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TL:DR - I never had a huge desire to go to New York Safety Track until I saw videos of some fast laps of the place on YouTube. From what I could glean from some rather shaky videos the standing car record of 1:28.92 set by a Viper ACR could be improved upon. It's not a horsepower track and I figured with a little less weight, in spite of a nearly 250hp deficit, I could probably get the job done. It took two tries, but on the second attempt I nabbed the record with a 1:27.81 lap. Here's the story. And here's the Vlog
Towards the end of last season I started looking in to this little-known track about 70 miles west of Albany, NY. The track was built in 2013ish and since then has quietly on-again and off-again been hosting track days. They've been sued a couple times, they've suspended operations a couple times, but it appears all that is behind them and they're fully up and running with the aggression from the pitchfork-wielding locals subsided. While I'd seen videos of the track I was never hugely keen on trying it out mostly because 1) It's really not very safe at all (we'll discuss that later) and 2) not many people have heard of it. Not that a track has to be well known to be fun, but as a racer and competitor I don't tend to do anything without a benchmark to compare myself against. Because there hasn't been any sanctioned car racing car or time trialing at this track there's no database of lap times for me to look up to see where I should shake out.
However since the track is only 80 minutes from my shop, and they so far have ZERO sound restrictions, it's a quick and easy place for me to go to test the car and shake it down after changes (or crashes) happen. After banging the car up last September, and having the car repaired and tweaked by FAST Auto in Queens over the winter, I was eager to get the thing on track. NYST was also one of the first tracks to open after easing of COVID quarantine restrictions, so in May I started preparing to visit NYST for the first time.
Without a list of lap times of comparable cars to look at it, I spent way too much time on YouTube looking at lapping videos from NYST. Early on a Mclaren 12C set the record with a 1:35.7. However that's a supercar that I normally wouldn't look to benchmark myself against and it's rare that super car owners are also super drivers. There was no data overlayed with the video and while the lap looked clean and the driving decent, you can hear the tire squeal throughout the whole lap. Pretty obvious that the owner drove the car to the event and let her rip. Cool but that's not a racecar. Can definitely do better than that. Watch the Mclaren video
Next quick lap is that of Alan Wilzig who's a bit of a celebrity in our amateur racing world. He ran his dad's company for a couple years starting in 1999 and cashed out to the tune of $752 million dollars in 2003. What does $752 million buy? Over 100 SICK racing vehicles and a private 1 mile race track in your 275-acre backyard, for one. He did a 1:32.6 in his West WR-1000. That's a superlight prototype-style racecar with a worked 1000cc motorcycle engine in it. A car like that should absolutely hold the record at NYST, and did for about 3 years. Normally I wouldn't even bother to compare a lap against a car like that but since the lap had since been lowered in a Viper, I knew Alan left plenty on the table. I think that car could probably do a lap in the 1:25 range driven in real anger. Watch the WR-1000 lap
Finally in 2017 a pro driver by the name of Sam Yau set the record in a Dodge Viper ACR with a 1:30.9, and followed it up a couple months later with a 1:29.08. He shaved off a couple tenths later still to set it down to a 1:28.92 but there doesn't seem to be any video evidence of that. If you Google "NYST Track Record" you'll see a really shaky Harry's Lap Timer video of the lap, as well as 2 Road and Track articles talking about the feat. I thought it was interesting that R&T would devote that much editorial space to setting a record at a track that few people had heard of. Again I normally wouldn't compare lap times against a 645hp Viper, however since the Viper is a few hundred pounds heavier I thought maybe the weight to power deficit was an acceptable handicap. The Viper has significant aerodynamic downforce (as does my car) and while its Kuhmo V720 tires are considered a "street tire" (it's banned from every competitive series that allows street tires) everything I've read says they have about the same grip and longevity as the Hoosier A7s that I run on my car. I officially had my rabbit to chase.
My first crack at the track was in May with a group called S2K Takeover. My good buddy Anthony was at the track that same day and it was good to see a familiar face (from 6 feet away and with a mask on) after 3 months of being holed up indoors. Being at the track was a small slice of normalcy and you could tell everyone was excited just to be out of the house. The first 2 sessions of the day were damp, which wasn't terrible since a slow, damp surface is a good way to learn a new track and keep speeds in check. The first dry session I ripped off a bunch of 1:31 laps. I was excited to be within 2 seconds of the track record on my 3rd dry lap at the place, and further cemented the idea in my mind that I could set the overall track record with better tires and more practice.
After that first session my times were consistently in the 1:33s the rest of the day and the harder I drove the slower I went. I thought I just sucked, but realized a few days later that I had the wrong tires on the car with something like 16 heat cycles on them. I stopped counting heat cycles after the race from July at Limerock and was using them as practice tires the rest of the season. It was a bit of a relief since I couldn't figure out what the hell I was doing wrong, and the data just told me "you're slow."
