 that he took a chainsaw to probably drives like a Radical now.  Wurth's used to driving a Radical-like car with his Ultima, I think he should beat have me by at least a second or so.  (Just kidding again. Wurth should never ever beat me. <grin>)
Commentary from John Wurth: "It's exactly like a Radical...except it's twice as big....and twice the weight....and doesn't have a sequential......come to think of it, it's not much like a Radical at all :) " 

Bitterman's Speed Ventures Official Weight Adjusted Rankings are here,  using the formula discussed in the link earlier in the story.  James Gunn-Wilkinson still won even taking into consideration the weight adjustment.  Rhoades did drop down, Will takes 2nd and Bitterman 3rd when their lard asses are taken into account.  Note to James Gunn-Wilkinson:  You won the Radical Challenge.  Now change your name to just be "James Gunn".  The hyphenation is kinda foofy.  Mr. Gunn sounds much cool than Mr. Gunn-Wilkinson, and it is a pain in the ass to type that long name every time!

It gets dark quickly, due to the time change.  By 5:30 p.m., it is pretty dark.  We are packing up, and the Spring Mountain track employees want to bail and go home, but Aaron brought a barbeque, charcoal,  beer sausages, buns, and a mini-keger of some tasty brew.  We beg the employees to let us stay there, and we will lockup the track and promise not to do any night racing.  James somehow convinces them to let us stay, just like he convinced them to not kick him out of the event.  So in 30 degree weather, we are drinking beer, barbequing, and talking smack among ourselves for a few hours, using a flashlight and one small outdoor bulb to see what we are cooking.

Bitterman provided the food and beer!

Wayne calls me from Vegas, and the dealer says that they would not recommend driving the car home.  They said they could have their local service rep from Mitsubishi come and take a look at it to see if it is covered under warranty, but Wayne would have to leave the car in Vegas for a few days.  Since Wayne's name is in the the computer as a "Voided Warranty" VIN number, that would probably be a futile attempt to get the car fixed for free.  Wayne calls AAA to get a tow back to Road Race Engineering, which is 260 miles away.  Luckily for Wayne, he signed up for that premium AAA service so you get the first 200 miles free, but they can't tow it tonight.  Wayne gets a rental car, and drives back to Pahrump (as I was drinking beer and didn't want to deal with any red necked police in Pahrump). AAA won't tow the vehicle unless Wayne is there to sign for it, so we have to drive back to Vegas the next morning, physically watch the tow truck guy put it on the truck, and then sign for it.

We gamble at the "lovely" Golden Nugget in Pahrump, and get our ass kicked.  The next morning, we head over to Vegas, get the car on a tow truck, and then head for the Primm Valley casino by the stateline.  We get our ass kicked there also.  Damn....rough week.   We get back in the F355, and blast back home.  I haven't driven home from Vegas in a car in probably 4 years, as I am usually towing a trailer.  Back when I last drove a car home, everyone was driving like maniacs, doing 85-90.  Today, everyone is driving 95-100 mph.  No wonder there are accidents causing massive traffic jams at the end of every weekend in Vegas.  You got these guys in vans, SUVs, and econoboxes doing triple digit speeds coming home from Vegas, hung over and pissed off that they lost all their money in Vegas, talking on their cell phones, and then they can't brake fast enough when trouble appears in front of them, and they take out the entire freeway.

Despite getting our ass kicked in the Radical Challenge, the Evo breaking, and losing money at the blackjack tables, it was still a fun weekend.  Many thanks to Radical West and Speed Ventures for a very organized, very competitive, and very fun event.  We didn't crash, wreck, or break any of the cars, so it might be safe to say that these Radicals are very dependable, very fast, and very fun cars in the hands of uh.....professionals like us!

James Gunn Wilkinson, Winner of the Radical Challenge

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