Murray Kane: Although I am no Drew Karpinski, I figured by this time it being several months since my last article my legion of fans would be eagerly awaiting my next Porscheforus article so it was my initial though to write one on my first time at Watkins Glen to please my fan base. After giving this matter some careful thought I came to the decision, my fans would have to wait. Being one half of the New Member Liaison Chair I thought it would be more interesting to get this perspective from two new members who were also running at the Glen for the first time. I approached Rick Londano and Alexande Aillo and asked them to write on their individual experiences. What follows are their thoughts and experiences at the Glen. Both agreed with me that it is a great track and despite the rain, we all had a great time and cannot wait to get back to the Glen.
Alaxender Aillo: Well it all started this year. I have been a regular attendee of Cars and Croissants in Chatham, NJ for the past year. Being the Porsche enthusiast I am, I always spend countless hours preparing my car to look its best and receive many questions as to how I get my black car to look like glass. I tell every one that asks; a lot of work and attention to detail. While attending these meetings, I met and spoke to other Porsche owners who were members of NNJR-PCA about taking the Porsche ownership experience to the next level, that being DE events. The one place they always spoke about was the infamous Watkins Glen. After taking my car to my first event at NJ Motorsports Park I was hooked. I signed up for three more events, the last one being the Glen.The event at Watkins Glen was going to be my first three day event at a track, so I was careful to pack correctly and have everything in order. This being accomplished, I was ready to go. I hopped in the Porsche and started my drive to a local hotel. Little did I know what awaited me on my way to the hotel. The trip was only supposed to be 4 and half hours according to my GPS, but of course there was a lot of construction along the way and it ended up taking seven hours. That was fine, no problem. I was so excited that really nothing could bother me. I stayed at a hotel in Horseheads as recommended by Leslie Shrem to save some cash. It was a 20 minute drive to the track, but that did not bother me one bit. So after fighting to get some sleep in, I woke up, got ready and headed to the track. I was going to finally be able to experience the Glen.
Arriving at the track was a treat of its own. After getting a good look at it, I realized it was the best track that I have ever laid eyes on. I knew that I was going to have a great experience. After morning tech I met up with my instructor Gary Morini, who I had befriended prior to the event. He talked to me about the track, making the point it is not as forgiving as some other tracks. Before that day he had always pushed me to go faster, knowing that I was afraid to reach my limits. Then of course he reinforced that I need to trust myself and let the car do what is born to do.
Wow, that is all I can say, the curves, the inclines, the declines, the speed, ooh the speed! This track is unbelievable. After the first day at the Glen, I truly understood why it is so talked about. The day went by quickly. I had four runs and each one was different. I wanted to learn the different lines on the track and see which one my car loved the most. Did I make mistakes; of course, but being the fourth event that I have driven, I knew what I was doing wrong and quickly made adjustments. This allowed me to take certain turns better and come out faster. At the end of day one I was ready to take what I have learned and think about each turn so that the next day, I could work on some problem areas with my instructor and hit the track with more confidence.
Saturday came and guess what, so did the rain. All day in fact. That did not stop me, I had three runs that day and although I had to be more cautious and a lot slower, I learned a great deal about the track. I used Saturday to find fixed marks or structures as braking and turn-in points. I was determined to get the most out of the situation. Saturday also brought new challenges such as avoiding other cars that had lost control. I had two situations and in both of them I came out safe and with a better understanding for future occurrences. My instructor really did a great job making sure that I went around the cars safely and what to look for to avoid collisions. One of the last things I took out of that Saturday’s run in the rain is that I can honestly say that I as a driver now have a much better understanding of what my Cayman can do in the rain. The car was amazing and after learning some techniques from Gary as to how not to loose control, the car felt safer and I enjoyed the ride even more, especially knowing what to do in everyday driving situations.
Sunday, the last day at the track was almost dry and I was ready to give it my all. I had two runs before it started pouring. What a day, I used all that I have learned in the past two days to really push the car and take it to new speeds. I was coming out of corners feeling like was going slower, but looking at my tach only to realize that I was going faster than I ever had, it was poetry and I had a blast. My instructor did not find it necessary to talk much. He knew I had it under control. I knew what I had to do and the lines I had to take in the corners and it made all the difference. Right after my second run, Gary gave me the thumbs up and the sticker to run solo, but I was never able to use it and I was okay with that. I had a great day and was happy that I had those two great runs.
I packed up my belongings and although having soggy shoes and drenched clothing, I had a smile the whole way home. Watkins Glen is now my favorite track, I don’t know if down the line that will change, but the experiences that I had were unlike any other. I hope to return to this track, but next time with more knowledge and understanding and a new set of pads, Ha-ha!
