Nelson Ledges Road Course is an extremely fast two mile, ten turn road racing
course located near Garretsville, Ohio
on Rt. 305. Nelson's is not Mid Ohio Sports Car Course
. Mid Ohio is a pro course, hosting the worlds top racers, including CART
, the American LeMans Series
, the SCCA Runoffs
and AMA superbikes
. Its facilities are world class, the barriers and track surface impeccable. Nelson is a club racing
track, a place where amateur
s go to play. They run both SCCA
national and regional events, Miata
clubs and Porsche Club of America
race weekends. It is also the home of Bob Stanley
motorcyle racing school. The asphalt
surface was very bumpy, but was mostly repaved in the fall of 2003. The layout is great for beginners, and the relaxed atmosphere often hides some excellent, competitive racing.
One Lap of Nelson
As you exit pit lane you will pass under the crossing bridge and merge left into traffic. The corner station is on your right as turn one is a very fast 90 degree sweeping right hander that can be taken flat out in many racing cars, including mine. If you do it right you will drift out and your left side wheels will end up on some pavement tacked on because too many people dropped wheels off there. It was a good idea from a track wear point of view. But drivers use all the pavement they have, so the change permitted them to go faster. Turn two is an 80 degree right hander, and it can be taken flat out in almost everything. Again you should apex just after the corner station and drift out to some added pavement on the left. As soon as you get the car straightened, brake! Turn 3 is an 90 degree lefthander, rather tight and the second slowest turn on the course. There is plenty of spin off room ahead, should you lose your rear end, but a lot of incidents take place at three.
Four is really a very long left hand turn that follows immediately after three. The track is banked a few degrees there and that helps, so you want to double apex it, coming in tight and letting the car drift out to the right before you drift to the left again just before the next corner station. Turn five is very long right-handed sweeper that is essentially a constant velocity turn. Ideally, you want to be slightly to the right of center and holding the constant RPM, however in heavy traffic you want to be tucked in to the right, as bad things can happen on the outside. Go off there and you have a good chance of ending up in a swamp. Wait until you see the second corner station on your right. My old turn marker was paved over, but you should turn in so you clip the inside of the track right as you pass the corner station. So turn in and floor it. If you have done the turn properly you may now go flat out for a third of a mile, and you were doing 80 or more when you mashed the gas.
The next corner station is a slight right handed bend seven that is flat out in everything. The black flag station is there, so hope they don't have one out for you! You can be on either side of the track there and it may be faster to stay on the inside, depending on traffic.
Turn eight is the kink. It can be taken flat out in just about everything under 200 horsepower. Tom Sloe tells me he's done it with 700 horsepower, and he tells me that 'takes a bit of doing'. Tom is a very brave--- and fast-- guy. I have personally driven the kink with the gas mashed at over 100 MPH. There is a significant bump, which makes the corner quite interesting when you're over 100 with your suspension fully loaded. You will drift left, but beware. Bad things happen at this corner simply because it is so terribly fast. Don't early apex! My first day flagging there I witnessed a formula 500 that cartwheeled and barrell rolled about a hundred yards after the driver screwed up in the kink. Nelson is very, very fast, it doesn't take much to go airborne.
Brake right before you pass the crossing spot. Turn nine is preceded by a corner station on the left. It is a fast left hander, and the braking area is the best passing area on the track. Also one of the most common spinning areas as well. Brake hard, make your downshift and turn, aiming for a telephone pole just outside the track. You are now in turn ten, the slowest turn on the course, a 160 degree near hairpin, slightly banked. The apex is slightly after the corner station, located in the center of the turn's arc. Lift, or otherwise try to "upset" your rear end to bring it around. Floor it if you want to continue racing, and you will drift to the outside, with Start/Finish halfway up the front straight, before the bridge. Pit in will be to your right if you've had enough.
Going off at Nelson
Nelson isn't graded so well as Mid Ohio. There were ruts, dips and the odd drainage ditch, though a lot of grading work was begun in 2003, and is continuing. Gravel pits are scheduled for installation before the 2004 season. For now the rule of thumb at Nelson should be; If you go off go straight, If you try and turn before you shed speed you may hit a rut. That may lead to an unplanned roll cage test. Roof racing, y'all. The track has tire walls almost everywhere, which is a big plus. They do a good job of shedding speed, but most are loose, unbanded. Often they flip you, usually gently , but a flip is a flip. There are plans to secure the tires in a more professional way, but don't expect the work to be completed when you get there. The trouble areas-- turns one, two, nine and ten will probably happen first, although the new gravel pits should help. Also on your reconnaissance laps please note that there are several drainage ditches near the course, always to the infield side. Don't hit them.
