The day started dark and gloomy. Rain fell the whole time I drove out on the 210 freeway to Fontana, strong enough to hydro-plane on the freeway.
I had mixed feelings about the weather. I hate rain and the coldness, but I was looking forward to driving in the conditions so I could really play around and get a feel for the cars on a wet surface. Since purchasing my Dodge Challenger, any time it has rained, I had been worried about the high torque of the car and the traction of the F1 Goodyear radial tires.
The entrance to Auto Club Speedway was impressive. Dark clouds gave the track an imposing silhouette and I took a couple of pictures immediately after parking.
I was the first to arrive, but soon after people began streaming in to the breakfast area. They had set up a buffet featuring eggs, bacon, pork sausage links, pastries and pretty decent coffee. By my third cup, Bill (aka CrankCase) and Rob (aka JaqDRipper) had arrived and the day began.
Ricky, the head instructor and leader of team Shake n’ Bake (the team Bill and I were eventually assigned to), welcomed us to the event and went through a quick Power Point presentation regarding the SRT division and product line. At the end of the presentation, they broke us into two teams of approximately ten people, Team Shake n’ Bake and Team Buttercup.
The morning events were driving the road course and autocross.
Team Shake n’ Bake began at the road course, which was a quick loop inside the large NASCAR track at the speedway. This is when the fun began.
As you can see, not only was it wet and rainy, but there were pools of standing water to contend with.
There were three Chrysler 300C SRT’s, three Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT’s, three Dodge Challenger 392’s, two 2011 Dodge Charger R/T’s, and one Dodge Challenger R/T. We broke into groups of two and piled into the back two of each group. The front car was driven by an instructor and our goal was to follow the instructor’s line around the track, keeping no less than two car lengths from his rear bumper.
Right away, we knew it was going to be a blast. The cars were drifting all over the place, but never out of control. It was exhilarating to push the limits of the cars on every single turn, hit the apex, and accelerate out, feeling the back end slide out just a bit until the power corrected the vehicle. I know I got the car sideways a couple of times before correcting it. I have never had so much fun inside a vehicle in my life. The 392’s were especially squirrely, thanks to the power. I managed to, literally, get the Dodge Challenger sideways on the track before counter-steering and dropping the hammer. We reached speeds above 100 mph on the straights and I recall looking down while drifting through a turn to see my speedometer was above 65 mph.
We each got at least one run in each of the vehicles. In the rain, the Jeep Grand Cherokees were FANTASTIC. If any of you get a chance to drive one, please do. The power of these engines with all-wheel-drive is a BEAUTIFUL combination. There wasn’t a single instance of body roll when it was wet (though later in the day when it was dryer the body roll was a little too much).
Unfortunately, the rain and the concentration from driving prevented me from taking many pictures, but they gave each of us our own USB drive that we plugged into the vehicles to record our runs.
When our time was up at the road course, we all caravanned over to the autocross area.
The autocross was a coned course in a parking lot, only two feet wider than the vehicles themselves. The goal was to get around the track as quickly as possible — without knocking over any cones. For each cone you knocked over, you were penalized two seconds. We received two runs in the 392 Dodge Challenger and two runs in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Bill got the fastest time in our group — a 36.5.
Once autocross was done, the groups came together for lunch which consisted of Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken-Andouille and BBQ pulled pork. GREAT food.
After lunch, the groups went off to the afternoon sessions, which were a head-to-head competition and the performance driving course. Team Shake n’ Bake started with the performance driving course, which was the same as the morning road course, but at higher speeds, and they replaced the R/T’s with another Dodge Challenger 392 and a 2010 Dodge Charger SRT. By now it had stopped raining long enough for a dry line to develop and we powered around the course once more. This time the instructor’s really opened up and we had some real racing (no passing though).
Afterwards, Team Shake n’ Bake went to the head-to-head competition, which was a track similar to the autocross track, but there were two people racing against each other. The winner of each heat was the first one to finish with less penalties (for knocking over cones or not coming to a complete stop inside the box).
We started on R/T’s and did three runs with them, then switched over to 392’s. It had rained again and was getting pretty cold, so we were all spinning the tires off of the line. At the end, we even had an instructor do the course and he ended up knocking over more cones than anyone else.
The last activity of the day we all got a ride along in a 392 with a driver. To be honest, they didn’t go much faster than we had around the track, hitting only 107 mph on the straightaways, and they seemed a lot sloppier around the turns.
We ended with a prize ceremony for the fastest of the day in autocross and the winning team (Team Shake n’ Bake).
All in all, it was a fantastic day. I met some cool people, gave out some cards (so we might have a couple guests to some events in the future), and just had a BLAST. I highly recommend the SRT Track Experience to EVERYONE!