Rick Londano: OK. New York. “The Glen”. GT2’s, GT3’s, GT3RS, 944’s, 964’s 993’s, 996’s, 914’s, etc. It was paradise. Driving on the Historic Watkins Glen International was something I dreamed of since I was a kid. So naturally, I was honored when Murray asked me to write an article about my experience.
The week leading up to the DE was rough and intense. Due to the nature of my job, I missed the most important thing, Tech Inspection at Powertech. So I said to myself, “eh so I guess I have to pay for a tech, darn it. That’s ok; I have plenty of time, two weeks, more than sufficient. Those two weeks felt more like 2 days. Before I knew it, I was hitting the panic button Tuesday night wondering how I am going to squeeze in Tech. Thankfully; Bill Bloomfield at Euro Tire located in Fairfield took my panic phone call and saved the day. I passed all my inspections for my 911, a good ending to a long and painful week.
Craig Mahon, the event chairman opened up the first day with a safety meeting going over the details of the track and thoroughly explaining the passing zones, braking zones and such. I was assigned a great instructor (like all of my previous instructors) for the weekend, Tony Henderson. I finally catch up with Tony and see his 944 with a huge wing on the back. His car is completely gutted and no passenger seat. ”Whoa, This guy is serious”. We meet and he tells me how he is going to drive the first 3 laps so on and so forth. As Tony drove his recommended first three laps with me in the passenger seat, he voiced the speed at which he was going at into the turns and the straight-aways, and went over all the braking points. His instructions were clear and I knew I would feel comfortable driving. You can ride with the best, but it is not until you get in the driver’s seat that you truly feel what your instructor tells you. I felt the car get a little loose in Turn 9 (of course) and Tony instructed me “don’t give it too much gas”. My third and fourth runs were just as satisfying. And to complete the day, I got to see some familiar faces Knute, Tony and Cindy Cristello, Karen, Brian, Madan and Alec. It was an overall fantastic first day.
A day to remember for a lifetime, an experience at “The Glen” with Dennis Thovson. But before I get into the details of the experience, I have to explain what led up to it. Ok, so I begin the day with the usual routine, 4 cups of coffee at the hotel, attend the drivers meeting, and attend the green/yellow group driver’s meeting. After the driver’s meeting, we did not have to go out for an hour, so I walk around the paddock, look at all the beautiful cars and thank the good Lord for being here alive and well. I see Brian and we start to talk about how it is day 2 and nothing has happened to him or the his GT3 (yet). I see Marlys Thovson, I say hello and we start to talk about things, blah, blah and out of nowhere, she asks “do you want to go out with Dennis?” I could hardly contain myself, but I did and I calmly said, “that would be nice”. Meanwhile my heart begins to pound with excitement (it may have been the coffee), she then says “ok good, I’ll go talk to him and see what he says”. “Ok”, I reply, “no rush, take your time.” She goes “oh, there he is, c’mon let’s go see him before he goes out on his run.” I reply, “are you sure that’s a good idea? I don’t want to distract him or break his concentration before he goes out on the track.” “No no”, she replies, “he’s been doing this for years, it won’t be a bother.” We walk up to him and he literally has one foot in his car getting into a beautiful 911 RS America. “Dennis, is it ok if Rick goes out with you for a run?” He looks at her and then looks at me, I keep a straight face not sure how to react, I smirk, he looks at me, smirks and says “sure”. I clench my fist and yell “yes!” realizing what I just did, I regain my composure and I reply calmly, “thank you.” He starts to laugh and says, “ok, we’ll go out after your run.” I could not stop saying thank you, thank you, thank you. I was very excited, if you could not tell, but there is a reason. You see, this would not be the first time I have gone out with an instructor. This took place earlier in the year at Pocono with Frank Kissel. But I will save that for another story, that’s if I’m ever asked to write another article, ok back to business. I make my laps and normally I would be disappointed when the checker comes, but not this time, this felt like the longest run ever. My second run was interesting because it started to rain and the track was wet. And so my instructor instructed me to drive conservatively because it rained and the track was wet. “Don’t’ push it” he says, I say “don’t worry, I won’t”. When we went out on the track I noticed how well the car handled thanks to the amazing tires on the car. The car was driving so well that he kept telling me to slow down and I told him “trust me, I’m not pushing at all, these tires are amazing!” Really? He replies, “what tires do you have?” “I have stock tires, Bridgestone S02’s”. I told him to drive because I wanted him to see how well the car was handling. And he was pushing the car harder then I was. He thought the tires were amazing. Swap positions and out we go. Out comes the checker flag, and I see the line as I pull into the paddocks. Park my car, put it in gear, off goes the ignition, off comes the seatbelt (I left the keys in my ignition, oops) and run across the yard, with my helmet still on, into the garages where Dennis was parked. He goes, “c’mon let’s go!
