Specs & Details
Location Clarkston, Michigan
Track Configuration 1.42-mile, 8-turn road course
Elevation Change 50 feet
Other Facilities Quarter Midget track, bleachers, concessions, camping area, and pistol, rifle, skeet, and shotgun ranges!
What goes together better than Detroit and a pushrod V8? A road course and a shooting range, that’s what! Or least we think so, which is why we’re huge fans of the hidden gem just north of Detroit known as Waterford Hills. Built on the grounds of the Oakland County Sportsmen’s Club, where the members are mainly interested in firing their guns on the numerous shooting ranges found on this 200-acre property, in 1958 an infinitely wise board of directors decided a racetrack would be a good addition to their noisy outdoor pursuits. That’s right, Arizona (and Kenny Enterprises), you’re not the only state with a serious appreciation for firearms and race cars.
Waterford Hills isn’t just a big-boy wonderland decorated with shotgun shells and corded race tires, though; it’s also a seriously fun and technically challenging road course. Sure, it’s relatively short at 1.42 miles and doesn’t feature any long straights (though the fastest cars will touch 120 mph down the back straight), but there are some dramatic elevation changes, including the signature Hilltop Turn 4, a righthand crest so severe that the front tires catch some air as you lose sight of the track beneath you. If you’re driving a FWD car, you’ll need to let off the gas to prevent free-revving the engine.
But that’s not the only dramatic spot on Waterford Hills, a course so technically challenging that Car & Driver magazine used it for testing during its “Best Handling Car in America” story in 2010. Part of the challenge here is finding the right line with so many blind or late apexes, with the most critical corners being Big Bend (Turn 5) leading onto the back straight and Swamp (Turn 8) leading onto the front straight.
Big Bend, as its name implies, is a long and fast righthander that only requires a dab of the brakes at about 75 mph before turning into this courage tester of a corner. Trail braking here often results in a tail wag or two (or worse), so the fastest strategy is to get your braking done before the corner and then be on the power to balance the car to the apex and out onto the back straight. This technique pays double dividends because the sooner you can get on the gas through Big Bend, the longer (and thus faster) the back straight becomes, so it’s best to sacrifice some corner entry speed here so you can maximize corner exit speed.
Although there are no toothless gator hunters blasting around on fan boats in Swamp corner, there is, in fact, a small swamp on its inside. This very long lefthander is an increasing radius double apex turn, the first apex being later than you think, so try to clip the end of the inside rumble strip. After that you let the car track out full right before tucking it back in to clip the second apex. You should be able to find a single steering input that allows you to carve this corner in a big, continuous arc, where you control the line with the throttle instead of the steering wheel. Just be careful not to go full throttle too soon, because if you drop a wheel off on the corner exit rumble strip and overcorrect, it’s easy to loop it to the inside, where you’ll seriously redesign your car’s sheetmetal along the pit lane wall.
The climb up from Gulch (Turn 1) to Hilltop (Turn 4) is perhaps the most enjoyable section of Waterford Hills, both because the track has a wonderful flow here that feels like a winding country road and because you’re climbing toward Hilltop the whole time, which makes it very challenging to find the apex of each turn.
Add to that the challenge associated with late apexes hidden by the rise and fall of the terrain along with concrete patches in most corners changing the feel and traction level, and you’ve got a heck of a little roller coaster ride just a stone’s throw from heart of America’s auto industry.