When I was a child, my only real experience with the idea of summer camp was watching Salute Your Shorts on Nickelodeon. I was always active and outside, I just never went to an actual camp. Now that I am an adult who is staring at 30, the idea of going to summer camp sounds even more laughable. At least, it did until I got a quick message from Flyin’ Miata asking me if I wanted to come out for its annual Summer Camp.
This isn’t a s’mores, campfires and Kumbaya style of summer camp. Rather, it would be a several days of epic drives, track time, food and friends, all wrapped up with the lovely veneer of driving in a roadster.
Within hours of the invitation I was trying to arrange flights.
Upon my arrival in the great state of Colorado my time as a FM Summer Camp attendee began. From my blast up Pikes Peaks in the supercharged NC, Nancy, to a welcoming party, two full track days, several information seminars and the awards dinner, the next few days were packed with fun, friendship and long-lasting memories. The heat was a bit intense though, and as you can see by the photo, it made me do some really weird things.
Special thanks to Travis Ingram Photography for the photo.
Read more about the Flyin’ Miata Summer Camp Festivities after the break.
Day One, Tuesday: The Drive In
The car that was chosen for me was Nancy, the supercharged and Targa Newfoundland-prepared 2006 model0.
Since this is a Miata event for Miata owners, everyone tends to drive in. I didn’t really want to miss any of the experience, so I arranged to have a Miata waiting for me at the Denver airport. The car that was chosen for me was Nancy, the supercharged and Targa Newfoundland-prepared 2006 model. Rather than make the relatively, albeit beautiful, drive down I-70 to Grand Junction, I took a southern detour down to a little place called Colorado Springs. If you are unfamiliar with the town, Colorado Springs sits at the foot of Pikes Peak.
Thanks to some tremendous weather fronts that resulted in flash flooding and record rainfall, lots of the area roads were closed and Pikes Peak was relatively deserted. The run was fast and exciting, and to top it all off, I got some donuts at the peak. Not a bad way to start a work trip. After the fun on the mountain, I came back down, took US-9 West and head towards Breckenridge before finally rejoining with I-70 for the final couple of hours into Grand Junction.
It took me longer than planned to get to my destination, thanks to all the traffic and road closures on the major highways, but overall it was great day.
Day Two, Wednesday: Getting Settled and Saying Hello
Wednesday was a “Welcome Day” event.
Wednesday was a fun, yet busy day for me and the Flyin’ Miata team. My day started with a quick drive and photo session with Nancy, followed by the now famously flawed live episode 022 of the TopSpeed Podcast. Once the fiasco of bad internet and live internet radio shows had concluded I made my way to the Flyin’ Miata shop in Palisade. Wednesday was a “Welcome Day” event. Throughout the day, people from all over North America began slowly filling the parking lot of the Flyin’ Miata shop while all the employees were inside finishing some final preparations for the week’s festivities.
The two biggest items on the docket for the FM crew was finishing the Exocet and the Catfish kit cars. These two machines are new for FM and represent a pretty substantial potential jump in the business for performance and track oriented markets. I arrived just in time to go out for a shakedown run of the braking system in the Exocet with Keith Tanner.
Once my face had been dislodged from my skull by multiple panic stops to set the brakes, we headed back to the shop so that the Catfish car assembly could be finished. The Catfish is an all-new car designed Cord Bauer that looks to take the idea behind lightweight track cars such as the Exocet but then cover it in an exciting exterior design.
Flyin’ Miata has named its version of the Catfish “Whiskers” and they covered it in a stunning shade of blue metallic paint that was plucked from the Lexus parts catalog. Unlike the Exocet, which I was only around for the brake testing, I was fortunate enough to see the final assembly of the Catfish, include the installation of the hood-locking straps, seats and the calibration of the suspension. They also weighed it for the first time.
Overall, it was a great day. I enjoyed seeing the team working together on a few projects, and at the end of the night, I was given the keys to Nancy again and told to report to the local track first thing in the morning.
Day Three, Thursday: Report to the Track
The day would consist of hot lapping around the track in groups of cars that were 4-5 large.
Arrive early, drink lots of water, and try to stay out of the sun. Those were the words of wisdom for the day as I headed out to the Grand Junction Motor Speedway. The GJMS is a small kart track located near the Grand Junction airport, and it’s only a few miles from the FM shop. With a few elevation changes and multiple sharp corners, the track is a perfect place to flog handling-focused cars like the Miata.
I arrived and attended a ground school and driver’s meeting before making my way to the track proper. The day would consist of hot lapping around the track in groups of cars that were 4-5 large. The actual event is not a wheel-to-wheel race. Due to spacing and speeds, the event is technically an autocross. Cars would be sent out onto track in 10 to 15-second intervals. Being run as an autocross, there is absolutely no passing allowed. Attendees are here to enjoy some track time and hone their skills, not break a car by trying to out handle a fellow competitor and launch themselves from the track.
As my track time was scheduled for Friday, I spent most of the day taking photos, assisting the FM team as necessary and making new friends. I did get a few laps around the track as a passenger in a few cars, including one quick stint in Atomic Betty, the V-8 powered NC Miata.
Photos Courtesy of Travis Ingram Photography
After the track day was done, I blasted home again in Nancy to prepare for dinner. Flyin’ Miata had procured the local Sonic Drive-In for the evening, and we completely packed the space. Every employee and guest was wearing the specially designed FM Sumer Camp 2014 shirt, and lots of fun cars made it out. Aside from our huge Miata collection, Keith Tanner showed up in his restored classic Mini, and an enterprising individual with a Miata powered MGB-GT arrived as well. It was quite the exciting day.
