NNJR Car Control Clinic: The First Time Around

“What did you do this weekend?” Friends and co-workers asked Monday morning. “I was learning to drive my Porsche at the MetLife Stadium parking lot!” That was enough to solicit more interest and a barrage of questions: “What were you doing in the parking lot? Were you racing your car? How was it? Are you crazy?” Don’t you already know how to drive? As a start….

Yes, we spent our Sunday at a Parking Lot of the MetLife Stadium at the Car Control Clinic organized by the NNJR- PCA.

Both of us are new at this although Swroop attended the Ladies Day DE at Pocono Raceway last year. As soon as we heard about the Car Control Clinic, we registered for it as we were told by Tom Iervolino that the event is very popular and fills up very quickly. No more dipping our toes into PCA events, it was time to jump in with both feet.

A few weeks ahead of the event, via email, we received the Student Guide created by Tom Iervolino. It reminded us of the goals of the event “to learn the fundamentals of good car control through a series of instructional exercises designed to push the limits of participant and their machines”. “BE SAFE and HAVE FUN”. We just could not wait for the day.

As the date of the event got closer, we read the Student Guide closely to prepare ourselves and our cars for the day. The trunks were emptied out and everything from the doors, center console and glove box was removed. Nervous energy was starting to build up the night before the event. How would we know the difference between over-steer or under-steer? How would the weather factor in? The forecast was for rain all day. How fast would the car be traveling? And so on….So much so, that the excitement for the event did not allow a restful sleep.

On the morning of the event, we met at a designated place on the road and drove off to the stadium. There wasn’t any traffic early Sunday morning, and we were one of the first to arrive at the lot, a full half hour ahead of the scheduled time!!

We registered in the trailer and received copies of our instructions and assignments for the day. The parking lot was marked with red and yellow cones, none of which seemed to indicate a pattern or a run to our inexperienced eyes. The event is managed through a lot of volunteering, we were glad when Tom asked us to walk the course and mark all the cones with chalk. Right from the very beginning, we felt we were part of the group. That is when we learned that the yellow cones signal the counter-clockwise direction for the skid pad.

By 9am there were over 60 cars at the end of the parking lot, and by this time we had already made two new friends and walked around with them admiring other cars. Dominic Alfieri who parked his 997 next to Swroop, offered his helmet since he was in the afternoon driving group. Chris Onlulak came to our rescue and let us store our lunch and other stuff in his trunk safe from the impending rain and we agreed to do the same for him during his afternoon run. Two wonderful people we are glad we got to know and had a chance to spend some time with.

The event started officially with Tom pulling us together for a Driver meeting, reviewing the logistics, safety and assignment groups. Bill Gilbert gave us details of the how the track was set up. Both gentlemen were very funny and in their own way told everyone to avoid doing anything stupid which can hurt someone. This was followed by an instructor only meeting while the drivers figured out what they were doing first and where the exercise stations were. Each driver was assigned an instructor. John Vogt the Clubs Rally Chair was Swroop’s instructor and Kevin McCarthy was KJ’s. We were in the AM driving group and headed off in our cars to our assigned staging lanes which happened to be at the skid pad for both of us.

By now, the fire truck had arrived and was busy dumping water on the skid pads for our exercise. Our instructors explained the exercise and answered our questions so very patiently. We lined up for the event, luckily neither one of us was the first one up which gave us  an opportunity to figure out what to expect, what to do and what not to. The sound of screeching tires and revving engines filled the air. And, then came our turns ….the first time around the cones in the circle was sort of a trial, getting the hang of the tightness of the circle. Well, it was a lot harder than you would think, staying close to the cones without knocking them over, driving while looking ahead to the circle of cones, not just looking at the next cone. With each run on the skid pad, we got better at controlling the car while driving faster. Both our instructors were fantastic, coaching while encouraging and pushing us to the limit (our limits, not our cars). What an adrenaline rush….each time we finished the run and headed back to the staging lane, our hearts were pumping and we could hardly wait for the next run. We headed to the next skid pad in our cars, this time doing the same thing counter-clockwise. The rain had begun to fall lightly and the fire engine hoses were not needed anymore. We had the hang of the exercise by now, John had to remind Swroop to look ahead a couple of times but mostly was yelling “faster, faster, you can do it!” The experience on the skid pad is hard to explain. The feeling of putting the car in a controlled skid and getting it out was amazing. And we got so good, thanks to our instructors that we never put our cars in an uncontrolled spin. The uncontrolled spin was scary but we knew we are in good hands with our instructors. Don’t know how they stay so calm.

Following this we moved on to the Slalom exercise. This exercise was all about form and getting the car into a rhythm weaving between the cones. The goal was to be close to the cones without knocking them over. As with the previous exercise, with each run we got better and better. We murdered only one cone each….not bad for rookies.

The last exercise of the day for the AM group was braking. In this exercise we needed to accelerate briskly from the beginning, brake for a U-turn, accelerate again through the straight run and brake ahead of the cone barrier. The objective is to learn to squeeze the brakes and not hit the cones ahead. One of us mowed down the cones on the first run but we did well afterwards except when KJ put his car in a skid after the U turn on his last run!!

We were amazed by the professionalism of our instructors and their calm demeanor especially when we put our cars a few times in uncontrolled skids. It was scary but we loved it.

The group stopped for a short break to have lunch. By now it was raining very hard and some of it was freezing precipitation. The wind had kicked up and it was our turn to be out there working to man the cones or manage the staging area. So, no more comfort of the car, it was time to brace the weather. We have to confess that neither of us was prepared for the cold or the rain. Chris Onulak came to Swroop’s rescue and let her borrow his rubber pants. KJ was on his own. We stood in the rain for at least a couple of hours and considered leaving a few times but our good judgment prevailed and we continued with our assignment. The skid pads, slalom and braking exercises took on another level of challenge for the afternoon drivers with the rain and puddles on the run.

The event ended around 3pm and now it was time to say goodbye to new friends and thanks to the organizers Tom and Bill….for organizing a thrilling, heart pumping event. Can’t wait to spend another Sunday at the Parking Lot.