Into the car we go, I see the 5 point harness, “You know how to put these on?” “yes sir!” I yell because I’m wearing my helmet, he then goes “ok, but you don’t have to yell,” we both laugh, he hands me the communicator, strapped in, ready to go. Gives an audio test, “can you hear me?” I softly say “yes” he then replies, “what?” we both chuckle, those would be the last words we would say to each other the whole time. He fires up the car in the garage and it is music to my ears. We pull out, join the line and we just listen to the car and just wait for our time to run. Out of the pits and into Turn 1 making a sharp right, then to the left, straight down into Turn 2 and then he floors it! I said to myself OMG it’s over, what did I just agree to! Up the hill through Turn 3 through the Esses using every bit of the track that was available. Through the Esses and into Turn 4 well over 100 mph out onto the back straight. 120, 130 and still giving gas, I see the flag station before the Bus Stop, then I begin to count the numbers on the track. 5, 4 at this point I say to myself, ok we should be braking right about now. Nope, was I wrong, still giving gas. 3, no way he is going to make this turn, I grab on to the door, press my feet to the floor wishing there were brake pedals in front of me. 2, slam on the brakes, I feel my insides just shift forward, 1, hard right, into the Bus Stop over the curves hard left, out of the Bus Stop into Turn 5, at this point I feel like I am at Six Flags on the roller coaster Batman. Tap the brakes, into Turn 5 and gives it gas?! How is this possible?! Floors it until we go into Turn 6, slams on the brakes, down the “Chute” (no, it’s more like Nitro the ride, which is worse) into Turn 7. Make a wide right, floors it through the “Sole” over 100, passes 2 cars, I don’t know how. Hard right into the “Heel” down and up we go to Turn 9 the “Off Camber left”. I say ah he has to slow down now, if not, we will drift into the wall. Was I ever wrong, gives it gas and comes so close to the wall I could swear I could touch it. High speed left and a quick right and we start all over again. Remember that I mentioned that we did not speak the whole run? Well I forgot to mention something that he did ask me. He goes, “are you ok?” I reply, “yes?” “ok good” I guess he gave me a warm up lap to see how I would react. You guessed it, he went faster and the walls were even closer. At this point I realized how important it is to have the race type seats and the 5 point harnesses along with a roll cage, etc. After it was over, I get out of the car, say thank you, sick, shaking, but excited and happy I’m still here. Now mind you, although I was scared throughout the whole time, not once did I feel unsafe. I knew that Dennis was a Veteran and he was in complete control, I just was not used to it, nor I think I will ever be.
Excited but also exhausted from two long days of driving at the Glen. But it is all coming to a close and I will not be able to see it for a year. The last day of a fantastic weekend regardless of the weather, my instructor Tony Henderson signs me off and away I go. I know that when my instructor signs me off, with a handshake, and says good job. I feel ever so good, I know that now even though I am on my own, I am still being watched by my instructor or other instructors, I say this because there have been numerous times that other instructors, previous instructors, have talked to me about my driving at other events. Which is a comforting thing. By lunch time, it starts to pour like crazy, I realize at this point that it is time to call it a day, one, because they closed the track and two, I have a 3 1/2 hour drive ahead of me. I begin to pack my things, say my farewells, and off I go leaving this great and historical track. On my way home, I start to reminisce about the entire weekend, thinking about the track, seeing familiar faces, meeting new people and spending time with the regulars i.e. Craig Mahon, Knute Hancock, Tom Iervolino, Ken Casterline, Ken Ernsting, Murray Kane, Cindy and Tony Cristello, Sal Strocchia and so many others that I cannot name them all. I feel now that I have inherited yet another family in my life. The club members and their families at NNJR are great, and every event that I go to whether it is a Social, Autocross, DE or even Concours, each experience is a special one in its own way.
I would like to thank all of my instructors for teaching me how to actually “drive” my car the way it was meant to be driven. Knute Hancock for the ride at Lime Rock teaching me all about Big Bend and The Hill, Frank Kissel for lessons on understanding Apexes’ at Pocono and his ride. Thanks Frank :0). Don Hollingshead to go faster out of the turns at Thunderbolt (it was nice seeing him ride around on his bike at The Glen, I took a double take while I was at the line waiting for my instructor and was like “I know that guy!”), Tony Henderson for control at high speeds in the rain at The Glen (90mph in the rain with complete control, friends still do not believe me), and I have to plug in Robert Ida for late braking at Lightning. Yes, I wrote this article during Lightning because of Irene. Sorry Murray, it will not happen again. I would also like to thank all of the people involved in making these events happen, without them, I would have never had such an amazing experience. Thank you everyone for everything. I am still deciding whether to go to Summit Point, we shall see.