Located in the Phoenix area, Firebird International Raceway has something for every type of go-fast enthusiast. With a NHRA dragstrip, four different road courses and several massive paved paddock areas ideal for autocrossing, it’s the perfect location for the annual Modified Tuner Shootout.
Although we’ve turned a few laps around Firebird’s Main course ourselves, we couldn’t think of a better tour guide than Gary Sheehan, driver of the three-time Shootout champion GST Motorsports Impreza L and holder of the time attack lap record around this circuit (achieved at last year’s Shootout with a best time of 1:01.666). Here’s what Sheehan (a veteran racing driver who’s competed in World Challenge, Grand-Am and USTCC in a Subaru and also happens to be the director of marketing for COBB Tuning) had to say about Firebird:
“Every time I hear the name of Firebird Raceway, I think back to some exciting times at this track. Big, lurid second-gear slides, a third-gear ‘tank-slapper,’ nose pointed at the wall at way over 100 mph in fourth. And that was all during one trip down the main straight! But that’s what makes this track unique. More than any other track, conditions change dramatically from day to day, and you never know what you’re going to get.
“The reason for this is that the Firebird main straight is a heavily used dragstrip, and they treat it right for the car bowlers. The VHT that gets laid down makes the lanes so sticky that it’s almost taken my shoes off while walking on it. That’s great for launching a drag car, just plain weird for us road racers who are coming onto the front straight from out of a hairpin in a 500+ whp car with the throttle matted. Slip, stick, slip, stick and slip as you cross the dragstrip lanes all the way to the wall.”
One of Sheehan’s favorite parts of this track is the long front straight, leading into a challenging lefthander that sets you up for the back half of the course. “Once you’re safely pointed down the front straight (straddling the yellow line in the middle of the track, where there’s no VHT), I cross under the pedestrian bridge at 155 mph and start to bring the car to the right to set up for turn 1. At 165 mph, I jump on the brakes right at the opening in the wall on the left and start to feed in left steering while balancing the car on that right front tire.
“Turn 1 is a long decreasing radius lefthander that has two distinct apexes. While the turn is still pretty shallow, you apex at the first curbing as you bang down three gears, then drift away from the left side of the track. The turn tightens up quickly and you need to get your trajectory right to accelerate hard onto the next little straight. Tighten up the steering significantly into the second phase of the corner, just touch the apex on the left and accelerate out toward turn 3.”
From there, Firebird turns into a test of transitional response and curb hopping, with a chicane and lots of other quick changes of direction. On paper it looks pretty straightforward, but it’s a short enough track that even the smallest of errors will cost you time you won’t be able to make up elsewhere during the lap.
Firebird International Raceway
Location Chandler, Arizona
Track Configuration 14-turn, 1.6-mile Firebird Course (used for the Tuner Shootout)
Elevation Change None
Longest Straight 5/8-mile front straightaway (uses dragstrip)
Other Facilities Quarter-mile NHRA dragstrip, 1.25-mile East Course (10 turns, half-mile straightaway), 1.1-mile West Course (11 tight turns, 3/8-mile straightaway), Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, including the 1.6-mile Bondurant Course, Briggs & Stratton half-mile Karting Complex, Firebird Lake (120 acres/1.1-miles in length, used for IHBA and APBA sanctioned speed boat drag and circle races), multiple skidpads used for autocross and handling tests (largest is 450x650 feet), hospitality pavilions, track-side corporate suite towers
To see a video of this track, log on to modified.com