After diner wrapped, I headed back to the house. Friday was my track day and I wanted to be as well rested as possible. I was going to be spending the day flogging someone else’s race car around a track, after all.
Day Four, Friday: Go Fast, Don’t Crash
My goal for Friday was pretty simple; have fun and don’t crash.
My goal for Friday was pretty simple; have fun and don’t crash. Seemed like it should be a pretty simple task. The best laid plans of mice and men as they say. My first track stint would be in a car named Yolk. A naturally aspirated car, I figured it should be the closest thing to a traditional Miata and a great place for me to start. That was slightly flawed thinking.
Yolk’s engine may be naturally aspirated but it is far from normal. Under that bright yellow hood is a high compression, 2.0-liter, stroker motor. Power output has been measured at 175 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are from an old dyno, and are measured at the wheels. There has been some suspicion as to their accuracy, and some at the shop think they are a little low. If you do a bit of math and butt-dyno calculations, 210 horsepower at the crank seems likely. Yolk also has an open rear differential, so getting that power down can be a challenge. The result is a car that likes to fling its tail around every turn and generally act like a hooligan.
Photo Provided Courtesy of Zandr Milewski
Yolk also some incredibly great brakes. So good in fact that while braking for the first turn, I braked so early I could have come to a complete stop 50 or so feet before the turn-in point. Obviously the only choice I had was to push the car harder the next lap and go much deeper into the braking zone. By that I mean, go way too deep, lock up all four tires, and nearly fling myself and my passenger from the track.
I didn’t actually crash though, so that was good.
Photo Provided Courtesy of Zandr Milewski
After the hoonery that was Yolk, my next stint was with the mighty Exocet. It may only be powered by a stock engine from a 1999 Miata, but with a weight that is about 1,000 pounds less than the donor Miata, the Exocet is anything but slow. It allows you to push as hard as you want, and it never had any complaints. My first lap in the Exocet was just as fast as my best lap in Yolk, and I cut 1.5 seconds per lap every lap I was out. Every time I pushed harder, the car just laughed at my lack of effort. It is pretty incredible. The rest of the day was spent in various machines including my beloved Nancy.
I even got good enough on the track that they started letting me take other passengers with me. At least, I am going to say it was “good enough” and it had nothing to do with “not enough FM drivers.”
Photo Provided Courtesy of Zandr Milewski
After the track day was done, everyone headed home for a quick change of clothes and then we headed for a drive across the Colorado National Monument. This time, I was not in Nancy, but instead had been given the keys to Atomic Betty. I recorded the full run across the monument from start to finish, and you can watch it here. Just like the Pikes Peak video , this one is full of music and not engine noise. Even with a massive V8 under the hood, my GoPro picked up almost nothing but wind noise.
Day Five, Saturday: Gaining Some Knowledge
From the differences in wheel bases to the items needed to make each one street legal, Bill was answering every question that came at him.
Saturday is a special day for the Flyin’ Miata team. This day is dedicated to the team and the incredible work they do, from start to finish. There are multiple seminars along with Q&A segments, each with the purpose of providing help and information regarding all the incredible products this team sells, uses and creates.
The day started early with Bill doing a presentation on the current batch of kit cars you can get from FM. Right now they have three; the Westfield , the Exocet and the Catfish. The Westfield is a Lotus Seven clone, and FM has been building for more than five years now. The Exocet and Catfish have already been introduced, and they are the newest additions to the FM family. From the differences in wheel bases to the items needed to make each one street legal, Bill was answering every question that came at him. He seriously knows his stuff.
After the kit car talk, Keith Tanner was up on the stage. Keith gave a super interesting talk about the V-8 swap program the team has. He discussed engine option choices, the E-Rod engine and emissions testing, and he even explained the details between the rear ends used in the various generation cars and how they were chosen. There were multiple V-8 Miata owners at the event, and I feel like there may be many more soon.
The final open area talk of the day was from Brandon Fitch. Brandon is the resident engineer and he gave a talk highlighting all the new and upcoming products that will soon be in the FM catalog. He even went as far to discuss how the team uses the advancement of 3D printing to expedite prototyping and improve product pace and testing.
After all the open floor demonstrations, the in-house tuning guru Jeremy Ferber gave a presentation on the Hydra in the dyno room. With the mighty turbocharged Pokee strapped to the dyno, Jeremy was able to show just how changing tuning settings would alter a car. For anyone who likes to fiddle with their own tunings, this is a must-go style seminar. Jeremy works magic with that system.
To round out the day, we have a group photo with all the cars that could make it out. I had to climb out on the roof to get some of the photos. It was a bit frightening if I do say so, but seeing all the cars was cool.
Day Six, Sunday: Goodbyes and Final Drives
For me it represented one last chance to drive the various machines that the fine team at Flyin’ Miata had put together.
The last day of the Summer Camp is barely a day at all for most. Bill and Teri like to give everybody one last chance to say goodbye and talk about the week. For me it represented one last chance to drive the various machines that the fine team at Flyin’ Miata had put together. Many of the Summer Camp goers mingled in small groups of new-found friends and old acquaintances. They each sipped coffee and munched on pastries as they discussed the fun and enjoyment of the last few days.
It was a bittersweet moment for most, and the pall of sadness clung to the air. There is no real sorrow or regret, just the knowing that it will be many months before the next gathering. The camaraderie between every person who made it the event is strong enough that the people sitting around me seem as though they could have been cast as a band of soldiers in a movie about the Great War. Despite being connected by little more than the love of a tiny Japanese Roadster, the bonds that have been created over this weekend feel stronger than life-long friendships.
I have been fortunate to have many experiences in life that few could dream of. These few days sitting in the Colorado desert, surrounded by a few peach orchards, has been one of the best of those.
I hope to see you all there next year.