By Tom Swift
Ode to the Joy of the Long Distance Track Event
It is now late March and I am writing this article sitting in a bar in a chateau in the Loire Valley in central France. One hour away from Le Mans. Anticipating having ambrosia for dinner, just like last night. It does not get much better than this. Well, it could be better. I could have rented a 991 Turbo S instead of the Nissan Qashqai. However, we would have had to bring along the servants to pilot the chase car with the luggage. And besides, who can resist a vehicle with a name that refers to a Turkic clan?
In late June we hold our annual three day event at Pocono. When I started coming to NNJR DE’s, we had three events each year at Pocono; one in early April, one in mid-summer and one in September. We stopped the April event after a series of events where we froze our tailpipes off. I remember taking a student out on the North course as it was icing over. It was really a terrific way to learn car control, with the near zero tire wear that comes from near zero friction coefficients. However, the flaggers were also icing over and we had to stop. After a few years in a row of mid- winter conditions, we decided that the Almighty did not intend us to be at Pocono at that time of year. September had been a multi category event, including DE, time trials, concours and rally. It was fun, but a great deal of work and not sustainable over the long term. What remains are three days in mid-summer, the first being Ladies Day; a fantastic Friday, wherein we only allow women to run in the instructed groups. In my experience women make better students, as they realize that they know little about track driving; whereas some novice male students arrive with absolute confidence that they are the second coming of Ayrton Senna. We vary the track configuration on Saturday and Sunday to keep it lively and this year we return to the double infield.
July takes us to two of the finest tracks in North America. Both are ex-Formula One tracks. Mosport, just east of Toronto, is a very, very fast track. Turns 1, 2, 4, and 8 are high speed sweepers and these certainly cause you to make sure you are paying attention. It is a long haul, but no longer than VIR or Mid Ohio and we have the fun of interacting with our northern cousins, members of Upper Canada Region. And then at the end of the month we are at Watkins Glen, this year back to running the full course, but on brand new pavement. It should be fantastic.
Ode to Joy
I know that some of you look at the mileage to Mid Ohio, Mosport and VIR and think: no way am I driving that far for a DE. Well, I can tell you that my experience is one of unmitigated joy. Well, almost unmitigated.
I used to always drive the track car to the track. As I gained more experience, I started running R compound tires – and still drove to the track. One time, having passed just about everyone along the first 150 miles of PA, the heavens opened up in a tremendous downpour. Michelin Pilot Sport Cups are wonderful tires, but they only pump about six thimbles worth of water per second. I was hydroplaning at anything above 50mph. I cheerfully waived as every car and truck that I had passed over the prior hour went flying by me. However, in retrospect I realized that I was doing a public service. I made their day. By the time next year’s event at Mid Ohio had arrived, I had acquired a pickup truck and open trailer and was ready for everything. Except the lady who tried to pass me in the left lane, when the left lane was occupied by a stopped police car. She did not quite make it back into the center lane before hitting my brand new trailer. And then argued that it was my fault. Well pardon my existence.
And then there was the time Petra and I were just crossing the Ohio border. There is a big sign that says “Welcome to Ohio!” And we thought: Great, but why is the sky green? We knew Ohio had environmental issues in years past (see Randy Newman: “Burn on, big river, burn on”) but that was ancient history. It starts to rain. We need diesel fuel (note: now running a MUCH bigger pickup and an enclosed trailer). We pull into our usual truck stop. At this point the rain is approaching Biblical flow rates. I am trying to see which pump to pull up to – trying to see anything at all. A guy pulls up in a pickup truck, and ROLLS DOWN HIS WINDOW. I figure he must have some MIGHTY important thing to say; because no one in their right mind would otherwise roll down their window. “Tornado Warning! Get inside now!” We ran for it, got soaked and spent 30 minutes huddling with two dozen truckers in the center of the truck stop until the all clear was given. All turned out well and we enjoyed an interesting cultural experience with the truckers.
Then there is the time that I first took the enclosed trailer to VIR. Also the first time using GPS (I had borrowed my son’s Garmin). Happily rolling down 71, enjoying the spectacular Shenandoah Valley scenery, when the GPS says, “Take this exit.” Boy, it seems early, but these systems are really smart now, so this must be the hot setup. The good news is that we saved a few miles. The bad news is that the mountain switchback road we found ourselves on was a ridiculous, absurd, preposterous route for our rig. Anything larger than a Mini Cooper (note: original size) approaching us in the opposite lane would have been sheared in half. Fortunately nothing came our way. Truly a case of better lucky than smart.
But lest you think that the moral of these stories is “Don’t go!,” au contraire, mon ami, au contraire. We were at Mosport on a Friday afternoon and my cup car’s left outer CV joint commits suicide in Turn 9. Shedding marble sized ball bearings, I limp into the paddock. I have no spare axle. I am thinking that was a long way to go for 2 1/4 runs. A friend encourages me to ask around in the pits to see if anyone has a spare. I am not optimistic, as these are rare Porsche Motorsports parts. No joy, but someone gives me the number of a shop within 30 minutes of the track. I cannot believe it. They have a couple of rebuilt cup car blue axles. Petra drives off and buys one. Come Saturday AM, Mike Carr, whom I did not know very well at the time, spends three hours with me under the car and by noon we are ready to go. All well for the remainder of the event. To this day I remain impressed by and grateful for Mike’s willingness to help a fellow club member, not matter how long it took.
Over the years I have seen countless examples of NNJR people helping fellow drivers at the track: rolling up their sleeves, lending a hand, providing expertise, donating parts, even giving up their place on a trailer so that someone else could bring home an injured car. We are a club, we support each other and nobody ever gets left behind.
And the remote tracks, well, they are spectacular! I hope that this article helps you overcome any misgivings. If you love road racing and track driving, you must experience Mid Ohio, Mosport and VIR.