If you have to pull off for mechanical reasons, remember the corner stations are not close together on the back straight, Stations six and seven are good, but you have to watch the ditches before six. Turn three is also good if you get to the infield side, as sometimes a rope tow can take you directly through their to the paddock. If you pull off at eight, do it driver's right and near the crossing gate.
Nelson is a lot of fun to drive. It's sheer speed is clear to everyone, the track record is just over 58 seconds, set by Ahsen Yelkin in a Formula Atlantic. That's an average speed of over 120 MPH. Improved Touring cars routinely lap in the low 1:20's, some faster. The turns are spaced so you have time to set them up, making it a good track for beginners, while the speed fascinates experienced drivers. The bumps work better with IT cars, who have a more stock (softer) suspension than GT and Formula Cars. However, the 2003-4 repave very much benefitted pure race cars. Lap records dropped like a stone.
Nelson is a club racing track. That's both good and bad. What it means is that the amenities aren't the best, or necessarily even very good. The bridge needs a LOT of work, and is no longer capable of supporting motor homes. There is a crossing gate to the infield between turns eight and nine. The urinals are well, urinals. Slit latrines are the rule, not the exception. Cover thy nose. But a thorough modernization was begun in 2003. Swamps were cleared as were sight lines between corner stations. Long standing drainage issues were addressed. There were no gravel pits-- essentially the racing equivalent of a golf sand trap, there will be before the 2004 season. There are no grandstands, but spectator mounds have been shaped, and they can be a quite pleasant spot to pitch your lawn chair. There is a new covered eating area.
With new management an enormous amount of work has been done to compliment the volunteer labor. Hot showers were installed in 2000, and flush toilets entered the main women's room in 2001, with men's rooms to follow this year. The tire walls are being secured. All with volunteer labor. The tower really needs a lot of work, but work is being done. The start stand is brand new The amount of progress made in 2003 was stunning,
However, there are some cool things about club tracks. The place offers a real informality not found at other tracks. You can bring your dog. The best time to enjoy the freedom is during The Great Pumpkin Affair, traditionally the last race of the season., the corner workers wear hula skirts, there is a big costume party, cookouts and Lake Erie Communications serves Jumbalaya, chili and manhattans. There is a campfire competition. Much beer. Hangovers are born.
It's also inexpensive enough normal people can rent the track for sessions. Track concessions are family run, and both inexpensive and tasty. Particularly if you like sauteed peppers and onions. They let you keep your trailer there all winter. And Nelson's lets race workers train there, for free. They let us trash and burn cars as well. I used the Jaws of Life for the first time at a Nelson school, along with practicing driver extractions and extinguishing car fires, on a real car.
Directions to Nelson
The track is on Route 305 near US-422, about 20 miles northwest of Warren, OH. From Exit 14 on I-80 (the Ohio Turnpike), take Route 5 southwest (toward Ravenna) about two miles, then turn right (north) onto Route 534 for about 10 miles, then turn left (northwest) onto US-422 for about half a mile, and finally turn left (west) onto Route 305. There is a bar at the "corner", and the turn is really a bend, which is marked by a flashing yellow light. The track is about four miles ahead on the left. (South) The sign could be larger. Registration is in the barn on the left side of the access road.
The closest motels are in Newton Falls, or later in Warren, Ohio the former home of Packard automobiles. For more information on accomodations check out the following web site:
http://www.na-motorsports.com/Tracks/Nelson.html or the Northeast Ohio region of the Sports Car Club of America at http://www.neohio-scca.org/ . The track manager is Scotty and he can be reached at (216) 548-8551 (track phone) or (216) 369-3150 (home). Nelson's own site is at http://www.fastone.com
Lap Record 59.994 seconds by Ahsen Yelkin in a Formula Atlantic on October 28, 2001 for an average speed of over 120 MPH. Yeah, Nelson is fast! And that was before the repave. Don't expect many records to survive the first SCCA national race in May. Unless it rains.
At the Great Pumpkin Affair there are two ceremonies of note to corner workers. The first is at station assignments. The first station used is station two, but on Sunday morning Station One is manned by all those corner workers who have taken their final checkered flag. At the end of the day we have the whistle ceremony. Lake Erie Communications keeps their whistles, and someone who knew them well will talk about our departed comrades, and the whistles will be blown again in remembrance.