Track Report: Buttonwillow Raceway Park

By Tom Martin

March 19, 2012

Pretty often we’re lucky enough to log some time on great tracks, both in the US and abroad. To share that experience with you all, we’re going to start to document the outings with videos and track notes. We’ll do our best to keep our line clean, too. For more racing news and info, be sure to “Like” the Winding Road Racing Facebook page.
(photo credit: WIll Pittinger)
Track: Buttonwillow Raceway Park
Location: Buttonwillow, California
Vehicle: 2004 Radical SR3
Date: March 11, 2012
Conditions: Sunny, mild (50-65 Fahrenheit)
We signed up for a track day with SpeedVentures at Buttonwillow, primarily so that we could sort out the Radical SR3 we recently purchased. This was our first time at Buttonwillow and our first time in the Radical. While we normally wouldn’t recommend running a new track in an unfamiliar car (though journalists are often put in this position—it being a hard life), things worked out fine and we had a blast.
Perhaps colored by the thrill of being in the Radical, we came away with a strong desire to run Buttonwillow again. The track has several engaging features.
First of all, the track is about three miles long overall, but can be configured many different ways. The configuration that SpeedVentures used (Number 13) was almost the full track, with the maximum number of turns (this keeps speeds down, which for track days reduces incidents). The twisty layout has an excellent mix of tight esses, fast sweepers, decreasing radius turns, and medium length straights leading into conventional 90-degree turns, so that you get to practice almost everything. Of course, with so much going on, this is a track that takes some time to learn.
The second thing we liked was the variation in elevation and camber around the track. When you pull into the parking lot, the track appears to be dead flat (the greater metropolitan Buttonwillow area is nigh unto a pool table), but that isn’t really the case. Three of the turns (Off-Ramp, Cotton Corners and Phil Hill) are no doubt built upon man-made hillocks, but they do the job of creating partially blind turns and enough weight transfer so that you have plenty of challenge. All three Team Winding Road drivers flirted with or executed spins coming out of Off-Ramp.
The high-speed cornering sections also offer a lot of opportunity to separate the men from the boys (or, perhaps more importantly, to test your understanding of your car’s limits and balance). For less experienced drivers, this involves some fear and trepidation, but it is great experience. Less scary, but just as useful, are the straights that end with hard braking, something that encourages practice of your timing getting on and off the middle pedal (a key factor in lap times). Related to these points, the runoff areas seem extensive (in many places you wouldn’t hit anything for a mile) because the track is on farmland in the middle of nowhere. However, if you do go off, you’ll be removing dust from your car for a year (not uncommon in the southwest and west of the US).
The surface at Buttonwillow is good but not great, depending on your point of view. Mostly, the track is smooth and unblemished, but there are a few dips and bumps. We actually think this is a benefit because it forces you to remember these, a skill you’ll use on many tracks we’ve driven. Buttonwillow also has substantial curbing, which we found to encourage staying on the black stuff while not unduly upsetting the car if you blanked and decided to imitate Alonso or Vettel running a chicane.
For a non-major club track, Buttonwillow has pretty good facilities. The main tower building has a second story observation deck, a cafe, a gear shop (Sparco, OMP and Buttonwillow regalia) and a meeting area. There are also numerous garages, fuel for sale, and a shop that offers various lubricants. The paddock is ample (there were about 75 cars on the day we were there, with plenty of extra space), and blissfully flat.
Seeing is believing, so we recorded an early lap for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
+ Track Report: Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch
+ Track Report: Monticello Motor Club, South Course