Driving the track is what it's all about, so I'll start
there - this is from the perspective of a newcomer in a stock 1991 Mazda Miata.
Forget the map, forget the drive-through, the
course is hot, the timer is running, this is totally different.
Waiting in line for the start, occasionally the word will come back to kill
the engine and relax, someone else is in the mangroves, they've got to go out
in the van and pull them out. I'm not going to do that, I tell myself.
At the start line, you get the word: STANDBY facemask down, ready
to run. Then GO, the timer doesn't start 'till you pass the
electric eye 15 feet away - I'm taking it easy on the starts since my
rear tires are down to the wear bars, though on my last run I did get
wheelspin through most of first gear.
Put the facemask up while coasting down the slightly bending road and
get a blast of eau du toasted brake pads.
To their credit, the Porterfield carbon metallics did not fade one bit -
I'm sure the stock pads would have been useless by station 7.
Where loop road T's into the very rough return road, there's a police
officer stationed, which triggers a reflex reaction to bring the speed
into line, and proceed cautiously back to the pits. He also keeps people
from driving or walking up the road, keeping the course clear.
Full throttle down the straight to Station 1 - a twelve cone slalom, this
is the part where your friends and family can see you, so of course it's
the only place where I managed to put a wheel off the pavement, not badly
though. Second is wound up and third has been going for a second or two
before reaching the braking point, that's about 60-65 mph in the Miata,
then through the slalom, 12 cones is long enough to get a good rhythm, or
to get really out of shape by the end. I chose the in on the left option
since that let me out on the right, closer to the entrance to Station 2.
Passing the next to the last cone, back into second gear and hard on the
throttle headded for Station 2.
Entry speed is similar to station 1, 60-65. There are 8 offset gates
here, starting on the right, but I never did find a real rhythmn in 2,
the 6th gate is a double, and I'm back in 2nd, hard on the throttle
through the 7th gate, cutting a little abrputly to stay on the road after
passing the last gate. Now there's a long gentle blind curve on the way
to 3, I've been in 4th for several seconds when station 3 appears around
the corner - it's quite a rush since there aren't any real landmarks until
the cones appear, perhaps 300 feet away - of course, I'm driving toward
the inside of the curve, so the visibility around the corner is even
When I first see 3, I'm doing perhaps 85-90, and there's a half a heartbeat
before it's time to brake down to around 25. This is an 11 cone offset
slalom - it seems like it should be easier since the cones aren't in a
line, but they're much closer together. I hit 9 cones all weekend, 6 of
them came from here, including the only one in my "for real" runs on
Sunday. Around the 9th cone, I'm back in the throttle, but not for long
since just up the road is the dip-haripin combo.
The dip is a long wide one, hardly noticable at 25-30, but with good exit
speed from 3, it will launch the car halfway across the road entering the
haripin. I had trouble seeing it, but what I tried to do was accelerate
until just before entering the dip, then squeeze the brakes a bit and
release them as the car entered the dip - this seemed to pre-compress the
front suspension enough (and reduce the speed enough), that the car didn't
rebound coming out of it. During practice, I always ended up flying about
6 or 8 feet outside, but on Sunday, I managed to keep the car where I
wanted it - proceeding through the hairpin in second, perhaps 40-45,
then hard into the throttle, getting third not long before entering station
4, a group of 6 offset double gates. 4 never caught me off guard, I
probably could have taken it faster. Through the 5th gate, hard into
the throttle on the way to 5.
5 is very close after 4 - a 7 cone slalom. I took the left entry option
here also, it is in a straight line out of 4, and it avoids a nasty dip
on the right side. Leaving 5, you enter "the sweeper". I ran out of
courage (balls?, insanity???) before I ran out of
3rd gear through the sweeper. In the damp, I ventured a look at the
speedometer, it was showing 60 as the balding street tires were beginning
to dance a little. In the dry, I would hold perhaps 70-75. With sticky
tires (not the 5 year old rocks I was running on), the Miata should be able
to run flat out through the sweeper, approaching 90 or more at the exit.
After the sweeper straightens out, I would top out 3rd gear, but not for
long enough to make 4th worthwhile. I would just hold 7100 RPM for two
heartbeats before braking for 6.
