(I wrote this for Sport Rider magazine in 1991, but it was deemed a bit over the top by the powers that be and was never published.)
The scene: the long, banked grounds of the Texas Motor Speedway in College Station, Texas in the early 1990s. A secret test held by one AMA Superbike team was the reason the crew, the riders, the transporter and few others were in attendance. Only a skeleton corner-working crew looked on. Press and other observers were banned. One could surmise that the manufacturer in question had a motorcycle there they did want not want anyone else to see.
A problem arose when the riders took to the track on their new Superbikes. As it had been weeks, maybe even months, since any previous vehicles had toured the course, a thick layer of Texas dust settled on the track surface, making traction a hard commodity to come by. Something needed to be done, as with no traction, a test would be meaningless. And no, there wasn’t any track cleaning equipment available.
The team manager, a sage type, had seen this before and he stopped the bikes from circulating and entered the track with his own rental car, driving at a slow pace to scrub the dust from the surface. It worked splendidly, although the process with just one car worked too slowly for most tastes.
More cars and higher speeds would be needed. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
Riders jumped in their rental cars, mechanics too. A tire manufacturer was there as well, and they joined in. Soon there were five or six rental vehicles on the Superspeedway, rocketing down the straight and into the high banked corners. It bears mentioning that the team manager, mechanics and tire personnel were almost all ex-racers. The ex-racers and racers were driving rental cars on an abandoned racetrack, you get the picture?
After a several leisurely laps at a brisk trot, caution went out the window and the pace increased. Throttles were pinned and seatbelts were fastened … tightly. In a scene out of your favorite NASCAR race, speeds went above 110mph, door handles were scrubbed against each other and mucho automobile abuse began.
Drivers came back to the paddock area with new information: “Did you know that cruise control works at 130mph?” one asked. Or that simply rolling the all windows up was good for an additional six mph on the banking. Brake and tire smoke filled the air.
The automobiles, which were newer sports cars and luxury vehicles (other than the mini-van) when they were rented (with the full and optional insurance, mind you) simply and quickly began to disintegrate. Designed to haul Joe America from his house to his job each day on a sedate expressway, the machines were way out of their element traveling at 130mph, with severe G forces pushing against them.
In this test, one the editors from Consumer Reports could only dream about, parts failure skyrocketed. One nearly brand new machine became a creaking, frame bent, tires rubbing against the fenders, seat belts sacked out from trying to hold the driver (and his passenger) in the seat against the G forces, doors won’t open, now the dash is loose too, machine, ready for the scrap yard, in less than thirty minutes, without ever touching the wall or another automobile.
The DOT tires and brake pads were good for about ten laps at most and then began to go off in a big way. Then things got very interesting. With chassis, suspension and now tires worn well past their limits, the cars began to assume the fetal position. Traveling at well over one hundred mph, several cars would spin out of control with no provocation from the driver.
“I’d get all four tires sliding pretty good,” said one rider, “and all of a sudden the whole car would just go away, spinning right off the track. You can’t do anything to save it when a car is spinning at one hundred mph in the sand.”
The frank look of astonishment on that rider’s face defied description.
The quote of the episode belonged to one of the mechanics, who said that amidst one 100mph spinning incident he “… knew I was in real trouble when fist-sized rocks started coming through the open windows of the car.”