Maiden Voyage: CSRG Charity Challenge, Infineon Raceway, Sonoma CA.

I decided to leave Portland early Tuesday morning to cover the 600 miles to Sonoma by Friday morning. Just about the time you’d need for a brisk bicycle trip. But I was hauling my newly more-or-less completed Airstream car hauler–Nero, with my race car–Peyote stuffed inside. I needed time to cope with potential minor issues like the trailer breaking in half, or the wheels falling off. My wife Diane elected not to join me. She’s a panicker. If Nero indulged itself in a death wobble coming down a mountain pass, I would have to pry Diane from around my neck before dealing with the emergency.

Pulling out of my driveway was the first challenge. Making certain that 34 feet of trailer gets clear of the gate before it closes and doesn’t take out a gatepost would be entertainment enough. But I live on Portland’s favorite racer road with my driveway between two blind curves–I needed to get truck and trailer across the road before someone came drifting around the corner. The sudden rise in the road levered the long trailer’s bumper rollers firmly into the tarmac, causing an alarming grunch and slowing my progress just as a clapped out Corolla appeared, reprising some scene from the Fast and the Furious. Somehow I got the trailer out of his way, but from the look of stark terror his face as he passed the truck he surely needed a change of linen. I made my way through the twisty roads near my house to the highway, learning as I went how to keep my wheels out of the ditch, on my side of the road (wide turns and a very late apex), and receiving fewer and fewer wild hand and arm gestures. Progress. Once on the highway the trailer pulled smoothly, was unperturbed by side gusts, and presented no challenges for my F350 Diesel pickup. Diane could have come. Well, maybe not on the first few miles.

Two books on tape, one bad road lunch, and 400 miles later I decided to stop for the night at a roadside rest area near Mt. Shasta. I locked up the truck, bundled into the comfortable bed, and fell asleep to gentle hum of an 18-wheeler idling two feet from my window. I woke up at what turned out to be three AM. The idling diesel was gone, replaced by a manic foof dog in a giant motorhome screaming Map, map, map at one second intervals. I would have cheerfully toasted it for breakfast. Instead I rolled down the road and stoked my heartburn at one of those uninspired restaurants whose only saving grace is that they open early. A few years ago I found a dinky restaurant that opened at 4:00 AM in Milan during a jet lagged walk around the sleeping town and had one of the ten great meals of my life. Where did we go wrong?

Some wild notion lead me to try the back way to Sonoma, past Clearlake and Colusa through the mountains to Callistoga. Interesting idea. I had forgotten how twisty and narrow the road was, and how few turnoffs there are to let the snarling pack of early morning Napa commuters by. Ciao…Same to you…Hey, you don’t even know my momma. I got to Sears Point at 9:00 AM on Wednesday–two days before I needed to be there. So I amused myself by completely reworking the plumbing system in Nero and replacing the water pump. It took all the time available.

I had a great time racing–Sears (Infineon) is one of my favorite tracks. Finished second on Saturday when my gearbox gave me a momentary issue. Got first on Sunday though a Lotus 7 well-driven by Grant Reefer would surely have passed if we’d had one more lap. Peyote takes to Sears like a duck to water. I always wander around a bit in the carousel, never have figured out where I should be until I get to the apex and exit, and then I know it was wrong. But the 180 degree turn after that is just magic. Most folks brake hard and go down at least one gear. A few years ago I came into the turn with Pete Lovely right on my ass, which is always tough sledding. there’s just no one smoother. I was so busy looking in my mirrors that I blew the braking point totally. As I came into the turn much, much too fast I gave a quick stab at the brakes and turned in, expecting to spin. Instead the nose pointed in, the back end slid around neatly, and the straight opened before me like a harbor opens to a sailboat. I stood on the throttle, still waiting for the spin and Peyote shot down the straight like it was on tracks. Pete was at least three car lengths back. Magic. I tried it again the next lap and it worked again! I have no clue if that works with other cars, Peyote is pretty odd.

As always, the food in Sonoma was spectacular. If you go there and don’t eat at The Girl and the Fig, then it’s your loss, but please let me know that before you suggest a restaurant to me. I ate at the bar in the company of the convivial bartenders, wonderful people, at the end of the meal and two glasses of spectacular wine I wanted to adopt them all. Perfect mussels in a broth you could happily drink, Duck confit on a bed of couscous in some stunningly well balanced base that I can’t identify–certainly a hint of cheese, but not so rich that it competed with the duck. Berry cobbler with homemade vanilla bean ice cream and a fig sauce on top. The sweetness of the ice cream and berries were tempered perfectly so the fig sauce was necessary. Sounds too sweet but it was transcendental. I ate every morsel of each course and waddled back to my truck.

Loading up to leave I had the most serious incident of the week. I had Peyote nearly to the top of the ramps when the winch pulled completely away from the floor and went tumbling out the door as Peyote shot backward across the paddock right towards the Formula One garages. the vintage F1 cars were out racing and there was no one walking behind Peyote. Bill Hart’s cousin John (I forget his last name, but I owe him a good bottle of scotch) jumped behind the car and muscled it to a standstill before it smacked into the garage. I was horrified, but I made repairs, reinforced the winch mount and loaded Peyote without further incident. I’ve added several safety stops to prevent similar mishaps.

Except for a some crappy food and another night in a noisy rest stop, the trip home was completely uneventful, which is a good thing. Nero works! It didn’t crack in two, the frame didn’t bend, it seems to manage the load just perfectly. We’re ready to rock. See you in the spring or maybe a bit later. Wherever you are, sooner or later we’ll get there.

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2 thoughts on “Maiden Voyage: CSRG Charity Challenge, Infineon Raceway, Sonoma CA.”

  1. You didn’t mention what type of hitch you are using. I tow a 33 foot travel trailer behind a Suburban using the “equalizer” brand hitch and have found it to be amazing for control and ease of hook-up. We did a 4500 mile trip last summer and I was most impressed when we were in South Dakota with 50 MPH side winds. No sway whatsoever. I have four kids and always felt safe. People also swear by the Hensley hitch but at $ 2400 out of my budget and some comments about hard to hook up.

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