The entry to 6 is on the left side, pushing you to the right, before a
somewhat tight left-right combo. On my fastest run, I botched it - in
too hot, slowing to about 10 before cutting the left - that cost me a
second or two on my best time. Leaving 6 is very easy putting you very
fast into 7.
On a practice run, I came so hot into 7 that I slid past the second gate
in a cloud of tire smoke. Rather than getting an O/C, and since I was
stopped already, I backed up and made the gate; that run was 11 seconds
slower than my best. I never did get the hang of 7, but on Sunday I knew
better than to go in too hot.
Around a bend, and into 8, which essentially leads you around some nasty
cracks in the road - I was quite pleased with the way I took 8 on Sunday,
nice smooth slowing with a sort of sweeping right hand curl, then apex
a sharpish left cut and full throttle all the way out. After 8, there's
another blind run through the mangroves.
Third isn't quite topping out when 9 appears - there's plenty of time to
brake, and if the run has been clean so far, you sure don't want to punt
a cone here. It's essentially a 5 cone non-optional slalom midway between
8 and the finish. Exit speed is very vast, very tempting to push it hard
and possibly end up in the trees after the exit. Then another run through
a mangrove canyon, catching 4th gear and 85-90 at the finish.
My times during Saturday practice ran 3:10.977 (2) 3:16 (1) and 3:19 (5),
getting progressively worse as I pushed harder at the entry and exit
of the stations. On Sunday, rain was threatening, and I did a very
conservative 3:10.977 (0) on my first run (yes, matching my first
Saturday time to the thousandth!). My competitors ran a 2:59, and a
3:16 or so. The 3:16 was due to an offroad excursion, he was picking
mangrove leaves out of his car in the pits. Then it rained. The second
run was in the wet, I got a 3:21 while my competitor got a 3:06 O/C
(off course, doesn't count.) Maybe the corner workers were giving him
a hard time since they didn't like the stations he assigned them...
The rain broke before the 3rd run, and in the dry, I pulled my best time
ever of 3:05.4 - there was room for at least 3 seconds of driver
improvement in that run, and new (normal, not race compound) tires should
be good for another 3 to 5.
I believe my competitor ran a 2:57, taking
first place away from the 2:59 earlier in the day, he got the 1st place
trophy, but did give me a cold beer. I'll fill in the names and exact
details when I know them for sure. The other two cars in my class were
Porsche 914s. 1st place was the EVSCC member who gave me the beer, 2nd
place went to #35, his wife drove the same car as #351 and was
getting 3:20s - alot depends on the driver.
Fastest time of the day went to a Lola - 2:10, that's an average speed
somewhere near 60 around the 2.2 mile course, as opposed to near 42 in the
Miata. Those guys also went off into the mangroves a whole lot more than
the street cars, though a new Z28 did launch himself into a tree, popping
both airbags - the Flying Turtle award is small compensation for that
There were 3 other Mazdas, a Miata running D-Prepared, turning in fairly
consistant 2:42s, he's got BFG R1s, a home-brew cold air induction system,
lowering springs, and who knows what else. I'm sure he'll be back next
year, we'll see how he fares against my 210HP Miata then
. There was a
second generation ('86, I think) RX-7 in the ladies division. They turned
in a 3:04. And a 6 cylinder 323 was running around 3:20, no chance of
catching the Neon in his class, but good enough for a 2nd place. He, the
RX-7 and I were all a rather rare breed at the event. We "run what we brung"
without race tires, removing the entire interior or other foolishness to get
those last few seconds. I hope I can keep from getting the win at all costs
bug that seems to have infected most of the BBC participants.
The Crawl is more than just a speed trial, though that is the thread that
holds the whole thing together. There is a long history and tradition,
you'll have to attend a practice night banquet to learn about that. And
the people are all really great, especially the EVSCC members who put
on the event. Newcomers are made to feel welcome, Bob and Andy Hess go
way out of their way to make things pleasant. Bob shared his pit space
with me - the Miata and his Sprite took up about one Corvette worth of
roadside between them.
Also, being held in the Keys adds a nice flavor to the event. The
Overseas Highway has to be the most scenic 100 miles of roadway in