Tracking Out, How hard can this be?

I carefully move the shifter through the gates before I start the engine, a dress rehearsal for the opportunity I am about to have. Reverse up and to the left? Check. The 1-2 shift seems easy enough, and 3rd gear is spaced perfectly. Piece of cake.

Turning the key, the engine comes to life with a loud bark, and immediately settles into a turbine-smooth rumble. Foot on clutch, shifter eased gently into first, left pedal out slightly, right pedal in slightly, the revs build and….stall. Hmmm. Let me try that again. Vroom…snick…stall.

 “Don’t feel so bad,” chides the Paul Miller rep with a smile. “You cannot start this car normally. You have to gently let out the clutch until it starts to catch, and then let it out a little further until the car starts to roll.” I start to try his approach before my brain kicks in again, pushes the right pedal, and stalls the car. One more time, and I am going to follow the directions to the letter, for better or for worse. I lift the clutch, the car starts to roll, I lift it a little more, and I am off! I squeeze the gas a bit, and finally, I am actually driving a Porsche Carrera GT. (copy editor’s note: I heard from a reliable source that some small petite lady (my daughter) after hearing that all of the male drivers stalled the Carrera GT had no problem and did not stall it. She is still giggling about it.)

My young co-driver, Marshall, is a nephew of one of our upper run group drivers, Robert Phelan. He is just as excited as I am to be riding in the Porsche supercar, and quickly fills me in on all of the details of its operation, and even gives me comparisons with some other supercars he recently sampled as part of a graduation present. Who needs an owners manual when you have a car-crazy twenty-something-year-old passenger? Rolling out the gates of the paddock, I realized that we need a destination. “Where have other people been driving this thing?” I ask Marshall. “I think they have been going through the tunnel,” he replies. “Hmm, out the tunnel to the exit of the track?” I reply. “I think so,” he answers tentatively, hoping I will take the bait. Sounds good to me! As Ferris Bueller said, “If you had access to a car like this, would you take it back right away? Neither would I!” Through the tunnel exiting the raceway, the engine sounded absolutely glorious. Making a left on to Long Pond Road, though, I got to take the beast up through the gears.

            Now, I have been sitting here a while as I type this trying to find the right metaphor for the sound that this engine makes. A turbine? Nope, it’s angrier and more sonorous than a turbine. A million angry hornets? Nah, this V-10’s sound is organized, precise, mechanical. If I had to pick one thing to compare it with, it would be an Italian sport bike. It is musical, much like a Ducati or an Aprilia, a sound that makes you back off the gas just so you can squeeze the pedal again to relive the experience. The engine revs quickly, as if it had no mass to contend with. Each twist of the wrist, I mean, press of the pedal, sweeps the tach needle faster than your brain would think possible. The rest of the driving experience is equally as intoxicating…the steering, the brakes, the leather and carbon fiber interior, the overall feel sitting behind the wheel. God, it must be nice to be Jay Leno.

            I owe this check off my bucket list to Paul Gavel and Paul Miller Porsche, who sponsored our Ladies Day Event and Pocono DE at Pocono Raceway on this last weekend in June. What a great event we had, from start to finish. Not a drop of rain fell for the entire three days, which for Pocono is a minor miracle.  Actually, you never know when it will snow, either.) In fact we had one of the highest turnouts of women drivers in our history – 31 Ladies Day students. The Friday event was capped off with another great Ladies Day Dinner at the Blakeslee Inn, where Paul Miller unveiled the new 2013 Porsche Boxster to our group. The next day, a line of people stood patiently near Paul Miller’s car display to test drive the new Boxster. The resemblance of the new convertible to its older, exotic cousin, the Carrera GT, is no accident. From what I heard from the folks that had a turn behind the wheel, the new PDK transmission in this Boxster is better than ever, with quick, smooth upshifts, and smooth, double-clutched downshifts, throttle blip and all. Not to sound like a commercial, but they really are selling quickly. So if you want one sometime in the next year, it might be a good idea to go visit Paul Miller sooner rather than later!

            It was nice to return to Pocono for our annual visit. Actually, it was not all that long ago that we would make three trips a year to the “Tricky Triangle.” In addition to our June/July trip like we just had, we would have an early event in April (which usually involved snow), and a late September event (which usually involved monsoons, or more snow, or both). Of course, Pocono is kind of like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates (you’re never quite sure what you are going to get).

            The funny thing I have noticed about our driver education events, though, is that you actually kind of do know what you are going to get. It seems like each track date has its own spirit, its own energy. Many of the same people go to the same events every year. Sometimes they are driving that same old 911 that they have been bringing there for the past 20 years. Sometimes they arrive with a new machine, or new modifications, or a new paint job. The people, though, are the constant. I think that might be one reason why so many of us enjoy our DE’s so much – they are like recurring vacations where you see all of your old friends, and a good time is all but guaranteed.

            Take Watkins Glen I, for example, which is coming up this month (August). Every year I find myself in the garage area of Cindy and Tony Cristello, along with Laszlo Szanka, Tom Iervolino, Knute Hancock, Dennis and Marlys Thovson, and many others. When we are not on track, ten or fifteen of us line up our folding chairs and have a great old time talking about just about everything except cars. We will be eating some awesome turkey chili (Cindy’s secret recipe) by day, and drinking Manhattans by night. On Friday night, we line up the tow vehicles, hit the track and do a “detailed track walk,” stopping to get out and take an up-close look at each corner. There may be beer involved. (Please note that this year we are going to try something different for the dinner on Saturday night, and hold a big trackside barbeque, complete with ribs, wings, pulled pork, chicken, and other great stuff. Paul Miller Porsche is sponsoring that dinner, and they will be at the track with more goodies to play with, I’m sure.) Regardless of the menu, it is a comfort to know that, no matter what is going on in life, Watkins Glen I is always Watkins Glen I. Now, compare The Glen to our season opener at Lime Rock, and you will discover a whole different vibe, one that is enjoyable in a whole other way. At that event, most of us are shaking off our winter rust and seeing our track friends for the first time in a while. It is a low-keyed, weekday affair, with a couple of good dinners at the Boathouse. Same people, different year.

            This year, I am working on adding two new annual vacations into my repertoire: Mosport and VIR. From what I understand about Mosport, being a relatively distant event in literally another country, it is a small and somewhat intimate group that makes the journey. VIR, on the other hand, is an equally as far, but very well attended event, and has a true “season finale” feel to it. I heard many of our regulars last year lamenting that the season would not be complete without the regular final chapter at VIR. For all of those regulars, and for newcomers like me, I am happy that NNJR will be making our return to Virginia on November 2-4.

            Pocono was such a pleasant event this year, and I look forward to it again next year. They are promising that the track’s infield will be repaved by next season, and possibly even redesigned. I am hoping for “Daytona North,” and hey, I can dream. Who knows, maybe we will consider additional dates once again at some point?

            In the meantime, I am enjoying my vacations with everyone from our group, and looking forward to building upon the good times, creating new memories, and adding chapters to the legendary stories that come from all of our endeavors, both on and off the track.