Realizing I was on trashed tires I got more excited about the prospect of setting the lap record on fresher rubber. For my actual lap record attempt I mounted tires on the car that had about 4 heat cycles on them from racing at Watkins Glen in September. I also mounted brand new tires on my other set of wheels in case I needed them, but I really hoped I wouldn't have to use them and my gently used tires would be good enough to set the record.
Per usual I sent my laps to Racers360 for analysis. Dion Von Moltke sent me a quick review of the lap and Chris Wherlein sent me the full 30 minute break down as well. I feel like a broken record but I can't stress enough how valuable it is to have seasoned pros breaking down your driving and making suggestions for improvement. Even though it's a track that neither of them had been to, their experience as pro racers allows them to look at the video and my data and chart a course for improvement. I still say it's the best money you can spend if you want to go faster on a racetrack.
Now's a good time to talk about New York Safety Track. It's not particularly safe. Or perhaps it's better to say you are responsible for your own safety. Rather than having Armco or tire walls at key points to absorb your impact should something go really wrong, NYST is lined with trees. Trees absorb nothing and they don't move. Smacking into an Armco or tire barrier can ruin your day (and wallet) but hitting a tree can kill you. Not only that but a lot of the turns are completely blind so you can't see much so you really need to rely on the flaggers to be your eyes to potential incidents. The track itself is quite fun and technical, but with little run off and tons of trees it's the opposite of safe. The videos make it look a lot easier than it is, but this track demands attention and concentration and extracting a real fast lap requires a lot of confidence with a dash of bravery thrown in. But I'm a big boy and am comfortable managing my own level of risk. I tend to creep up to my limits progressively rather than jumping over them by spinning the car or blowing a braking zone. A couple of the Internet Safety-Czars have given me flack for even attempting a record at this track but I'm a big fan of personal accountability. You do you and I'll take care of me.
Armed with fresher tires and a set of stickers (meaning brand new tires with the stickers still on them) I was back at NYST one week later to take a stab at the 1:28.92 record. I was confident I could get it done and went so far as to say so on social media. I was surprised by the amount of people pulling for me and the outpouring of support made me want to set the record even more.
This day was with a private supercar event from a NYC-based shop called Abushi. I've never seen more high end cars at a track day before, which was worrying because as I've mentioned high end car owners do not typically equal high end drivers. I even contacted the organizer ahead of time to make sure it was cool I try and do this at their event, because owners of $400,000 cars don't like being passed by shitbox Corvettes. Just want to be respectful of the group and their customers, but I was assured going for the record wasn't going to be an issue.
First session out I was in the 1:31 range again. Admittedly I expected to be faster since I was on fresher tires and had put in some serious homework with track notes, data analysis, and Racers360 in an attempt to beat the record. Next session I did a 1:30 something. Better, but I was starting to get nervous. The level of prep I put in to this stuff historically has yielded tangible results after the first session on track, but the gains were coming a little slow for my taste. Last session before lunch I did a 1.30.2. I was having a strange braking issue at Turn 1 that I knew was costing me some amount of time, but since that's the only real hard braking zone on the track I didn't think it was going to destroy the lap time. However the track wasn't getting faster and we were going to have more traffic to contend with after lunch, so I broke out the sticker tires to go for the gold. Even though the tires I was on were decent, I was confident-ish the stickers would get me that last second I was looking for.
To my horror when we switched the tires over, we found my tire shop (who's usually awesome) had mounted one pair of tires on the wrong wheels. My wheels are 11" wide in the front and 13" wide in the rear, and the mounted tires are 315 and 335 respectively. However one side of the car was mounted correctly but the other side had the 315 stretched on the 13" wheel like a stanced-out Civic in a vape cloud and the 335 was pouring over the sides of my 11" wide wheel. With no tire shops in the area capable of dealing with wheels that wide, and no time to deal with it even if we could find a shop, we put the good tires on the right side and the stupid tires on the left side. How much the mix up was going to effect the lap time I don't know (and still don't know) but I can tell you it definitely got in my head which is never good when you're shooting for max performance.
With some minor brake thing still happening and mixed up tires, I set out in the next session still determined to set the record. I got several clean laps and my predictive timer never showed anything better than mid 1:29s. Once again the harder I drove the slower I went. After a bunch of laps in the 29s I pulled it back in to the pits. Best lap was a 1:29.6. I was then the Second Fastest guy to drive at NYST which feels worse than it sounds. No two ways about it I was pissed. Figuring that was my best opportunity to set the record I left the track thinking that was the end of my bid for the track record for awhile. The NASA racing season was getting ready to start at Limerock and that's where I needed to shift my focus. Not setting that record that day was maybe worse than any racing loss I'd felt since I'd started racing. I've lost races due to mechanical failures and I've lost races because I've been out-driven or made stupid mistakes, but I can't think of another time quite as poignant as this where I could have gotten the job done and just didn't deliver. This one hurt.
