Tracking Out – February 2012

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I accidentally planned a business meeting in Montreal at 9:00 AM on a Tuesday morning, followed by two days at Lime Rock on Wednesday and Thursday. Of course, with roughly four hundred miles each way between home in New Jersey and my client’s office in Montreal, it would be pretty tough to make the round trip in time to turn around and head back out for the two and a half hour ride to Lime Rock. So, I decided to do what any reasonable person would do; I packed up my twenty seven year old 911SC, threw in my clothes bag, briefcase, tools and helmet, and headed up the New York Thruway into the Great White North.

It all was working out beautifully. The three liter engine of my 911 settled into a beautiful, cacophonous mix – part mechanical, part whirring from the huge engine fan. I got into such a groove that I drove non-stop, past Albany, past Saratoga, through Lake George, all the way until the “sortie” signs clued me in that the US/Canadian border was approaching. I took the last exit in New York for a McDonald’s and gasoline break.


I have learned a couple of things while owning my SC. The first is that little things sometimes do go wrong with quirky old air-cooled cars. The second is that many of these little things are, thankfully, easily diagnosed and fixed. One time at an autocross, the fuel pump relay came slightly ajar. A simple push and it roared back to life. Another time when the windshield wipers suddenly quit, a plug under the dash had simply come undone, like a plug from an electrical outlet. So, when I climbed back into my SC carrying a fresh Big Mac and chocolate shake, I was not as startled as I might usually have been when I turned the key and nothing happened. The lights were all on, but nothing clicked.

“Great,” I thought, more annoyed that my two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-bun might get cold than anything. The thought of being stuck off a sortie – I mean, exit – really did not concern me. Under the dash I went  to look at the first could-be gremlin – the plug to the ignition switch. Unfortunately, the plug was still firmly connected from the last time I had to fix that. Next up were the fuses and battery. The battery was pretty new, so I was not all that worried, although it would have been a simple fix. No dice anyway…both cables were connected, and the ground was nice and clean. The fuses also looked intact. A quick look under the car told me that the ground strap, also sometimes an issue, was clean and connected. Uh-oh.

 It was now almost 8:00 PM, and thankfully, pretty light out and unseasonably warm. My mechanic in NJ had left for the night, but I was able to reach a Steve Weiner from Rennsport Systems in Portland, Oregon from Rennlist who knows a thing or two about the old cars. After some more unsuccessful troubleshooting, he suggested the obvious, “Can you roll start the car?” D’uh.

I pushed the car back out of its spot, and started rolling it down the very slight hill at McDonald’s. I got it rolling, jumped in, jammed it into second and popped the clutch….VROOM! “Success!” I report back to Steve, still on the phone.

 “Okay, now take it straight home.” Hmmm. A meeting in thirteen hours, Lime Rock in two days…home is not where I wanted to go. Luckily, relatives about two miles south would allow me to park the car at their house, rent a car, and still make my trek into Canada without fearing a broken German car in French (speaking) territory. I would, however, return to my relatives on Tuesday night, pick up the Porsche, and make the decision to bring it to Lime Rock after all. The problem, apparently, was heat-related. The solution? Just don’t shut it off. Or, shut it off at the top of the hill. And once I made it to Lime Rock, I would be surrounded by helpful Porsche-heads anyway. Simple, right?

I rolled into Lakeville, CT at around 1:30 AM, into the parking lot of the Inn at Iron Masters (a nice, clean place, by the way). Being a sleepy little town, the innkeeper was long gone, but they post a list of rooms with names for late-arriving guests. I looked down the list…no Karpinski. “Press button for innkeeper,” read the sign. Buzz. No innkeeper. Buzz. Still nothing. “If no one answers, call this number.” I went to dial the number, but Lakeville is apparently a giant dead zone. No bars on my cell phone. Rats.

You never notice the complete demise of pay phones until you actually need one. I drove out of Iron Masters, my 911SC still running continuously since I left New York nearly four hours before, and looked for signs of life anywhere. Bank? No phones.  Gas station? No phones. Fire Station? Nothing. I kept driving and driving, until I happened upon another inn with the lights on – The Wake Robin. I drove my car right up to the beautiful, old inn, and started to get out. My engine reverberated in the chilly night air, and I thought of the poor hotel guests awaking to my arrival. I climbed back in and drove the car down the hill to a smaller parking area. Old habits and muscle memory, be damned. Before my brain could stop my left hand, I had switched off the engine, filling the night air with deafening silence. “Oh, no!”,” I groaned. I turned the switch back to start, knowing it wouldn’t. It didn’t.

Now needing more than an innkeeper, I had to contact AAA for a tow. The button on the door at the Wake Robin worked a bit better than the one at my inn. A groggy innkeeper responded, “Can I help you?”

