When you mention Joliet, Illinois, to a motorsports fan, a few venues come to mind about this adrenaline-laced dream town just outside of Chicago. For the NASCAR crowd, there’s the Chicagoland Speedway: 930 acres of land with 500 acres of parking for more than 30,000 vehicles to watch racers battle it out on a 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval speedway.
The Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois, played host to the event, Mother Nature was good to everyone.
A little to the Southwest, you’ll find Route 66 Raceway: a smaller venue by comparison, where racers put the hammer down for a quarter-mile at a time, with unique stadium style seating for fans to enjoy the spectacular drag racing events throughout the year.
If you head just a little further Southwest, and turn due West on Centerpoint way, you’ll find yet another motorsports facility: the Autobahn Country Club. This facility is well known for road racing and go-kart enthusiasts, with a 3.56-mile track full of challenging turns interrupted by an 1850-foot long straight, just to throw road racers off the scent. This is also the facility that hosted the third annual Heidts Midwest Performance Car Challenge (HPCC), and since its first year the event just keeps getting bigger and better, bringing racers from all over the country to see who is the best of the best.
Learning the flags, learning the rules - most drivers need this but can't wait to get out on the track.
Kicking Things Off
We were at the event in 2013, bringing you the fun-filled weekend of events that always begins with a guided tour of the Heidts Performance Group’s 50,000 square foot facility where participants can see and learn about every aspect of the business, from the front desk to the R&D area, and everything in between. Just like prior years, this year the tour was followed up with a barbecue to kick things off on Friday evening, and that’s when the racing got real.
There are no words to describe the feeling you get when you arrive for your very first time.
Participants completed the registration process, and thus began all of the bench racing that can be done by a group of beginner to experienced racers as they got ready to head out for a full weekend of putting their skills – and their cars – to the test.
Whether they’re better at the road course, or maneuvering their car through the cones on a short course, it never matters because in order to compete in this event, they have to participate in both and be able to come out on top if they want to be crowned the champion.
On Friday, May 30th, the drivers took to the road after the tour and barbecue with a 62-mile Road Rally that took them from the Heidts facility in Lake Zurich, Illinois, to the Holiday Inn, in Joliet, Illinois. While many competitors traveled from all over the country for this event, the cars in the event must be licensed and insured, and legal to drive on the streets.
Some came to race, some came to show, some came to watch. All left with an experience that begs for more.
Some of the competitors had hauled their cars in trailers because of the distance traveled, but this was not an event for a purpose-built racecar, because if their cars didn’t pass the tech inspection and they couldn’t provide proof of insurance and a valid registration, the event was over for them on Friday night. Those were the rules that everyone knew coming into this event, which lures racers from all levels of experience to put their street cars on the track to compete, and the event is not open to competitive professional racers.
Once at the hotel, competitors spent a little more time bench racing and sharing stories, but ultimately they end up doing what usually happens at these events: making lots of new friends and reacquainting with old ones. Then it was off to hit the pillows to get a good night’s rest so they could be fresh for the start of events on Saturday morning, and then the real fun began with four events that meant the gloves came off and the trash talking began. But, as we have experienced in the past, that’s just a lot of hype because the spirit-filled weekend is never about drama – it’s always about the camaraderie that these competitors share and the experience that they can take from it.
As cars lined up on the road course, others were getting lined up for the autocross or the speed stop challenge. Racing went on all day for all three events.
The Racing Begins
Three events took place on Saturday and Sunday: the Autocross, the Wilwood Speed Stop Squared, and the Heidts Road Course, all events were run concurrent. The cost of this event was $175 for either Saturday or Sunday, and $350 for both days of racing, with either entry fee including the tour, barbecue, and the Road Rally.
Coupes, sedans, convertibles, and trucks all competed on the same courses.
The Autocross had competitors testing themselves and their cars on the short course, with tight turns and chicanes that have them acting fast, breaking hard, and spinning tires – trying not to get sideways. For anyone who has competed on a road course, the autocross will have you wondering why your car doesn’t handle the same, because slipping and sliding is part of the package here, and it’s all about control. Just when you think you’ve got it under control, there’s another sharp turn to throw you off and you need to be able to react fast and keep the momentum.
If you ever attend an autocross, you might see the competitors walking the course first thing in the morning to get a feel for the track and to figure out the best line through the cones. There’s no real point of perspective on the short course, because with hundreds of cones laid out on the asphalt you need to know which line to take and where the next turn is. It’s highly recommended to walk the course, because not doing so can easily put you into the cones, which add to the overall time and put a racer further down the podium. This event is all about time and speed, handling and agility, knowing when to hold them and when to fold them, you get the gist of it.
