That’s right! I finally popped my Buttonwillow cherry. Last April, I made the trip down there with Pat to create content for the blog by documenting his journey. Some of you may remember that it didn’t as planned. He ended up blowing his motor on his third lap out, and we had to get his car towed all the way back to Vegas. Let’s just thank the lord that a few days prior to us leaving he had gotten a “sign” to get AAA before we drove down there. Anyways, the event that he had signed up for was a “Test Day” that is put on through Buttonwillow themselves. I Instantly fell in love with how the whole thing went, and I knew that one day I had to attend. You basically buy 8 hours of track time and you can come and go on track as you please, no run groups, no sessions, not really many rules. The only thing they stop for is a 30 min lunch, and the occasional black flag (only because someone is broke and needs to get towed in)
Not only was the “Test Day” scheduling great, but it was Buttonwillow! Buttonwillow is a very iconic track for grassroots motorsports in California and is located about 45 min northwest of Bakersfield CA, just off the 5 freeway in the middle of FarmVille nowhere. I was very excited to turn some laps here because its a great way to compare myself to others, and see how I would stack up (and for sure I would PB). Most anybody that tracks their car has been to Buttonwillow at some point in their life, and have posted times they have done there.
Before I made the trip down to Buttonwillow, I had to address the worn brake pads on my 4 door. Two track days ago I was pressing my luck with how worn they were, and yet I decided to risk one more track day. After that, I knew I couldn’t put off getting new pads any more. Money was tight, I turned to my much neglected EG and decide to cannibalize it, Taking my Project MU Club racer pads and the rotors form it. Im running spoon twin blocks on it, which share the same size pad as the NSX calipers I have on my 4 door.
These pads and rotors only have two track days on them.
Below you can see the rotor on the left is my old worn out one from the 4 door, and the one on the right is the new(ish) one from my EG.
And below is how worn the pads were! It was a very good thing I decided not to press my luck a third time.
And here they are all swapped onto the 4 door.
My work schedule is all over the place, sometimes I work in the mornings and others I’m working late into the night. This makes it hard to prep and work on the car during the week for me. I knew that I needed to get them swapped in the begging of the week sometime, because I would be working until 5pm on Thursday night and we needed to head out that night. It’s a 5 hours drive to the motel, and the track goes hot at 9 am Friday morning, there was no time to wait till the last minute. Unfortunately thats exactly what I did. Earlier in the week I did swap the brakes over, and test drove the car to make sure it worked. However, I didn’t bleed the brakes and this being my first time at Buttonwillow I didn’t want anything to go wrong.
Pat had just told me that we could bleed the brakes Friday morning at the track, and I figured that would work. The only problem is… Last minute Pat had an unforeseen emergency and wasn’t going to be able to make the trip down there with me. You see, we had both planned to take our cars and tear it up together. He had even bought a new front sway bar (that we will be reviewing in a few weeks) and we had done all his prep the weekend before. He literally texted me 2 hours before we were supposed to be leaving, and just like that I was on my own. Going solo to an out of state track event is a little scary because if anything happens to your car, you wont have a buddy to help you get it fixed/or get you home. Pat was also going to be my personal instructor, as he has done his fair share of laps there. I had never driven one inch of the track, and had a car that still needed to have its brakes bled. I was as far from prepared as you could have possibly been. Pat was my rock, and was supposed to help me feel comfortable. Now he was not even going to be in the same state.
It was time to put on my big boy pants and get ready to make my solo trip to Buttonwillow. I got off work, rushed home, and began to get everything packed up. I had to wash my car (my car is crappy enough, it needs all the help it can get), bleed my brakes, and pack up all my tools/supplies I would need incase anything happened. Angie was able to help me get my brakes bled, and helped get all my soft stuff packed up. I was loaded up and hitting the road at 8pm that night. It was 365 miles to the motel, and I was tired, anxious, and incredibly nervous. All I knew is that I had to make the event no matter what. If I shied away from this, I would have really let myself down.
A few months back I installed a Grams 320lph fuel pump in my 4 door. At the time I felt like I was demanding a lot from my motor and I figured that adding a bigger fuel pump would help keep the motor hydrated. I was just going to throw on a Walbro 255lph pump, but I was given the grams 320lph pump and decided to try it out. I had installed it a few track days ago, and noticed that I would go thru fuel pretty quick when on track. This wasn’t that big of a deal, It just meant that I could only go out for about 3 session before I needed to fuel up again. That night I fueled up before I got on the freeway, and I made it to state line before noticing my fuel gauge was unusually low for only having driven about 75 miles. I managed to make it to Barstow, but had to pull off there for fear that I wouldn’t make it to the next gas station about an hour away.
I snapped some pictures of the car, and got one hell of a price shock… LOOOK AT THOSE FUEL PRICES!!
I jumped back on the road and continued to keep my eyes fixed on the fuel gauge. I wasn’t really sure how many more gas stations there were between me and the motel, so I went another 75 miles before pulling off for gas again. At this point there was only another 150 ish miles till I got to the motel, and I knew I would be able to get that far on a full tank.
