How did you ring in the New Year?
Better still, how did you spend the first weekend of 2016?
I am certain there are various answers to these questions. One would hope you did so responsibly and sober. If not, I hope you got a safe ride home after partying it up for the New Year.
In my case, I spent a quiet New Year's Eve. I headed out briefly for New Year's day, but just to catch up on shopping and such. It was the second day of 2016 where the excitement really began.
It came as an invitation from some friends to join in on a day of winter autocross. The enticement was a day at a course that I always wanted to try out, but to see it during winter conditions. Sounds like a barrel of fun already…
Actually, it was.
The event I attended was put on by RS Motors, 365 Racing and the Central Wisconsin Sports Car Club at the Dakota County Technical College Driver Training course. It is a multi-configured road course that can be easy and challenging at the same time. It has slight elevations for a short course and a selection of configurations that are designed to optimize a driver's engagement with the tarmac.
Between these three entities is a chance for enthusiasts to take on the DCTC course through varying conditions – dry tarmac, ice/caked surfaces and snow. The challenge for a driver, regardless of class to find grip – especially on icy surfaces. It also depends on the sky – in this case, it was sunny – and air temperature – which began cold, but warmed up to about freezing.
About 40 or so entrants were divided into several classes, but split in two different heat groups. Each group ran twice during the day, making it a full day for most of the drivers. Vehicles ran the gamut of daily drivers with winter tires to true winter beaters to those who had not switched to winter tires at all.
Of course, I had nothing to drive on this course. The 2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro I had in for review was off limits on this course (perhaps by me to maintain the vehicle's integrity). So, the alternative was to ride shotgun with my friends who were participating in this event.
The first parade lap was with my buddy Spaz and his Mark V Volkswagen Jetta GLI. In lieu of his usual Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Spaz uses the Jetta as a daily driver. For this time, he had winter tires shod. Keep in mind, he also done some racing for RS Motors.
Riding with Spaz gave me a chance to see the course firsthand. Previous invitations were missed due to hesitation on using review vehicles on this course. It was not for lack of trying, but rather a lack of familiarization of the DCTC track. Spaz is also an instructor, which helped in understanding the nuances of the course – even with quickly changing surface conditions.
After the parade lap was done in the morning, another friend beckoned me for a shotgun seat on his initial runs. Emilio had a factory blue Subaru Impreza WRX. It was a bug-eye model without the wing, which might be interesting if wind and grip depended on it. This time, I had to wear a helmet, which made for an interesting perspective. I knew I was ready for this.
During the two laps Emilio ran with me in shotgun, he was completely in attack mode. His times were 106-107 seconds, which were very good for this course. Timing was not the thing here, but rather dealing with the transitions between dry, ice and snow.
During the morning, I went around and took photos, met up with other friends and just observed the fun. There was some moments, such as witnessing an E90 3-Series Coupe being dug out by Andy's yellow Honda S2000. Even more concerning was witnessing my friend Lucas in his #TeamARWA Subaru (er, Infinbaru) WRX rally car did a 360, or, rather, a "decently corrected spin," in the final turn. The cause of the spin was simply the decling traction from an older set of Bridgestone Blizzaks. Even Aaron's first-gen Scion tC had some trouble on the course, even shod with all-season tires. When I rode shotgun with Aaron, he had no incidents of spinning off in the afternoon sessions. Not sure if it was confidence on Aaron's part or the car's.
An event such as this also called for a wide selection of machinery. James brought out an old Plymouth Breeze to tackle the winter conditions at DCTC. A couple of the FiveZeroSeven crew entered a couple of interesting vehicles – a two-wheel drive, four-cylinder, manual transmission Chevrolet Colorado and a V8-powered Ford Thunderbird from the late 1980s. I experienced the latter from the shotgun seat…and it was quite the experience. With huge rear tires, it should be fine with grip. It was not the grip, through a lot of sliding was involved. Yet, the roll through the cones and the turns were pretty epic.
I know…my car friends are nuts. Some even more certifiable. But, folks, this is what we call fun.
You have to give kudos to those who try regardless of machinery and rubber. You spin out, but you do not damage the car. A few did, but isn't it part of the fun doing something like this?
And, frankly, I had a great time! Sure, it was cold, the conditions were less than superb, but who cares? One must set aside the trappings of seriousness, competition and the rigor of automotive blogging and journalism to simply be free. And, this is a freeing! I could not thank the RS Motors, 365 Racing and CWSCC crews for welcoming me and my friends to this gig.
An event such as this proves one thing: The Minnesota (and Wisconsin) car scene does not stop for winter. While the main car is garaged, there is always the “beater.” Even our daily driver suffices even when facing a storm with packed highways and a mix of driving competencies around them.
Would I do such a thing next time? Maybe not. Well, I have to have a vehicle that would be prepared for such a foray onto these conditions.
But, come later this year, I want a taste of this track. Perhaps I need to choose my weapon well before crawling out of the paddock.
Yet, for the second day of 2016, the automobile was once again celebrated in the chill of the Minnesota winter. As it should be always…
All photos by Randy Stern