“Uh, hi, my car is not working, and I’m supposed to be staying at the Inn at Iron Masters, and I need to call there and call a tow truck. May I use your phone?”

This guy obviously was not into horror movies. “The front door is open, and there is a house phone in the lobby. Please help yourself.” Finally, at least I had access to a working phone.

`AAA stepped up.  “We can have a truck there to tow your car at 8:30 AM.”  It was now exactly 2:00 AM.

“All I really need is someone to help push the car a bit and I can get the car started and moved. You see, I parked at the bottom of a hill, and I have a bad starter.”

“8:30 AM, sir. Please be with your vehicle, and we need a cell phone number to reach you.”

Who else could I call? Maybe the local police could help me find a local tow guy. No phone book. “I know,” I thought, “I’ll just dial 9-1-1.”

Funny things happen when you dial 9-1-1 from the house phone from a hotel in Connecticut. Apparently there is some law that 9-1-1 calls from hotels must be treated as hostage standoffs. Off goes the siren from the alarm panel in the darkened hotel lobby. Lights start flickering on room-by-room. Time to wake the innkeeper again.

“Uh, hi? I’m the guy in your lobby that needed help with his car. Um, I think I may have accidentally set off your alarm.”

“How did you – never mind…I’ll be right down.”

“Nice inn,” I thought as I strolled around the lobby, trying to look casual, pausing to pick up a brochure as the alarm kept shrieking. Up the driveway came two pairs of headlights. Figuring them to be police, I decided to meet them at the door.

“Hi guys,” I welcomed them. Turns out that they weren’t local police, but State Troopers. Their guns were kind of out, but not really what one would call pointed at anyone. At least if I ended up on “Cops,” I still had my shirt on, which would make me a novelty of sorts.

“What is going on?” they asked. “Why did you pull the alarm?

“Well,” I answered with the hint of a chuckle rising up. “You won’t believe this.” So I start my story…the Porsche…the McDonald’s…the bad starter…Montreal…Iron Masters missing my name…and ended the diatribe with something like, “So what I really am looking for is to get my car just ten feet back or so and then I can roll start it and be on my way.”

“Let me get this straight, sir. You called 9-1-1, and we drove 20 miles at 2:30 in the morning, so that you could ask the Police to push your Porsche?”

“Oh, no. No! Actually, what I wanted was to get a tow truck to pull me up ten feet or so that I could get a rolling start down that hill and pop the clutch.” They continue to stare at me blankly. I reconsidered. “If you wouldn’t mind.” The one looked at the other incredulously.

A little pushing, a rolling start, and a friendly wave goodbye to the State Troopers, I was back on my way into town, towards the Inn at Iron Masters. Still without a room, but noticing that only one room remained with an open door and light on, I took the Goldilocks approach and secured myself in the last remaining open room. With a heavy head and sore back, I finally settled into my bed, and closed my eyes. Just then, the cell phone rang, coming to life in the dead zone. It was AAA. They were at the Wake Robin, in the parking lot, looking for a stranded maroon 911.

So is there a moral to this story? Well, not really. Leaving early for long trips and allowing extra travel time is probably a good idea. My car was well-maintained, though, and the bad starter was a fluke. I could easily follow that advice up with “get a good nights sleep” and “brush twice daily.”

I am now just looking forward to a couple of days at Lime Rock, our season opener in April. This is one of the most storied race tracks in the world. It was repaved just a couple of years ago, which has to be the racetrack equivalent of dipping a deep fried Oreo into chocolate. At just over a mile-and-a-half long, the laps are short, but each turn is technical and demands your attention as a driver. You could drive this place all of your life and probably still find something different to play with every time you return. It is a great place to drive, and an ever better place to learn.

Our particular event here is really special, because we are one of the few clubs that get two consecutive days with the track all to ourselves. This is now a semi-private racetrack, after all, and the club members usually split track time with renters of the track. The weather in the Berkshires at this time of year usually features crisp and cold mornings, giving way to warm and sunny afternoons (that is the weather I ordered, at least). The fact that the event falls on weekdays also brings an air of relaxation. Add a couple of dinners out with friends at good restaurants, and it is right up there with puppies and vinyl records on my favorites list.

Registration opens up on on February 15 for the Lime Rock DE, and the tech inspection for the event will take place on April 2 at Flemington Porsche between 6:00 and 8:00 PM.

Remember that April 2 will be here before you know it! Assuming your car is not outside buried in ten feet of snow, it is a great time to go out and put together a pre-season punch list. Don’t forget to have a look at your helmet, gloves, harnesses, and tie-down straps (if you trailer). Once you have figured out what needs to be done, get your car to your mechanic earlier rather than later! Your mechanic will thank you, you will get an earlier jump on your trip, and maybe, just maybe, you qill actually get some sleep at the Wake Robin Inn.