Notice how low the car sits in the rear with all the added weight. Two spare wheels/tires, a full size jack, two jack stands, a crate full of every fluid/parts I might need, my tool box full of 30 pounds of tools, helmet, water sprayer, bag of soft goods, camera bag/equipment, and a skateboard.
The gas prices here were just as bad.
I jumped back on the road, and was ready to make my final stint. Along the way I remember that I needed 200 bucks to register for the event the next morning. I didn’t know if it was cash only or not (its not, they take cards too) So as I drove “Pats shortcut” through Arvin, I stopped off at the first ATM I saw. It was nearing midnight as I pulled in the bank parking lot. I decided to snap a couple more pictures, because I thought it would make for a cool story. I busted out 200 bucks from the bank, and the tripod from the car. Parked the car turned just slightly, and set up the camera for some long exposure night shots.
The home stretch, all I had to do was get through Arvin, and hop on the 5 north for about 15 minutes till I reached the exit for the motel. The last time Pat and I stayed at this motel, with the racer discount it was only 25 bucks. Tonight for some reason it was 55 dollars. I was waking up at 6am, which meant that I was pretty much paying 10 bucks an hour to sleep. I was on the 2nd floor, and the room below me was having a ganja fest or something in their room. My room smelled like weed and gross body odor, I slept with the bathroom fart fan on just to stop me from getting contact high. I slept on top of the blanket, with my hoodie on, hood over my head, and hands in the pocket. I didn’t want any part of my skin to touch that bed, for fear of catching the herp’s or some other VD. I dozed off with the soothing sounds of Rocko’s Modern Life playing on the T.V.
Five hours later my alarm goes off, it’s 6:27am and 43 digress outside. I open the door and look to see if my car was broken into or not (It wasn’t) Drive to get gas (its still 5.29 a gallon), and get me some caffeine.
You have to get back on the 5 freeway and drive north for another 15 minutes before you get to the exit for the track. I arrived at the track at 7:30am, paid my 200 bucks, and found my self a spot to call my own for the day.
Heres a few of the cars that I was sharing track time with. (there was also about 10 different s2000’s, a couple 944’s, some miata’s, a fit, and a corolla.) Its hard to document and do the event.
The drivers meeting was at 8:30am, where the massive crowd of 33 drivers met to just cover the bare minimum. What layout we are doing, protocol for black fag, open passing, and what time lunch was. Seriously thats it, the meeting lasted about 15 minutes.
9:00am! it was time, I was about to drive my first ever lap of Buttonwillow. I was so nervous… I clearly had the slowest car, and for sure was the only person that had never done this track before. I waited until a few guys headed out, then pulled into the hot pit and awaited the signal to enter the track. I pulled out of the hot pit and merged into the racing line, I had NO clue how the track went, and was even wondering if I would be able to memorize the track in one day. Once I hit “cotton corners” I was completely lost, there is no brake markers, and the elevation changes were more than I was expecting. As I entered bus stop coming out into riverside I couldn’t believe how fast this track was. I cautiously approached Phil hill, up then down, into the sweeper still having no idea what I was doing just trying to stay on track as I came out into the esses, then finally into sunset and on to the front straight. I had done it, I had completed my first lap of Buttonwillow CW 13 and didn’t get in anyones way. For the next 45 minutes I exploited the fact that there wasn’t too many cars out, and just tried to learn/memorize as much as I could. Finally coming in to give the car a once over, and let it cool down.
The best part about the “Test Day” is you just come in and go out as you please. The car was all good and I was ready to head back out. I went out and continued to push harder and harder, working on setting up brake markers and getting familiar with the blind corners at cotton corners, and Phil hill. The scary thing about the open test day is, people can and WILL pass you ANYWHERE! I made it another 30 mins before deciding I was ready to put the AIM in the car, and start getting some baseline times.
It was challenging to get clean laps since I was so slow, and I was just trying to stay out of peoples way most of the time. The first clean lap I got was a 2:14.26 and I was just happy to be sub 2:15. I also knew that I would be able to get a better lap as the day went on and I got more familiar with the track. I text Pat to show him the time I did, and he asked me what my line was through the sweeper. He told me to hit it like a double apex, basically I would trail brake into it apexing the first inside corner then hit the outer apex of the sweeper, and finally hitting the inside apex coming out as straight as possible into the esses. I headed back out eager to try the line that Pat had instructed me to take, and on the second lap out I was able to hit 2:13.9 using his line suggestion. Even though he was 350 miles away, he is so familiar with this track that he was able to assist me via text.
I knew that going into this event my tires were on their last leg, but what I didn’t know is how quickly this track would wear them down. Having an open diff was causing the passenger tire to wear much more than the driver. Heading into “off ramp” I downshift into second and then its a tight right where you can pretty much floor it running wide to the outside as you exit on to I-5 and head into cotton corners. Im also assuming that running hot laps for more than 30 minutes at a time was also consuming tires at a much faster rate.
