NICOfest at Miller Motorsports Park, Salt Lake City Utah – April 28/29, 2007
When Paramax, the promoters of the GT Live Events Series, approached us about doing an event at one of the premiere motorsports facilities in the U.S., we were glad to oblige.
Then we found out it was in Salt Lake City. Say WHAT?
Normally, I can think of 20-30 people off the top of my head that live near any major metropolitan area, but this one had me stumped. How are we going to put on an event in a place where we have one, maybe two active members? Never willing to shy away from a challenge, and an opportunity to reach out to an untapped population, we started planning. Chris (MinisterofDOOM) was instrumental in handling all the local duties, and got the word out to the local community.
The date of the event rolled around, and I opted to drive to Utah, rather than fly. The G35 (NICO-1) hadn’t been on a real road trip since I bought her from Atlanta, so it was a good chance to spend some “quality time” together on the road. Little did she know, she’d never be the same again….
The drive up through Arizona’s high desert and the rim of the Grand Canyon really is a beautiful drive. Lots of curvy mountain roads to blast through, unless you get stuck behind a doofus in a motor home (grrrr). It’s interesting how the elevation changes and temps are interrelated – 85 degrees when I left Phoenix, and 3 hours later, I’m in 45-degree weather surrounded by snow. Blew through a brief snow flurry just near the border, and took some cool pictures of the snow clouds.
Setup on Friday was uneventful – Chris (MinisterofDOOM) and I had everything wrapped up quickly. The folks at Miller Motorsports Park had reserved a complete paddock for our use (which we only used about 10% of). We had ample time to set up our tent, banners and goodies, and spent the rest of the time meeting up with other vendors and presenters.
Since we had some time to kill, and the NICOclub crew gets the VIP treatment wherever we go, we had access to the karting track for quite a while… It was nice to blow off some steam on the karting course, and it’s one of the nicest and best-maintained kart facilities I’ve seen in the U.S. The karts were fast and tight, unlike those “kiddie-karts” or indoor kart facilities.
Later in the day, the rest of Team NICO rolled in: Aaron (Bwana), Joe (Dieselman) and Al (The Count) arrived from Colorado to partake in the weekend’s festivities. Joe took one look at the Miller facility, and we had to physically restrain him from taking the 600-hp, 1200 lb-ft Dodge Diesel out on the track to embarrass some autocrossers! Instead, we used the truck to get some “elevation” to hang our banner – Check out the teamwork:
Later on, we got to experience the awesome power of the beast, as Joe smoked the G35 in a little impromptu “acceleration contest” to 120 mph… Note the copious amounts of black smoke… I think I ate a chunk of carbon soot during that pull.
On a trailer behind the “Diesel From Hell” was Aaron’s “Project Ghetto KA-T” 240sx coupe – You’ve read about it on the forums, and this is what $100 and some ingenuity can do when you want to boost a tired, worn-out KA24E on a budget. The car was a constant source of entertainment all weekend. It was especially fun standing nearby when some of the locals strolled by, looked under the hood, and exclaimed, “WTF is THAT crap?” Of course, we made sure to point out that the “Ghetto KA-T” would be on the road course Saturday, in case any of them would like to get schooled by it – There were no takers. Most folks were simply amazed that someone would take the time to boost a 250K mile single-cam KA, especially using a cobbled-together manifold, some PVC, and a bunch of leftover parts. Read more about the $100 turbo kit here: Project Ghetto KA-T
We had a great time hanging out with our new friends from Falken – I was fortunate enough to spend a little time “talking shop” with Vaughn (J.R.) Gittin prior to the event via phone, and we’ll be working closely with Mid-Atlantic Motorsports (www.ma-motorsports.com) of Baltimore, Maryland in a short while.
J.R. invited us over to hang with the crew from Falken. Great times! We got a full tour of the paddock, watched the techs disassemble J.R.’s Mustang, spent some time with Ross Petty and the Falken Drift S13, and met up with Mickey (110octane), the owner of the second-baddest 240sx convertible in the world…. (just kidding Mickey – it’s all Vert Love, my friend!) We offloaded some NICOclub shirts for the team, and really enjoyed the paddock tour – it’s amazing how much work goes into keeping these cars maintained and running, and everyone on the team pitches in to help.
Gittin reminded us of a cracked-out caged lion pacing the pits, since his Mustang was out of commission all day Saturday…. He finally persuaded the track management to let him take out one of the Miller Driving School standard-issue Mustangs, and he proceeded to thrash the crap out of anyone on the track – He was simply unstoppable, blowing the crowd away with an awesome exhibition of grip driving. There’s a reason this guy is famous – he’s one of the best in the business. If you haven’t gotten a chance to meet J.R., Ross, Mick, Taka, and the rest of the Falken Team, look for them at the next event.
There was a group of “paracopters” (dunno what else to call them) buzzing around the event, and rumor has it that anyone could give it a try – I prefer to keep both feet on the ground, but here’s some pics of these guys cruising overhead, enjoying the weather and the awesome scenery of Utah.
