For all of that, though, our trek to Chuckwalla Valley was rewarded by another fine weekend amongst good people, spent gleefully converting hydrocarbons into forward (and sometimes backwards) motion. The Chuckwalla track is a wonderful collection of 17 corners snaking amongst the undulating dry lake basin. Long, fast corners, linked to very technical sections of elevation change, made for a very different environment than most of the tracks we've become used to. This was the first visit for most of us, so various portions of Saturday's sessions were spent simply finding our way around. While the off-camber blind hill-crest of turns 8-9-10 challenged many of us for most of the weekend, the "corkscrew" and NASCAR banking that followed became much beloved. Personally, I loved the fast, sweeping sections where you really had to drive through those corners, rather than just pirouetting around a collection of apexes at speed. And speaking of, late apex were the words of the weekend. Several reducing radius turns, and other places with pinched exits, definitely rewarded those who could patiently wait for those pesky cones to (finally) come into view before finishing a corner.
Most of whatever time on Saturday wasn't spent trying to learn the new circuit was spent trying to stay hydrated. As it turns out, the hot action on the track could barely compete with off-track temperatures nearly 20° above monthly averages. Chef Lauren, Lisa, and the rest of the crew did their best to keep us fed and watered, but I think at one point or another, each of us got behind and felt the effects.
The open wheel contingent drew the lucky straw for Sunday, and our early start was matched by a planned early finish, giving everyone plenty of time to pack for their drives home. Earlier sessions and a smattering of cloud cover made for more tolerable temperatures, although overheating of drivers, and cars, was still an issue.
During lunch, someone had suggested that the days would later be referred to as The Black Flag Sessions, and while it sounds more like a really edgy Jazz-Fusion project with Henry Rollins, it does aptly describe our time with Speed Ventures, our hosts for the weekend. They were gracious and worked very hard, but a variety of on-track incidents, some trivial, some non-trivial, showed differences in experience (or temperament) in flagging and clearing the track. Their policy of (sometimes) black-flagging any car that put four wheels off the track had us scratching our heads, and using the whole-course black flags to pit-lane all cars prior to re-starts was confusing. The biggest disappointment was when an unfortunate shunt on the out-lap of Sunday's second session led to delays in clearing the cars, and we lost the entire 20 minutes. While there were two cars were damaged, and even a minor injury, watching the session tick away, and overhearing the confused radio chatter while sitting at the head of the black-flag queue, made it clear how spoiled we've been by Hurley and the team from Pro Auto Sports.
At the end of the weekend, though, the true metric of the experience is measured on the size of the smiles on all our faces. Everybody made huge improvements, and by Sunday's final race there were several tightly-packed groups of cars contesting nearly every position, as has become the norm for this group. It was universally agreed that we should return to the Chuckwalla Valley, though I think most hoped that next year it might be in February, instead of March!
For myself, it was great to be back on-track with my brother Alex, back in the States for only a handful of times in so many years. We haven't raced together since we were both in rented Spec-7's several years ago, and he's made the transition to open-wheel without trouble. More importantly, he is already helping to keep the rest of the pack confused as to exactly which Herbst in TriCalm colors they're battling with. Spending so much quality time with Brother/Father/Uncle is how I justify weekends away from the rest of my life, but it really is an unmatched experience to share.