The Greenwood Revival: The Course

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I first learned of Greenwood Roadway back in March.  An abandoned road course in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, it bears some resemblance to the Deep Forest track from the Gran Turismo franchise, and Jalopnik ran the story.  I’m no gamer, but I was immediately interested, as Greenwood was just three hours away and I’m always looking for nice, quiet place to hoon.  I thought I might sneak up there some weekend and romp around the track.  Saturday I got my chance, but I didn’t have to do any sneaking.

One of the chief advantages of single life is a greater command of the personal schedule.  So it was that around lunch time on Friday, when I learned that some area folks were throwing together the Greenwood Revival, a reunion on the 50th anniversary of Greenwood’s first race, and that the track would be open and teeming with race/sports cars of the era (and some of the men who drove them), that I made the decision: I’m going.

After a car wash, a doughnut from QT, and a rush up I-35 and the surprisingly twisty and desolate Iowa 69, I found at an intersection a brown Triumph TR6 and a few Corvettes of various vintage and followed them.  I knew where they were headed.

The Greenwood grounds are owned by a construction union school.  They use the space for training, and they’ve been good enough to keep a lane of the circuit, which has been closed to racing since 1967, cleared of foliage.  As I rolled through the dust of the property driveway, I was greeted warmly by volunteers, who asked me how I was doing.  Surrounded by classic sports and racing cars, I said I was doing pretty well.  They waved me on in a laid-back manner to either find a parking spot or head out onto the track.  No arguments here.

A track marshal in a Hawaiian shirt cautioned me that this was an old race track, but that it wasn’t a race track anymore.  “You have nothing to prove, so take it easy.”  This wasn’t a problem, as one of the Corvettes was ahead, and the crumbling asphalt was rough enough on my WRX.  He kept a parade pace, and since there was little room to pass on the single remaining lane, and it wouldn’t have been quite right for the mood, I settled back and fired up my imagination.

The first two corners are long right-handers, heavily banked and downhill.  I coasted along, picturing a few of the tiny British roadsters I’d seen screaming down as they might have at the time, washed over in a grainy, 8mm filter, buzzing past the fans who stood sunning themselves along some vulnerable snowcatch fencing.

Next came a long straight, up and over a hillcrest, and down into a sharp, right 90, also banked, but not as steeply.

Another right and we were running uphill into the woods.  A swamp on my left caught fragments of sunlight as they shot down between the leaves, and to my right, a wooded gulley, eager to catch the echoes of high-revving fours and sixes.

Up through the trees and I was on a high plateau, cutting (and later drifting) left and right around a dogleg, which rode a ridge and commanded a distracting view of the broad, wrinkled Iowa countryside.

But there was little time for sightseeing, as a sharp, left 180 took me in a long, sweeping curve toward the esses.  Here I got my first real scope of the elevation change the track offered.  The ribbon of the initial long straight seemed distantly downhill.  I thought this was where I’d like to watch the races if I’d been here in ’64.

Looking at a map of the track, you might wonder if this section is where the term “hairpin” was actually born.  The pair of esses leading down into the long, right-hand hairpin were just enough to keep me alert for the sudden and difficult 180 at the bottom of the hill.  Then it was a pair of long, fast straights back up to the finish line.

As the day progessed, the track thinned.  People wandered inside the building that the union had graciously provided for the seminars on the history of the track.  Without being rude or dangerous, and mimicking several of the other drivers, I decided to open things up a bit.  My noobish GoPro recording yielded all of four seconds of my sunburned face staring at the camera, as some derp (probably myself), had managed to switch off the record lamp; but thankfully, there were other, smarter, and faster drivers at Greenwood that day, and they knew how to use their own cameras quite well.

I will say I didn’t get as quick as the skilled gentleman in the Sprite, but by the end of the day, I was going fast enough to always think I was about to get in trouble.  Surely the track marshals heard my empty muffler howling up the straights toward the finish.  I must have reached 90 before I slowed at the hillcrest so they couldn’t see me.  But they always just smiled and waved me on for the next lap.  The day-opening disclaimer must have been more of an insurance measure.

Not that we could have gone flat-out if we’d wanted to.  As brilliant as the rallyesque WRX was through the foliage and over the heavy bumps, the torn, warped asphalt and ample gravel around the curves would have sent me sailing off into the grass (or swamps) had I taken them any faster.  The track rather governed itself.

Nevertheless, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in any road-legal car.  It was so much fun that I ended up shedding some weight on one of the overgrown sections of curves.  My left/front inner fender, held in place with a long-forgotten zip-tie, gave up and announced its retirement with a ragged note against my tire.  I ripped it off, threw it in the hatch, and drove on.  I’d never been so thrilled to break my car.

I didn’t want to leave, but I thought I’d probably spread my favor with the beautifully treacherous Greenwood Roadway thin as I might, and I made that my final lap.  This gave me time to chat with some of the drivers and get some more shots of the cars (stay tuned) before heading back out onto the verdant sea of Iowa 69, grinning all the way.

Driving at Greenwood dug out a deep and bleeding cave in my heart.  What would it have been like to do this every weekend?  To pull the interior from a little MG and weld in a cage, then push it, as fast as its tiny heart would take it, around such a perfectly designed piece of track?  I realized that whether in karting, autocross, or rally, I have to get racing soon.  I found myself out there, and I’d like to make that meeting more regular.

Author: Andy Sheehan

Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car. Find me on G+

2 Comments

  1. Great write-up, great description, great emotion, great pictures. You make me want to race.

  2. Fantastic writeup, Andy. It would appear to me that you’ve got a little bit of Buddy Palumbo in you. (If you’ve never met Buddy in the pages of Burt Levy’s books, you owe it to yourself. I get the feeling that you’ll enjoy them as much as I.)

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