Brooke from RevvWear (www.revvwear.com) showed up with her posse and displayed her clothing line – She also brought her two show Maximas, which she says have been getting a lot less use since she bought an R6…. Hmmmm – Cute gal, loves Nissans, rides a sport bike? There’s an unbeatable combo! Thanks for hanging out with us Brooke!
Speaking of “cute”, Amanda from Loveland, Colorado took a liking to NICO-1… We stood by and watched while she “did her thing” for a photoshoot… We’ll be negotiating with her to work some future NICOclub events, and I gotta say, the G looks a hell of a lot better with Amanda draped over the hood!
Friday night, we headed back into town – Applebee’s sounded like a good choice, until we got there…. Utah has some WEIRD laws governing the serving of alcohol (such as, they can’t hand you your beverage over the bar, they have bring it up behind you – strange). You also have to buy a “membership”, and you can “sponsor” the other members of your party… Whatever – just bring us some drinks! So, we sit at the bar and order up some frozen margaritas. The server brings out these tiny martini glasses with an olive and a lime in them. “Umm, excuse me, but we ordered margaritas.” “Yep – I know“, says the server. I politely explain that a margarita doesn’t come with an olive, and it sure as hell doesn’t belong in a martini glass. The bartender tells me she’s been tending bar for 20 years and that I’m wrong…. Hmmmm. Anyone wanna alert Applebee’s that, being from Phoenix, I know a thing or two about beverages containing tequila? Anyhow, we get our margaritas in metal shakers… Frozen drink + metal shaker = impossible to pour. By now, I’m about to start whipping coasters at the hired help for fun, and Joe’s taken to making fun of the 2 girls across the bar who can’t put a sentence together without saying “like” 13 times… Screw it, we’ll just have bottled beer – can’t mess that up. Applebee’s gets a big fat FAIL from the NICOclub crew.
The crew from UtahNissans.com showed up and made sure the car show area was filled in – We had about 35 Nissans, which was a decent turnout considering there were only 5 Hondas in attendance! Images of the Utah local rides are included in the gallery.
Now, the REAL reason we all went to Salt Lake City wasn’t the car show, or the girls, or the great weather – it was to enjoy some track time on THE most amazing and well-designed track in the U.S. Miller Motorsports Park opened just over a year ago, and it’s truly a world-class facility. The staff went out of their way to accommodate any request we had, and the track management runs a tight ship. Everything is new and clean… air-conditioned paddocks with smooth, shiny concrete, good lighting, air jacks for each stall, in-paddock audio and video monitors, huge billboard-sized monitors situated throughout the track (so you can watch the action from afar), covered grandstands, control towers, and even covered towers for the corner workers – top-notch and impressive.
Aaron and I hopped into the “Beginner” class Saturday morning, in anticipation of getting a little extra “edge” before we hit the track. Miller has a strict “no-off-track” rule, which basically states if you put 2 wheels off-course, you have to pit for a “discussion”. Four wheels off-course and you’re done for the day. This ensures a clean track and safe racing. We loaded into the vans for some laps with the instructors, and after several laps, we had the layout and racing line committed to memory.
Aaron was first on the track, and took “Project Ghetto KA-T” out for some abuse… The car handled phenomenally, and ran good on 6 psi – but that wasn’t enough. Aaron came back into the paddock, where he bumped the boost to 12 lbs, and off he went. The tired KA knocking, clattering and complaining, Aaron managed to tick off some impressive lap times and even pulled off a couple passes that were unexpected to say the least. On the second run group, the car managed to catch the #4 spark plug wire on fire, bust an upper radiator hose and blow off a boost line, so it was back to the paddock for some hasty repairs.
I was elected to run the S13 in the third session while Aaron, Joe and Al scooted into town to attend a class for their scuba certification (scuba diving and racing in one weekend!), and the little pignose didn’t disappoint. I pounded on the car for two laps before it started losing power, finally grinding to a halt near the course exit chute. Had I killed it? Was this the end of the “Ghetto KA-T”? If so, she went out bravely, hitting some good speeds on Miller’s West Course.
Upon further inspection, it turns out I hadn’t killed it – The coolant overflow had spewed over onto some wiring, which tripped the 100A breaker Aaron installed to protect the trunk-mounted battery. While Joe and Aaron were able to nurse it back to health, it wouldn’t run properly, and it’s likely the old KA will be coming out to make room for an RB25 in a few weeks.
Late Saturday, more kart time! Joe was talking some mad smack about his kart skills, so we decided to see who had the goods. While waiting for our turn, we watched a girl get a kart SO far off-course, every single lap, it was simply miraculous. We’re not sure where she was headed, but she finally managed to bury the kart in the sand, earning a round of applause from the rest of us.
During the next run group, we watched as a group of local ricers made asses of themselves, bumping, spinning, and generally sucking at driving. One guy was black-flagged a couple times for driving like a buffoon, and he managed to spin himself out a couple times after wrecking other drivers. When he pulled off course, he was already yelling at the track officials and being a clown, so he got a massive chorus of “FAIL” from the NICO crew – he wisely chose to leave, and was so flustered he left with his rental helmet. What a doof.
