Oregon Raceway Park

New road courses are few and far between, so it’s always pretty exciting when land, capital and bulldozers come together to make a new one. Sometimes, they’re expensive, professional efforts involving famous names like Alan Wilson, resulting in a nicely flowing layout polished free of surface imperfections, with ample runoff room. Other times, they’re idiosyncratic creations of gearheads with pavers — nonprofessionals just paving a circuit along the existing contours of the land,
Oregon Raceway Park, in Grass Valley, Oregon belongs to the latter category. It’s in good company; both Lime Rock and the Shenandoah circuit at Summit Point were the product of track-crazy guys on a mission. And typical of the category, it’s a fun, busy track rife with built-in imperfections and great corners created by accident. What follows is some video, and my thoughts, turn by turn. Let me know what you think!
Track Map

My Video

(Unfortunately, I took video on only one session, and didn’t position the camera very well; see YouTube for more videos)
Corner By Corner
The pit straight ends at Turn 1, a fast, banked corner slightly greater than 90 degrees. The track drops abruptly as you approach the corner, reducing the available grip under braking and hiding the turn in point until you’ve already begun slowing the car.

Braking for Turn 1

Turn 1
Fortunately, the corner’s camber makes heavy braking unnecessary in many cars, and serves mainly to slow you down slightly before the uphill braking zone for the the acute Turn 2.

Braking for Turn 2

Turn 2, with Mount Rainier in the distance
A classic, late-apex approach pays dividends, as Turn 2 exits onto the second longest straight of the track. As with many parts of ORP, drivers have to wait until they’ve covered two thirds of the straight before gaining sight of the next corner, a downhill 90 degree left hander with a large, broken down barn to driver’s right on exit.

West Straightaway

Approaching Turn 3
A modest amount of acceleration is possible before entering Turn 4, or from the official ORP literature, “The Pucker Factor.” If there’s puckering to be done, it’s more out of frustration than fear. An off-camber, decreasing radius corner, Turn 4 will resist the best intentions of carrying speed until drivers learn to be patient, wait to see the exit and apply the throttle. It never feels dangerous, merely wrong and awkward.

Turn 4

Exiting Turn 4
Once getting on the throttle out of turn 4, though, maintenance of speed is critical, as it leads through a fast Turn 5 onto a very long uphill straight. After apexing turn 5, the track dives away toward track out, only to start climbing slightly before cars reach the edge of the track itself. As drivers become comfortable with the elevation changes, a very fast, early and aggressive line is possible here. Timing is critical; after the car crests the small hill, the car becomes unweighted and slides laterally toward track out, only to be caught ever so slightly by the beginning of the climb uphill at track out.

Contours of Turn 5
At the crest of the hill, the track heads to the right. Drivers should take a wide approach, treating the crest of the hill as an apex, then line the car up on the right for the approach to the North Bowl.

Heading up the hill

Approach to the North Bowl
Taken at speed, the approach to the north bowl is one of the more technical combinations at ORP. Beginning with a fast left-hand sweeper, the track dives down and then back up to the right for a tight, blind, late-apex right-hander into the Half Pipe. It’s possible to carry a deceptive amount of speed through the left-hander and down the hill, then using the uphill section to get hard on the brakes and get the car buttoned up for the right-hander that follows. The contours of the track mean that this uphill braking zone is also slightly curved.

After the fast left-hander, heading downhill into the North Bowl

Right-hander leading into the Half-Pipe
After the North Bowl, a very short straight leads to the steeply-banked Half Pipe. Though this sequence photographs very well and was probably intended to be a signature of the track, most drivers will shoot straight through here, scarcely using the extravagant banking. A quick tap of the brakes helps set the nose for turn-in, after which point most cars can add throttle throughout the turn. I found success taking an earlier apex than the cone in these photos suggests. Curbing will ultimately be required here, as drivers will be tempted to make this as much of a straight as possible.

Half Pipe, part I

Half Pipe, part II

Half Pipe banking
Exiting the Half Pipe, the banking (and available grip) ends fairly abruptly, making off-track excursions to the left a real possibility.