After lunch ended, I went back out and got what was going to be my PB for the day. A 2:12.18, so painfully close to a 2:11. During that session after getting the 2:12.18 I continued to push harder to try and get the 2:11 but ran into fuel starvation issues, and had to come off track and refuel. I noticed it going into “off ramp” when I tried to blip the throttle to down shift there was a delayed half way rev, then coming out of that corner flooring it in second the car had a hiccup. The cost of fuel at the track was 5.49 a gallon, a whooping 20 cents more than at the gas station by the hotel (15 minutes away). So I just refueled at the track, the convenience factor was worth the extra 20 cents a gallon.
I feel like after that my tires were completely done, they had given me the 2:12 and that was the end of it. From then on I was only able to get 2:14’s and I was sliding all over the place. After another 45 minutes of trying to fight traffic, and fight the worn out tires to get that 2:11. I came in, and what I saw blew me away. My tires were horrible!
I didn’t want my day to end since I was having so much fun. I rotated the tires around and headed back out, not trying to PB but just getting as much seat time as possible. I figured that that smoother I could be on worn out tires, the faster I would be next time I came with new tires. (There is a tire shop on the premises. I almost went and asked them to flip my tires, but was afraid of what their reaction would be to me wanting to flip them.)
It was almost 4pm and I headed back out to get some much needed seat time, but by this time I was fatigued from not eating since the night before, only drinking water all day, lack of sleep, and I was incredibly sore from the abuse of just being in the car after almost 100 laps, and more than 200 miles on track. (I averaged 12 laps per session, and went out 7 or 8 times. Each lap is 2.68 miles. so 2.68 x 12 = 32.16 miles x 7 = 225.12 miles)
By now my tires were officially done, I came in and was going to call it for the day. There was still another 30 min left till the day was over, and I felt like I was going to short myself if I didn’t go until the very last minute. I rotated the tires once more, taking the best two Nankangs and putting them up front, and then taking the old Federal RSr tires I had as spares and put them on the rear just to see how bad it would be. The federals are at least 8 years old and even though there is plenty of tread, they were super dried out. I went out one final time, taking it slowly I was able to get into the the 2:16’s but it was super sketch. The rear was sliding all over the place, and would oversteer in the worst possible areas of the track. It was awesome though to feel the differences the between the tires and how drastically it affected me on track. These kind of experiences are what help you become a better driver, and at the end of the day there was only a handful of people out so I wasn’t worried about messing up anyones lap.
Keen eyed readers will notice that these are actually Angies spare set of wheels from her FIT. 15×7.5 konig dekagrams, with 205/50 federal rsr tires.
I packed everything back up and headed back home.
I had such an amazing day. I was able to surpass my expectations I had set for myself, and become familiar with the track quite quickly. Once again I’m astonished with how much abuse my car takes. Clocking almost 1000 total miles in only 24 hours, and not skipping one single beat.(except running low on fuel) This thing is truly a testament to how tough SOHC motors are. Im going to say that I wasn’t too comfortable after sitting in the bucket seat for that many miles, and on the way home I was wishing I had a stock seat to sit in. I encourage anyone to try and make it out to one of these “Test Day’s.” It may seem a little overwhelming at first, but everyone there is polite, and respectful. As long as you practice good track etiquette everyone will be cool with you. Dont worry about breaking, or going off. People were doing this all day long! When people would go off, as long as they could keep driving everything was fine. It was unfortunate though, because this caused a lot of dirt and rocks to get on the track making it slippery in certain areas. I would say that this is as close as you can get to wheel to wheel racing with out actually doing it. It’s not like a normal HPDE event where they specifically tell you to not race anyone, there really isn’t “enforced” rules when out on track.
If you’re at all nervous about taking your first step towards hitting the track, I would suggest you fight the jitters/anxiety and just do it. The only way to get experience is to actually get out on a track, its such a different feeling then you’ll ever get driving on streets. Let my car be the perfect example: You don’t need anything special to get out on track, stop making excuses for yourself. Just put some higher temp brake fluid in, and you’ll be fine. Yes I have pads, but if its truly your first time on a track you wont be able to be fast enough to exceed the limits of stock pads. If you do, then all that means is you’re ready for some upgrades. I have the cheap Tein’s, street tires, SOHC motor, full interior, and a stock steering wheel. YOU CAN DO IT TOO!
Thanks for reading the story about my trip to Buttonwillow, and please! If you have any questions at all about doing your first track day, where to sign up, what you need for it, will your car be adequate, or anything else. DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me. Comment below on this post, Email me at Billy@functiontheory.com, or DM on Instagram @functiontheory I want to help you get out there and use your car!
I had some GoPro issues while I was there, for some reason it said my memory card was full when clearly it wasn’t. So I was only able to get this 8 min clip. Its raw and un cut, and doesn’t include my PB lap. Sorry.