This isn’t your typical track event. Hell, it isn’t even the three-day music and motorsports festival described on the webpage and social media. Gridlife is a family — a growing, steadfast community devoted to the cars and the track. And I got in on it.
My Friday began before sunrise when I drove my Mazdaspeed Miata track car three hours down from Traverse City, Mich., to South Haven, Mich., home of Gingerman Raceway and Gridlife Midwest. I hopped into the Miata not because I was scheduled to race (the tickets sell out months in advance), but for the slim chance that a spot might open up. No such luck, but I had a blast spending the entire weekend meeting new people and walking around the track with my 10 pounds of camera gear hoisted over my shoulder.
Standing at trackside was thrilling! I frequently caught myself hootin’ and hollerin’ as drivers recovered from spinning off the course, leaving clouds of dust in their wake. Limits were tested — both the drivers’ skills and the cars’ abilities — by constantly searching for the perfect racing line, taking each apex on the verge of losing control.
Overheated brakes and transmission failures were frequent, and the pits were full of hurried crews performing expert repairs as quickly as possible. Others just found themselves down and out, and then back on the sidelines.
Drew Rosek of RMF Racing earned his best lap time of 1:42 right before his beastly Subaru’s motor popped. You can never be completely prepared for what may happen on the track, and despite months of preparation, his issues started on day one. “We melted a power steering line just enough to cause a fluid drip,” he explained. “The car was also running really rich and the ABS was not working.”
The power steering leak increased until it eventually blew back onto the flywheel, causing the clutch to slip in third and sixth gear. On day two, the power steering pump was bypassed to eliminate system pressure. Although the car was still running rich, Rosek was able to get a few laps in. Day three brought lower engine temperatures and Rosek pushed the Subaru a little harder, but after three full laps a rod exited the block in a spectacular smoky fashion. “That’s racing!” he exclaimed, then spent the remainder of the weekend supporting friends and other racers.
My favorite moment as a spectator was also my most challenging opportunity as a photographer: Getting shots of the fierce drift cars. There were times when I was so close to the action that rubber from shredded tires stuck in my hair and the smoke made my eyes water. I also chased the drifters with my zoom lens, my right eye pressed to the viewfinder and my left eye open to keep track of who was coming next – until dust and tire smoke billowed so thick that it was impossible to see.
Saturday’s car show filled one of the side fields with dozens of unique builds. Giant turbos, flashy wheels and intricate paint jobs caught my eye with each step. Proud owners were easily spotted as they shined their ride. And once the track went from hot to cool, the night life began with earth-shaking music and neon lights jetting across the impressive outdoor stage. It was a celebration for the masses.
Gridlife is a place to make tons of connections and find true inspiration. Whether racing to win or purely for fun (and fun is the priority), the support from other drivers, parts fabricators and spectators was overwhelming. Although it was my first time, I was welcomed and accepted with open arms. I’ll be back in 2017 … to race.