For beginners and novice racers, the Jet-Hot Autocross school on Saturday was a great opportunity for them to learn the best way around the cones. It was taught by renowned driving instructor Mike “Junior” Johnson, a veteran in the sport who taught them how to maneuver their car and position it for the next turn, and how to get the most out of the course by spending the least amount of time on it. If you think “cones, shmones” you’ve got the wrong mentality, because the cones in the autocross become your enemy in a hurry.
Getting close… watch out for that rear tire!
Orange cones can pop up out of nowhere and cause you to overcompensate as your car gets all twisted up, or they can hitchhike under your car for a half a lap making you think you’ve broken something as you drag the cone through a few turns. They’ll take cheap shots at your rear tires in the tight turns, and even with the slightest touch they’ll fall over like a professional soccer player seeking the red card to be pulled. The cones can be your friends, but they’re sneaky little brats and can turn on you in a heartbeat – even the best drivers occasionally take a cone for a ride on occasion, so the driving school was something highly encouraged.
The Heidts Road Course is an event that took place on the North course of the track on Saturday and mixing things up on Sunday they switched over to the South course. Heidts calls it “a 1.46-mile, 9 turn, adrenaline factory”, and it’s not a stretch by any means. The two events were run all day long, assuring that competitors saw plenty of track time on both courses. The road course is where skill and speed take precedence, and this track also requires taking the fastest line and hitting the apex at the right spot in order to come out on top. Hard braking and accelerating out of the turn can have brake rotors sizzling and adrenaline filling the arteries.
The fast part of the track includes a few fly-bys, then it's into the twisties again.
This is where the fastest cars can come out on top, but it’s also where the fastest cars can lose it all, because grip and acceleration must go hand in hand on the road course, and coming into a corner too fast, or getting on the gas too soon, can bring the rear end around in a hurry and put you off the track, or sideways out of a turn. The best line around the track is only as good as the driver can take it at speed, because the lowest time at this event puts racers at the top of the food chain.
The road course is a great place to get the car out and see what it can do at speed, but it’s also a place where you can find out what it can’t do, and teaches you to find the balance and know when to back off on the throttle, if you’ve never participated in an open track day, we highly recommend it because it’s the most fun you can have at speed without worrying about the po po lighting you up and taking away your adrenaline with their little yellow book.
Go fast, turn around, come back through the cones, and stop in the box. Simple, right?
An interesting twist on the autocross is the Speed Stop Squared Challenge, sponsored by Wilwood. It’s a cool event that tests drivers on their ability to accelerate quickly and brake properly all on the same course. It puts two drivers together on mirror-image courses where they compete to the finish in a head-to-head battle on a short course. They race out in a short drag race to the first hairpin turn, and then head back towards the start with a slalom course finished off with a “stop box” where they must come to a complete stop within the box. Slide out of the box and they’re the recipient of a DQ notice, knock a cone or two over and a severe time penalty is handed out and they’re put one more spot closer to the bottom.
“Yeah, you take the first left at the light, and after a couple miles turn right at the Winn-Dixie you’ll see it just up ahead.”
Although this sounds pretty simple to race to the end, turn around and come back, it’s still quite the challenge. Many times in the past as we watched highly experienced drivers compete in this type of event, they’ll come in hard on the gas and lock up the tires as they skid into – and sometimes through – the stop box. Since it’s all about speed and agility, there’s a lot of sideways action and a little drifting if they’re not careful, only the best of the best can pull this off like a boss.
Another event that can have non-racers getting in on the action on Saturday is the Car Show, which shows off some of the coolest automotive craftsmanship in the area. Heidts had a team of judges who awarded the Best of the Show as well as the winners of each class, and an Editors Choice award was determined by the editorial staff on hand. The entry fee for the car show was just $25, which included three parade laps around the track so the proud owners could show off what has been keeping their hands full and their wallets empty.
Heidts Performance Car Challenge 2014 Results
As with almost any competition, there are going to be winners and losers, but the HPCC is full of win no matter how you look at it. While some of the upper echelon were there to compete for points and bragging rights, there were others who came for the spirit of the competition and the thrill of putting their car through challenges that measured just a tad north of LA rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon.
The list of competitors rang out like a huge name-dropping session, with incredible drivers like Mary Pozzi, Bret Voelkel, and Randy Johnson. But someone had to take home the big win and Eric Eismueller was at the top of the list for both the North Course and the South Course. The Autocross and Speed Stop Challenge are events where you can see how driving styles and handling weigh in more than top speed. West Bend Dyno and Richard Gregory swapped places with each other, with West Bend Dyno pulling in the lowest time in the Autocross and Gregory pulling in the fastest time in the Speed Stop Challenge.
There are plenty of pictures from the event in the gallery below, so sit back and imagine yourself out there racing your own car. Between now and then, keep checking back with the Heidts Performance Group website for performance suspension components to help prepare your car for the track, and who knows, maybe Joliet next year?