[see updates below]

Waterford Hills
Rejoice: Curves Ahead

I’m just an old, red-blooded male whose mid-life crisis was a few miles ago. Like most males my age, I tend to think of only one thing: watching TV in peace.

Back in my younger days I’m sure I had something else that pre-occupied my thoughts, but I can’t seem to remember what that could have been. Maybe if I buy one of those little blue pills I keep getting e-mails about, it may come back to me.

Oddly, if I go back even further in time, I remember very clearly what was on my mind: to be Speed Racer.

Speed Racer was an extremely gifted driver backed by a talented racing engineer (“Pops”), a cute girlfriend (“Trixie”), and of course, a monkey. And he had the world’s most desirable race car, the Mach 5.

I can’t compete with that. The best I can do is to fantasize about driving on a race track. On a recliner. With some tortilla chips. While watching on a 72″ HDTV (I may need to start working on my fantasies a bit).

The race track in this case is Waterford Hills race course, about a half hour north of Detroit. It’s a little 1.42 mile track tucked away in the suburbs. According to Uncle Internet, Sterling Moss is supposed to have said about it, “If you can drive Waterford Hills well, you can drive anywhere!”

Back before I was Married with Children, I would go out regularly to Waterford Hills with other delinquents and pretend to be Speed Racer. It wasn’t a very good impression, but that wasn’t the point. It was for a Hoot and a Holler. The only thing that could have made it better was if I could jump bridges like the General Lee and have Daisy Duke serving me drinks.

Warning: Do not attempt to drive after watching this video. Really. Put those car keys down. You cannot jump bridges. Unless, of course, you own a 1969 Dodge Charger. Then by all means go ahead.

The original Ms. Daisy Duke - Catherine Bach
Yes, it’s another chance for me to put in a 1970s/1980s reference

“How do you make a small fortune in racing? Start with a large one.”
–old racing proverb

“A bad day at the track is still better than a good day in the office.”
–even older racing proverb

The car I took on the track was my 1989 Porsche 944 Turbo, which I bought specifically for track use.

I remember our first time, because you always remember your first time. I was scared, yet trembling with excitement. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Then it was all over before I knew it. And afterwards I was all sweaty and craving for more.

(Wait—what was I talking about again? Back on track…)

In the beginning my 944 and I did it as often as we could. We did it all over the place, from Waterford to Elkhart Lake, WI to Braselton, GA. At some point in the relationship, when we got to know each other really well, we finally did the ‘Ring thing.

And that’s when it all went to pot.

From then on, we stopped doing it. We separated for a long while. When we got back together, it just wasn’t the same any more.

I started noticing droopy parts, creaky joints, and fading bits. The luster (and the Zymöl) was definitely starting to wear off. I had lost the confidence to do it together on the track again. We were spending less and less time with each other.

Inevitably, my eyes started roaming and noticing younger, faster models. Sure I still felt the 944 was capable and I still felt a bond from all those years together, but have you seen the specs on these new ones?!

Man, I’m so glad marriage is way easier than this.

“When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.”

“In less enlightened times, the best way to impress women was to own a hot car. But women wised up and realized it was better to buy their own hot cars so they wouldn’t have to ride around with jerks.”
–Scott Adams

So now I’m running around with a nice, newer model, a saucy Subie. This one has tighter fit and finish than the older one. It’s faster, too. And we finally did it—at Waterford Hills. It was a high performance driver education (HPDE) event by Rally Sport Region of Porsche Club of America.

It took us a while to get our rhythm, but by the third session, we were in sync. It was all fun and joy and unicorns with rainbows.

Until the engine blew.

Look! I still remember which direction to drive on this track! (Final laps before my camera batteries ran out and the piston decided it hated me.)

No gory details, but the Achilles heel of the current generation (GR type, 2008-2012) Subaru Impreza WRX STI is piston ring land failure.[1] There are many forum threads around the internet regarding this problem.

I ordered a new short block with forged pistons for this car, which should prevent the problem from recurring (see old racing proverb above). I just have to wait a while for the work to be completed.

In the meantime, I’ve crawled back to my 944. We’re getting to know each other again. It’s a slow process but one I’m looking forward to. And I’m almost getting used to the taste of crow. Almost. Which brings me to the truism that best sums up this whole affair.

Porsche. There is no substitute.

Crankiness Rating: 3 out 11 (The track is just way too much fun. And because race car.)

Update 1 – May 29, 2012:

Wow. I need a second job.

I ordered a new short block for my car. And it went downhill financially from there. First, I upgraded the pistons to forged Cosworths, because I don’t want this to happen again. Then that “track devil” started talking to me. You may be familiar with this conversation.

TD: “You know, now that the engine will be out, you can make other modifications.”

EM: “Like what?”

TD: “Well, now you can add horsepower. Check out these turbo prices. Not too bad, huh?”

EM: “Hey, you’re right! Of course, if I’m doing that, I have to it right. That means a new downpipe, equal length headers, injectors, and a fuel pump.”

TD: “If you’re going that far, you’ll have to get it professionally tuned.”

EM: “I guess so.”

TD: “You know, you might as well make it a dedicated track car. You should get coilovers and new sway bars. And to be safe, you should get a harness bar and new harnesses as well.”

At this point, these modifications total a little more than the GDP of Belize. Since I am not a country that can just print money and ignore my debts, I scaled my purchases down enough that I may have a chance of getting bailed out by Germany.

I upgraded my short block (again) to a race version. More money, and more peace of mind, although not a fiscally responsible start. Then oil pan upgrades, followed by springs and sway bars. Finally, I decided stopping was a good idea, so rotors and pads were ordered as well.

At least my dealership is naming one of their bays after me, so maybe I can sleep there when my wife finds out about all this.

This was after just one track event. In comparison, this is what I had to do to the Porsche 944 Turbo to run in a wide variety of tracks (excluding wear items like brake pads, brake fluid, tires, etc.):

  • roll bar
  • harness

Update 2 – August 1, 2012:

It was not the piston ringland as I had suspected, but the piston connecting rod bearing. See post Slow Subaru, Practical Porsche.