By Tom Swift
Mother Nature Frowns on my First Event
Our first driver education event each season has been for some years now at Lime Rock Park in early April. On a historical note, NNJR’s first track event ever was held at LRP in 1971, 45 years ago. While I have not been going to Lime Rock for quite that many years, I have been spending time in that area for all my life as my family for many years had a summer cottage on Twin Lakes, which is only a few miles from the track. I recall one early April putting the dock into the lake, wearing a full wet suit and enjoying snow showers at the same time. That was the first year our new puppy, a rescue Lab mix who we named Turbo, saw the lake. As “Dad” appeared to have fun in the water, Turbo jumped in as well, with full Lab enthusiasm, which vanished instantaneously since the water temperature was 45 degrees. I am grateful to this day that I wore the wet suit, because not only did it stave off hypothermia, it kept my skin from being shredded as Turbo proceeded to claw her way onto my shoulders to escape the frigid water. It took two years for her to again venture into the lake.
Returning to our 2016 kickoff DE at Lime Rock on April 6 and 7: This was, of course, my maiden voyage as track chair. There is a military maxim: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” My version of this is now: “No plan survives contact with Mother Nature.” I watched, with concern, as weather forecasts for the beginning of April began to deteriorate after stellar March weather. Two days prior to Wednesday, the 6th, Lime Rock had 3 inches of snow. Tuesday’s Hudson Valley DE was cancelled due to frigid temperatures and snow on the run-off areas. The forecast for Wednesday was still very cold, but with warming temperatures leading to substantial rain on Thursday. The big question was, will the track be safe to run on? The not so obvious second big question was, when will we know whether the track will be safe? I had countless discussions with track officials on Tuesday morning, predicating the go/no go decision for Wednesday on guesstimating how fast the snow would melt once the sun came out. This turned into a fine lesson in crisis management and I learned that you cannot over communicate in such a situation. When I sent a status email to the participants, saying that we would make the call by 1pm, I did not realize that by 1:03pm some people would conclude that something had gone very much wrong since they had not heard from me yet. However, the track did not make the determination on whether we could run until nearly 2pm. By that time there was somewhat of an electronic lynch mob forming… As we did not have the option of postponing the entire event – I made the decision to go.
Wednesday morning we started with temperatures in the low teens, wearing attire generally associated with ski events. I am afraid we were in contention for the record low temperature at a NNJR track event. The track itself had black ice in places and some of the tire barriers were frozen to the ground. We had to wait. Fortunately Simon Kirkby, Chief Instructor at Lime Rock, was available to lead us on an outstanding track walk at 11am. We had just walked through West Bend and what did I see but a flagger setting up at the bridge! A radio call confirmed that Lime Rock was good to go. Needless to say, we picked up the pace and returned briskly to the paddock. We were on track at 12:15pm. The weather, though cold, was splendid, and the sun had warmed up the track enough to allow tires to stick. Through judicious management of the schedule, every run group got 4 runs before shut down down at 6pm. The beer bash thereafter was really well attended despite the less than spring like weather. Thursday morning the temperature was 30 degrees warmer, but rain was on the way. We dealt with on and off showers in the morning and by combining run groups we again were able to get four runs in for each group, although many of those were in the wet. We shut down at 2pm in pouring rain but without incidents and with lots of smiles. All of us had such low expectations on Tuesday that we were absolutely delighted with the outcome. My compliments to our chief instructors and stewards, as well as the Lime Rock staff, for the fine team effort in pulling off a great event despite the extremely challenging start!
Late July in Watkins Glen. What could be better? Be sure to register right away as this event always sells out.
Late August takes us back to the Whiskey Hill track in Palmer, Massachusetts. The facility opened last year and we had a spectacular event. This track is unlike any other we drive since it is built into the side of a hill. I liken it to driving in the Alps in Austria or the Dolomites in Italy, with switchback turns only possible in the mountains. But Palmer is even better, since there are no German tourists with grossly underpowered station wagons on their way to the beaches of the Adriatic or Dutch tourists towing campers to any sunny destination. The Whiskey Hill facility was a bit primitive last year, but the staff was terrific. They have been working on upgrading the amenities, making a great track an event better venue for NNJR.
At this writing I am headed for the upper run group event and instructor training at NJMP and the weather forecast is looking great! Here is hoping for a bit less weather drama for the remainder of the season.