The following Friday I went to Limerock with Hooked on Driving for a rare unmuffled event. The day went very well and I turned some very nice times considering I was working through DE traffic where some cars were as much as 10 seconds off my pace (which is a lot at Limerock). It was my best opportunity to get a real feel for what changed on the car over the winter at a track I know very well and am very comfortable with. What I found was that with the new drop spindles and whatever secret sauce Adrian at FAST put into the car setup, I could trail brake the car much harder and deeper into the corners. This allows me to brake later, keep more weight on the front of the car, carrying a bit more speed mid corner, which gets the car to rotate more mid corner thusly pointing the car better at the exit and finally allowing me to get back to full power sooner and harder than I would otherwise. This whole sequence is one of the key driving characteristics that separate The Pros from The Mortals, and it's the number one thing I've been working on for the last 2 years. Previously with too much trail brake my rear end would want to come around on me and I'd have to catch it, but now I could stuff it in much deeper with more brake pressure, and the back end just sticks. The rear of the car feels much more confidence inspiring and predictable in all situations, and confidence and predictability leads to decreased lap times. The data showed me that all of this should lead to a quicker time than I achieved last year at Limerock (the ST2 lap record of 55.1). However on this day I was I on old tires and because this was the first group of cars on track at Limerock this year, the track was not rubbered in and creating an optimal amount of grip. But after looking at the video and data I truly felt like I had "leveled up." The car was better and faster and I feel I matched my driving to suit.
Unfortunately during my last session I flat spotted a tire due to some weird ABS error. I reset the car and went back out with a little rumble coming from the front right square tire, but couldn't make the error come back. One thing you don't want to have to worry about in a race is your ABS suddenly failing, and without any way to trouble shoot it on the street I was going to have to get it back on track somewhere before the Limerock race to try and find the issue. Luckily I just happen to know of a place close by.
I went back to NYST with Got Track Motorsports on Friday June 12th. I had no real intention of going after the lap record after being mentally demoralized from the last outing. Goal for the day was simply to force an ABS failure so I could figure out what wheel bearing needed to be changed so I could take care of it at the track. However in my first session out, on flat spotted Hoosiers with now 12 heat cycles on them, I immediately went out and saw laps in the low 1:29s pop up, and without even really trying hard. Getting that confidence in the rear of the car made all the difference in the world with getting around NYST quicker. I didn't need to check the data to see where the time was made up, because my troubling sections immediately became easier and felt faster from the seat of my pants. Next session out I saw laps in the high 1:28s. Track record territory. Now it was on.
I brought my 2 heat cycle Hoosiers in case the stars aligned for just this purpose. It took me longer than expected to get them swapped over, and I got out to my session late covered in sweat and grease with just a T-Shirt and jeans. It'd been a couple seasons at least since I'd driven the car without full safety gear and I gotta say I was not nearly as confident pushing as I am with a firesuit on. Something to consider for those of you on the fence about picking up a quality fire suit. Anyway I got about 4 laps in, immediately felt the extra grip from the tires, was able to adjust and drive to the new grip level, and came in with a best lap of 1:28.5. A new track record. Mission accomplished.
However in my haste to get out on track I didn't even have the GoPro in the car, and if you don't have a video to back up a claim like this then you have nothing. I thought I could go a little bit faster than that time but honestly all I hoped for was to be able to repeat it and get a lap or two without traffic. So I got into full safety gear, set up the cameras, fired up the data logger, and went out to set an official and verifiable lap record.
In my final session I turned about 6 laps only 2 of which were unimpeded. On my first timed lap I saw predictive times in the 1:27s which was really perplexing because I had no intention or belief that I could be going that fast. I caught some traffic in the back half of the track but was ready to drop the hammer as soon as I got some point bys. I set off on my first flying lap and tried to put everything together that I'd been working on the last 2 years. I saw those 1:27s flashing at me again which made me push a bit harder in a couple sections than I might otherwise and actually compromised my throttle application in a couple of turns. I miss the final apex by more than a car width which makes me 4mph slower leading onto the main straight and actually costs me .38 seconds. Really wish I had those 4 tenths back. Anyway it wasn't a perfect lap but when I crossed the line I had a 1:27.81 staring me in the face. Faster than anyone has ever driven a car at this track by over a second. The goal I'd set for myself a month ago had been realized, and achieving that goal had left me equally relieved as I was excited.
I've had a real hard time wrapping up this last section. Does any of this really matter? Valid question. If you've read this far chances are you're a brother or sister of speed and have had your car on track at some point in your life. Don't you think it would be cool to say that after 7 years and thousands of cars you're the fastest ever? Of course it's cool. Haters will say I showed up with a race car and took the record away from a street car at a track no one really knows about and I only beat it by 1.1 seconds. Big deal. Supporters will say the Viper ACR that set the record is essentially a race car for the street sans cage, with huge power, huge aero, huge tires, driven by a pro driver. In the end none of those specifics really matter to me. Records are meant to be broken. This one has stood for the past 3 years and many have tried to take it down in way more serious machinery than what I brought to the table. I personally know half a dozen guys who could show up tomorrow and shave an easy 2 seconds off of it with their respective race cars. That's motor racing and I expect it, encourage it, and will tip my hat to the next driver that sets the record. But for now I’m the fastest person ever to drive a car at New York Safety Track - and today that feels pretty awesome.