By Tom Swift
Road Trips and Fish Stories
It is Labor Day and the much ballyhooed weather catastrophe of hurricane Hemine has proven to be mere weather channel click-bait. Suckered again. The driving season is winding down and with this increasingly comes that peculiar sadness of pre-post-season let-down. A bit like getting choked up over the end of summer in June: Just a tad premature. We still have three events to go, including another two days at the Glen, two days at Lightning and the marvelous end to our season at VIR. There is then plenty of time for wailing and the renting of (track) clothes over the long winter driving drought.
I know, some of these trips are pretty long. But who among us doesn’t like a road trip? Especially one with a few days on a race track inserted into the middle? What better way to justify high cholesterol food and one too many beers? Where else do you get to look as if you just auditioned for a part as an extra in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western with no social opprobrium? And during the trips to and fro, you can use your mind to address some of the profound metaphysical issues of our time. For example, on my way up to Palmer, I noted that on the NY State Thruway there was at least one pair of exits separated by 17 miles. 17 miles! I spent some considerable time pondering the meaning of this. How absent must civilization be to warrant such a gap between exits? Is this area uninhabited? Sovereign Indian territory? Having not resolved this question to my satisfaction, I left NY for the wilds of Western Massachusetts via the Mass Turnpike. And what did I behold? A highway sign: “Next exit 30 miles.” 30 miles? More than twice the length of Manhattan Island. This is Massachusetts, not Outer Mongolia! Did the feds have MIT operating some kind of secret area 51 type installation out this way? One you can only get to via helicopter or tracked vehicle? I arrived at Palmer in a complete quandary.
I mentioned this to one of the locals, who seemed amused by my apparent naïveté. According to him, the local townsfolk block the state from adding exits under the theory that exits make their communities more attractive to those undesirables who want to reside in pristine rural areas and have easy access to Boston and Cambridge. That would never have occurred to me. After all, in NJ we define ourselves by our exit number. It is who we are.
At the end of July, we returned to the full course at Watkins Glen for three days on the newly repaved track. Watkins Glen is always great; a newly repaved Glen greater still. Those with racing tires lost a bit of track time on Saturday to intermittent drizzle, and based on an “iffy” forecast, I made the call at midday to hold the barbeque indoors. Which of course ensured dry weather at the end of the day. None-the-less, it was wonderful to see several hundred people – drivers and those supporting and cheering them on – all having a roaring good time enjoying ribs, beer and sharing stories about driving glory. Although as an experienced driver and engineer I must say that some of the speed claims I heard strained credulity. Many thanks to Paul Miller Porsche for their generous support of this feast.
We had a one month break in our schedule and then it was back on track at Whisky Hill Racetrack in Palmer Massachusetts. This most unusual track is built into a hill in a rural, heavily forested part of central Massachusetts. When you drive in, you have the impression that you are entering a rock quarry. If you were lucky last year, you saw the bear sunning on a rock. I always look for the bear, but so far no luck. In the paddock, it retains the appearance of a quarry with a giant hill of rock on the inside of turn 1. The quarry impression disappears, however, once you get out on the track. I think it was Sam Posey who, completely enamored of Lime Rock, described a lap there as hurtling through the lovely countryside of north western Connecticut. I don’t think Sam has been to Palmer, but I suspect he would have the same reaction. The sensation when driving Palmer is of being on a windy path up and down the summit of a mountain. You have the feeling, as David Hobbs would say, of “going somewhere.” Like driving in the Dolomites. The fun of mountain switchback driving without the RVs to slow things to a crawl (alas, also without those fabulous south Tyrolean restaurants perched on the side of mountains).
I need to do something therapeutic to stave off this pre-post-season thing. Time to go out and wash the cup car and charge up the track radios. Then maybe switch on the DVR and watch the recording of the Indy cars at the Glen. I hear they were running 1:25 in qualifying. I tell you, my best lap in July was close to that, very close…