Mid Winter Intro to High Performance Driving

Mid Winter Intro to High Performance Driving
By Nancy Gleason

From as far back as I can remember (except for when my older brother dropped me down the stairs at age 18 months), I have loved cars. I begged for Legos at Christmas and made cars out of them. I had marble races with my sister around the top of the washing machine, naming the different marbles as race cars. I raced soup cans on the kitchen floor. I rushed down the driveway innumerable times (usually skinning a knee) to help my older brother wash his ’63 Mustang.
My older brother was, and still is, a total car geek. He was barely old enough to drive when he got his first Mustang and he managed to get into drag racing competitions without much help from the adults around us. It rubbed off on me. I used to love the roar of his car when it started up and now I am transported back to my youth – for a few seconds – every time I hear our Macan rumble down the driveway.
When my husband asked me if I wanted to join him at the NNJR Introduction to Performance Driving Seminar this month, there really was no doubt what my answer would be – YES! The only thing that disappointed me was that my thin-soled shoes were not required yet, because I realized that you have to do a whole lot of preparation and learning before you are really ready to take on the track.
The seminar started in the great German tradition of “Eating and Socializing First.” There seemed to be a nice mix of people who were new and people who knew each other. Everyone was friendly and welcoming – we all knew we had at least one thing in common, “the need for speed.”
The actual program started a few minutes ahead of schedule (another German tradition) and we jumped right into it. After a few introductions, we received an informative overview of the program. It is not “Your High School Student’s Driver’s Ed Program.” It is about safety, following appropriate procedures and having fun. Like anything rewarding, preparation and practice are the keys to success.
The speakers had excellent tips about what to expect for the three types of programs offered by the NNJR: car control clinics, driver education events and autocross events. Car control clinics are a great way to learn the basics of car control in a protected environment. The driver education events are held at eight different race tracks within 80-500 miles of the northern NJ area. One of the useful handouts provided at the seminar listed the name of each track, how long it is, where it is located and about how far it is to get there. That is where you first have a chance to be in your Porsche on a race track, of course accompanied by an instructor at first. At the seminar, you also receive a handy list of all the scheduled events from April through October for this year – including the all-important registration dates. The autocross events are held in parking lots and at the seminar, they showed a video of what transpires: slalom driving around cones in a “safe” environment and something called the “skid pad,” where you can actually experience what it feels like to skid in your Porsche (without ending up next to a tree).
Safety, of course, is emphasized over and over again. The novice (Green) run group has an excellent record: Over the past 150,000 track miles, only twice had cars hit something they should not have – and no one was injured.
The speakers explained how the programs are structured, how important it is to follow the procedures and rules provided and they went over some of the more critical procedures like the pre-track tech, the on-site safety inspection and the track walks.
I loved the diagram of standard terms that was provided. I cannot do it justice by describing it, but trust me when I say that I realized I have a whole new language that I need to adopt to succeed in my journey to becoming a Black/Red driver (wishful thinking – first I have to be a Green Novice, Yellow, Blue, White, then Black and Red). We learned about the Turn-In, the “Neutral” Throttle, the “Line,” “Unwinding” the steering wheel, the Track-out and the Full Throttle. I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but the only one I really understood prior to today’s session was “full throttle.”
We were shown helmet or car-mounted videos of each of the tracks. We got to virtually experience different driving styles by “regular drivers” and instructors. The use of cones and flags as means of communicating the status of the track ahead, or to recommend braking versus accelerating was reviewed. We were advised that it takes a lot of energy and concentration to drive under race track conditions, so proper preparation and sleep will ensure you an optimal experience. There was time for a lively question and answer at the end and of course completion of the mandatory survey at the end.
Overall, it was a great preparatory experience for me and my husband, as we are relatively new Porsche drivers. Most importantly, it was an appropriate first step toward a life-long dream that I almost forgot I had: driving an excellent driving machine in a safe, exhilarating, FUN manner on a real race track! I can hardly wait for Ladies Day at Pocono Raceway on June 24.