This is my last column as the Driver Education chair. The last two years have been challenging and rewarding at the same time, but I consider it a way of giving back to a club that has given me so much over the years. Before I relay my many thanks, let me tell you about a few upcoming events. First, our annual Mid-Winter Track Event is being held on Sunday, January 29 (for football fans, no worries- this is the off-week before the Super Bowl). The Mid-Winter event is not conducted at a track, but will be held at The Villa in Mountain Lakes. There are further details in this issue of the magazine, but this event is intended to inform members, who have not been to a Driver Education event, about the program. We will have presentations on various aspects of the program, on-track video, and plenty of time to ask questions of senior driving instructors. The cost is only $25. This includes a hot buffet lunch and a coupon to recoup your seminar fee at your first DE event. Second, although we have not settled on a date at this writing, Brian Till has agreed to join us for the Advanced Driver seminar. If you watch races on Speed you may have seen Brian reporting from the pits. He also is a former Indy Car driver and a longtime high performance driving instructor at the Mid-Ohio School. Watch for an announcement in next month’s magazine for the date and location!
A hallmark of NNJR Driver Education events is that they run smoothly and on-time, but this is no accident; it is the result of many hardworking volunteers. I cannot name everyone, but many thanks go out to our Registrar, Bob Michaelson. Registration duties for the largest DE program in the country are no small task and Bob’s help over the last two years was very much appreciated. Our Track Tech Co-Chairs, Greg Mills and Sal Strocchia, did a great job at both the pre-event and track side inspections, and Sal continued to help even after he became an instructor this year. Warren Pushaw, our Staging Steward, was omnipresent whether in person or helping to coordinate workers at events he could not attend. Dean Hollister was a regular in the communications tower and George Calfo’s advice and input was invaluable as Safety Chair. Tom Iervolino, one of our Governors, lent his hand at Tech, Front Gate and Tower, a veritable Jack-of-all-Trades. We cannot run the program without instructors and we have an excellent cadre, thanks to all! You might only see the Chief Instructors at the morning driver or instructor meetings, but they are working all day throughout an event to manage the on-track activities and to make them the safest they can be- great job gentlemen. Finally, I would like to thank all drivers for choosing to attend NNJR events. The most common feedback I receive from attendees is that when it comes to our motto of “Safe, Serious, Fun”, we practice what we preach. Drivers like the safety conscious approach and adherence to good practices that we have developed over the last 40 years. This allows everyone to have a great time a safe, controlled environment.
Another reason for attending NNJR events is related to one of the common concerns of new drivers: “What happens if there is an issue with my car?” This is another area where the NNJR family excels: no one gets stranded, and everyone helps each other out. From disabled cars hitching rides on someone else’s trailer to borrowing tools or pulling that needed spare part out of thin air, the examples are countless and occur at every venue. Doug Holcomb had difficulties at the September Watkins Glen event, and had more offers of help than he ever could have utilized. Based on what I have seen over the years, this was no surprise. Doug will be authoring an article on his experience, watch for it in next month’s issue. I have seen sets of tires loaned, parts delivered and installed, and repairs ranging from the simple (changing brake pads) to the unbelievable (changing a transmission). Just another day at a NNJR DE event.
The last event of the season at Lightning had a number of examples of folks pitching in. Early in the event, a Cayman broke and Will DiGiovanni spent a good deal of the weekend on his back trying to fix the problem. (I have also seen one of our chief instructors, Mike Carr, underneath a car at so many events I can’t count.) Later in the event John Giove was out on track and had a problem. He relayed to me:
“I had just gone out in Red and was on my second lap when I heard a loud pop and my driver side mirror swung in. My first thought something kicked up and hit the mirror but it was flopping back and forth. I was able to hang on to the mirror with one hand, drive with the other, and then did an abbreviated signal to pit-in. You don’t know how much you actually rely on the driver side mirror until it’s not there. I made it back to the trailer where I started taking things apart. Tom Shih came over to lend a hand. He noticed how the mirror came apart and had an idea on how to get it back together, but at that point I had to meet my student. He asked if I would mind if he worked on the mirror. When I returned the mirror was on the car and working. Tom quietly jumped in to lend a hand. Since I had two student commitments that day it didn’t leave me much time to fix it on my own. I couldn’t thank Tom enough as he saved me from missing another run.”
Tom was not done yet. Ken Ernsting came off the track on Sunday afternoon with a sickening metallic racket emanating from his car’s engine. The car was quickly shut off but needed a push on to Ken’s trailer. No problem, Tom and five other guys were on the scene and quickly supplied the necessary manpower. The next task was a bit more challenging. Wilson Lau’s 996 Cup car had a broken stub axle and was sitting nearby with only three wheels. Worse, it would take some finagling to get the car turned the car in the right direction to get it lined up before loading into his trailer. Bob Tonczos Jr. and Mike Carr were the ringleaders here along with many helpers. Using one of the club’s dollies as a substitute for the missing wheel, the car was turned around and was ready to be winched up the ramp. Cup cars are very low and ground clearance became an issue. A jack was substituted for the dolly, and along with some well-placed 2×4’s and choreographed directions from Bob, the car was pulled into the trailer inch by inch. A crowd of folks had helped out as a team without a single person having been asked. Just another day at an NNJR DE event.
My next column will be as NNJR president. I am much honored to be granted that privilege. I will commit to you that I will put the same energy into that office as I tried to put into the Driver Education program.