Exiting the Half Pipe
A very short straight then leads to Turn 11, an uphill right-hander. The track out point is invisible from turn in. A slight hump at the apex slightly unsettles stiffly-sprung cars. After a short uphill straight, then a downhill braking zone for the acute, late-apex entry to Big Dipper.

Heading Toward Big Dipper

Big Dipper Braking Zone

Big Dipper
After the Big Dipper, Turn 13 is a blind, increasing radius uphill corner. Once familiar with the track exit, this is a deceptively fast and important corner, as it leads onto the uphill climb back toward the paddock and the main straight.

Turn 13
After climbing and curving around to the right, Continental Corner curls around the pit wall and onto the main straight. Once again, track out is hidden from view by both the hill and the pit wall itself.

Leaving the track

Arrived in New Orleans

A long-overdue post, announcing the Rallydart’s arrival in New Orleans. Not only did we arrive successfully in New Orleans, we also raised over $2000 for Bonnie CLAC. Many thanks to everyone who helped us along the way, including VSR and Automobile Magazine. More details on the Rallydart Blog.

Drive to Mississippi

Monday and Tuesday, C and I drove 1500 miles from Boston down to Gulfport, MS. Though it’s taken us a couple days to emerge from our interstate-induced catatonic state, we emerged little worse for the wear. Zero breakdowns, zero fatalities, 48 roadkill and 6 bad trucker jokes overhead on the CB. No, I’m not going to repeat them here.
me in the truck

Northern California in a Mini

On our way back to San Francisco after a day at Point Reyes, C remarked that “for some reason, all of our vacations seem to involve roads like this.” So true. At that moment, “this” was a torturous coastal road just east of Stinson Beach — you might have seen it in the one redeeming part of basic Basic Instinct, a car chase between two Lotus Esprits.
We had come out to San Francisco partly for work-related events, partly to see friends, and mostly to get out of Boston in the middle of March. I’ve been to San Francisco many times, but each time I return I’m once again reminded what an automotive fantasy land it is when compared with the northeast.
I grew up in Chicago and Vermont, went to college in Ohio, and have lived for the past eight years in Boston. These places don’t have much in common, but one thing they share is an abysmally poor environment for cars in the winter. The combination of frost heaves, potholes and salt make for such a harsh automotive environment that few winter-driven cars manage to last much beyond their 15th birthday.
This is one of but many reasons it’s always a pleasure to go somewhere else in the winter, especially an automotive fantasy land like California. When walking around San Francisco, it’s rare when you walk an entire block without seeing some kind of cool old car. San Franciscans manage somehow to ward off the salt coming in from the sea, and use their horribly rust-prone antiques all year round.
The Mini at Point Reyes
The landscape north and south of the city is spectacular and beautifully preserved, save for a small number of windy roads that follow the terrain. For our drive to Point Reyes, we rented an automatic Mini Cooper convertible from Hertz (yes, it’s impossible to rent a manual transmission car) and set off.
This Mini wasn’t quite as engaging as the one we rented while driving through southern Spain last fall. The combination of an automatic transmission, plus the extra weight required to power and reinforce the convertible top together skim a few levels of fun off an otherwise appealing drive.
I also remain very disappointed with the interior. With the most recent updates, Mini moved the speedometer from the large center-mounted gauge to a smaller pod in front of the driver; but the only gauges remaining in the middle are an strange assortment of ancillary gauges like gas and coolant temperature — an odd choice for the most prominent feature of the car’s interior. The new 3-spoke steering wheel looks good, but the hard plastic spokes don’t provide a very nice surface to touch. The constant shuddering and shaking felt over uneven surfaces also really made me miss the rigidity of a fixed roof. Despite its flaws, the Mini was a great companion for a fun day trip.
muir woods
Muir Woods

Tokyo Auto Salon, Day 2


Somehow, Toyota’s product design remains weak and derivative, especially when it concerns the cars they produce for their domestic market. Exhibit A is this Toyota Crown, sporting a BMW 7-series boot mashed together with a Mercedes S-class grille on the front.

