37th Annual Bay Bottom Crawl

11-13 October 1996
Hosted by the:

Ecurie Vitesse Sports Car Club

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.

  1. 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.
  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 worse.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 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.
  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.
  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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
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.

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 repair bill.

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 South Florida.

Go to the 38th Bay Bottom Crawl,
or the Serpentine.
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