We had the course for as long as we wanted, and we decided to go at it for 20 laps. Joe rolled out first, with me right behind him, then Chris, Al, a couple other drivers, and Aaron. Well, I got schooled by Joe, who pulled away a little each lap. Aaron showed up at the LAST second, pulling up next to me as we finished the race, so I suppose I got schooled by both of them… at least Chris and Al never passed me, and we all wound up lapping the two non-NICO drivers several times… Al took a brief off-road excursion and wound up with an ass full of sand. Good times on the kart track!
Saturday night, we decided on Chili’s, and had an awesome dinner, with none of the lame bartending drama! We headed over to a bar called “The Puck” after dinner, and finished off the night with some stiff drinks and shared some good laughs about the day’s events.
Sunday morning came REAL early, as it always does when we do an event…. Having had a taste of the road course, there was NO WAY we were going to sit idly by and watch everyone else have all the fun… We had a capable car in the G35, but there was no way I was gonna take it on track with the 20″ wheels and street tires. Out of the blue, up steps Paul from BFGoodrich – Now, not only did Paul hook me up with a set of 18×9.5 SSR wheels, but he also mounted a brand new set of heat-cycled BFG g-force R-1 tires.
For those that don’t know, the R-1 is BFG’s DOT-legal competition tire…. basically a soft, racing-compound slick with 2 circumferential grooves for legality. They’re sticky as hell, and are NOT recommended for street use. Paul gave some tips and pointers on setting the proper pressures, offered us a couple contact data sheets for tracking temperatures and inflations, and sent us on our way.
I took the first session, and it was clear that the tires make ALL the difference. The G35 is a MUCH more capable performer than most people give it credit for, and even with a newbie driver behind the wheel, the G made believers out of some folks. I was gridded with a pair of WRX’s, a Miata, an Evo, an STi-powered Forester, a second-gen MR2 and an Elise, and as such, I opted to roll out last – I didn’t want to become a “rolling roadblock” and irritate the real racers. However, after a warmup lap, it became apparent that the overall balance and superior tires were going to work to the G35’s advantage. I pushed the car mercilessly, hitting 105-110 mph on the back stretch, running the entire course in 4th gear with 2 brief forays into 3rd gear, and running the two sharpest corners at 50mph. Despite my newb status on the track, I was able to move from the back of the pack and overtake one WRX, the MR2, and the Forester in ten laps.
The highlight of my track time: I spent the last two laps mad-dogging the rear bumper of the Lotus Elise. Yes, a Lotus Elise, driven by an accomplished SCCA driver, on autocross tires. No kidding. With the Brembos, Ferodo 2500DS pads, and BFG R-1’s, I was able to brake at the same point as the Elise, and the G35’s higher HP made up a little bit of ground on each straightaway. At the end of the tenth lap, I had a brief opportunity to pass the Elise and stack up some “bragging rights” – However, I had to drive the G35 650 miles home, and I can’t afford to replace an Elise if I make a noob mistake… So, I was content knowing I could hang with him through the course.
For the folks that DIDN’T come out to Miller, here’s the part that’s gonna bug you: We had UNLIMITED track time all day Sunday. There weren’t enough cars to fill all the run groups, so as long as your car had passed Tech, you could run all day if you wanted (hey SoCal, where were you guys?). The G35 got whored out all day, with Aaron, Joe and Chris taking a crack at the road course… We burned up almost 2 whole tanks of gas JUST on the racetrack! As soon as one driver would pull off, brakes smoking, another driver would hop in and go put in another 10 laps. $75 for a full day of track time? Where in the world can you do that?
Joe and Aaron are both MUCH better drivers than me, and they both put on a hell of a show, passing some cars that, on paper, should have smoked the G. The Coupe never missed a beat through all this abuse – no off-track drama, no spins, and no loss of control. It remained balanced throughout, without brake fade or understeer. The NISMO exhaust sounded wicked at full-boogie heading down the front stretch. We boiled the power steering fluid all over the engine bay, but other than that, the car performed flawlessly.
It was really fun coming off the track and getting some props from a couple accomplished drivers and the spectators – I’m HOOKED, and am already making arrangements to upgrade the brakes (they’re SHOT), replace all the fluids, add shocks, and pick up some lightweight track wheels (and of course, some R-1 tires!) to hit the local track scene.
Paul from BFGoodrich met up with us again later in the day with some more goodies: The NICOclub staff took home BFG hats, decals, and t-shirts, and best of all, we each got a brand-new G-Tech Pro! Now THAT’S an awesome gift! Thanks a TON to BFG for hooking us up, and for letting us abuse their tires for the weekend – I just learned that you can buy the R-1 tires through TireRack.com, which is a NICOclub sponsor, so you’ve definitely made a bunch of new customers!
Again, if you missed this event because it was “too far to drive” or “I don’t like car shows”, or “I’d rather stay home with my girlfriend”, well, you missed out. I’m gonna get a couple days of rest, then it’s off to Carlisle, PA for another HUGE NICOfest event!
Additional images are available in the NICOfest Official Gallery