Toyota Crown

Toyota Crown

Motorsport Pavilion

The Motorsport pavilion was new this year, and showed a nice variety of competition cars, including last year’s MacLaren and Ferrari F1 cars. The real attraction, though, was the Gran Turismo 4 booth, where 15 or so stations were all outfitted with Recaro seats and even rollcages. Serious stuff.

Gran Turismo 4 booth

slot cars

More madness from the Nihon Auto College

The faux Mercedes and Chryslers documented in yesterday’s post were just the beginning from the Nihon Auto College. They also showed a few other fantastically bizarre creations, including a odd mashup of a 50s Plymouth with something straight out of an anime movie was a particular favorite. At the botttom, this green… well, we’ll leave it at that.




No great revelations at the Subaru booth. They did, however, display the latest evolution of the STi, a car whose name most people would find longer and less memorable than the randomly-assigned license plate it would wear on public roads. But to a Subaru geek, the WRX STi S204 is all they’d need to hear.

WRX STi S204

This factory Legacy was also pretty sharp:

WRX STi S204


By the time of this show, the big news for Mitsubishi was already old news. The old news being the tenth evolution of the eponymous Lancer, which debuted at Frankfurt late last year. In person, it works; it’s a much more coherent shape than the current one, which really relied on flares and wings to hide the pedestrian economy car beneath.

Lancer Evo X
Lancer Evo X
Lancer Evo X

My favorite at the Mitubishi stand, though, was this racecar based on the wagon version of the present Lancer:

Lancer Evo 9 wagon

Fixing the botched facelift

Leave it to the aftermarket’s plastic surgeons to fix what Subaru clearly couldn’t — the new Impreza’s regrettably botched nose job. Aftermarket grilles to remedy the problem were widespread:

modded impreza
modded impreza


Pint-size Z4 clone:


And the second-cutest racecar ever:


More hybrid love, this time from Honda

Photos of Honda’s hybrid Civic have already made the rounds of the net, but that doesn’t detract from how nice it looks in person. Too bad it’s no longer available with a manual transmission. The wheels really fill out the arches nicely, and almost make it look like a 3/4-scale Audi A6.

Civic Hybrid


When BMW is making such unbelievable performance cars from the factory, what’s a proud tuner to do? Make the lower-end models look better, apparently, as you can tell from this mildly warmed-over 525i.



Race-prepped S2000:

Race S2000

Race S2000

Big-brake kits for the Smart car. Don’t bother asking why.

Civic Hybrid

Tokyo Auto Salon 2006, Day 1

The Japanese have long been obsessed with customizing their cars, and the Tokyo Auto Salon is where it all comes out. I arrived late in the afternoon, so what follows are a few photos from day 1.


Mazda showed a hydrogen powered RX-8, and channeled a little Bugeye Sprite for their Circuit edition MX-5.

Hydrogen RX-8

Miata CircuitZ


Nissan’s aftermarket division had a strong presence, with a few interesting 350Zs on display.

Nismo 350Z

Nismo 350Z

If there’s one thing Japanese are crazier about than customized cars, it’s teenage girls. Put them both in one place, preferably with the girls wearing just enough cloth to include a tire company’s logo, and you have racequeens. You can see why they get so excited about this event.

otaku racequeens

otaku racequeens

otaku racequeens

Team Goodyear poses for the crowd:

goodyear racequeens

A Chrysler 300C? Not so fast — it’s sort of a 300C-dric, a rebodied Nissan Cedric with some extra sheetmetal brought to you by the Nihon Auto College. This tradition of turning generic-looking Japanese cars into something more distinctive has long roots in Japan.


At the same booth, a Lexus L-S-class:

Lexus LS-class

Make it low, and make it white. That is all.



Nice to see the Prius get a little tuning love. It’s all a bit silly — why the wider tires in the rear when it’s a front wheel-drive car?

It’s always nice to see people doing interesting things with Scoobies. This Legacy at the Gialla booth was particularly clean.

Legacy Wagon