Welcome to Auto Track Day Monthly (Part I)
By Michael Allen
February 1, 2014
I was born a car nut. I used to pretend I was driving as I sat alongside my father in the family car, while holding a plastic toy corvette and using it as my imaginary steering wheel. We had a 1969 Chrysler 300 with an 8 cylinder, 440 cubic inch, four barrel carbureted, 300 horsepower engine; hence the name Chrysler 300. That car was fast. I have been reading automotive magazines for as long as I can remember. My first car was a Dodge Dart. In 2000, I purchased a new Porsche Boxster. After my purchase, I discovered in the glove box a brochure from the Porsche Club of America (PCA). I checked out their website, liked what I saw and joined the club. After reading about their driver education program I signed up for a two-day track event at what used to be called Moroso Motorsports Park, now known as Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR).
I was nervous and overwhelmed that first day, not knowing what to expect of the day, my instructor, my peers and myself. In fact, the first day was a blur. It went by in a flash. As I learned, everyone arrives at sunrise. At Moroso, a long line of cars line up at the gate. An array of sports cars and race-prepped cars are sitting on trailers. I could see people beginning to congregate at the head of the line, sipping coffee on a chilly winter Florida morning, and chatting with fellow drivers. Finally, the gates open and we move inside, staking out territory and emptying our vehicles of any loose objects. Later on I would hear the story about the guy who hit the brakes hard on his first run and a gun slid out from underneath the seat. This was the rare occasion when the instructor was more intimidated than the first time student.
The organizers call us over for the mandatory drivers’ meeting. They run through the plan for the day. The “Green” group will begin their day at 9 a.m. doing class time and their first run on the track will begin at 10 a.m. That will be followed by 3 more runs during the balance of the day of 30 minutes each. The rules are reviewed. Passing only in the straights and only after a point by. The driver being passed stays on the driving line so there is no confusion about who is going where. A corner worker reviews the flag rules. At the end of the meeting we are paired off with our instructors. Bob has 2 students for the day. Me in the green group and another guy in the blue or intermediate group. Bob, like me, is also a Boxster driver. They try to match drivers up by the type of car they have. Bob will be familiar with how my Boxster will handle on track. Introductions are made and we are interviewed briefly. Any prior experience? Goals for the day? The last thing Bob tells me is to pick him up where his car is parked for my run group. Oh, and yeah, “let’s have fun today.” But before we begin, Bob runs off to drive in the instructors’ run group. They are re-conning the track for debris and driving conditions. Green group folks head off to the classroom session led by the chief instructor.
In the classroom, there is a review of vehicle dynamics. We are reminded that our cars are attached to the ground through 4 little contact patches about the size of a fist. Those contact patches determine the total amount of grip available. If you use 50% of the total grip for braking and 60% for turning, well you have exceeded the grip available. And if you do this, going for a spin is in your immediate future. We will be focusing on learning the driving line, the fastest way around the track, and learning to use the controls of the car. If you can learn the line and how to shuffle steer, you will have accomplished a lot in your first two-day event.
After class it is time to saddle up. The butterflies, they are a-fluttering. I struggle to put on the helmet and get it strapped. My hands are shaking. I head over to pick up Bob. He is going to drive my car for the first lap or two for demonstration of the line and to make sure it is in good operating condition. He takes it easy and narrates what he is doing all the way. Brake now, turn in, hit the apex, track out, unwind the wheel and feed in the throttle. It is my turn, the moment of reckoning. Will I make it? Will I embarrass myself? What will Bob think? Will I be disinvited from the party? What do I do first? Will I remember the line? Will my peers blow my doors off?
The green group is naturally tentative the first day. Everyone is in the same boat but all goes smoothly. The instructors keep everyone calm and motivated. They want you to come back and they want you to have a positive experience. You are the life blood of the hobby. The real goal of the first day is to get used to track driving. It is not like anything you have done on the public roads. There is nothing like coming to the end of a straight and having to whoa your car down to take a tight turn. It is definitely not like cruising at speed on a gently winding highway. We all know that takes no skill. Track driving takes a series of skills that will be mastered gradually over the coming months. It is all about seat time, becoming comfortable and gaining confidence.
It is on the second day that things fall into place. The jitters are over. You fall into a rhythm and work on your skills and driving the line smoothly and consistently. During my second or third session Bob asks, well screams over at me, “Let me know when you are ready to go faster.” We are driving with the windows open and full helmets and it is not easy to hear. After another lap or 2 I am in a groove and feeling good. Bob gives a sort of shrug as if to ask, what are you waiting for? I figure he has confidence in me or else he wouldn’t have invited me to go faster. I bite the bullet and tell him I am ready. Bob launched into the best coaching I have ever had. He is intense now. He is yelling and giving me clear hand signals. A clenched fist pulled down in front of his face while exhorting me to “brake hard.” “Turn in, apex, track out, full throttle, brake hard.” We go like that for 2 full laps. Bob is talking me through a lap at true speed and it is amazing. I did not know the car could do it. I did not know I could do it.
The feelings of exhilaration and exhaustion mingle together at the end of the weekend. Goodbyes are offered but the newbies do not want to leave. People bench race and tell their war stories. There is a warm feel of camaraderie and new friendships are found. Conversations are punctuated with the telltale hand gestures of 2 cars following each other into and out of a turn. You know. One hand following the other as if to represent the cars in line on track. We all do it. We cannot help it. The relaxed but tired feeling lasts for a couple of days. Snippets of laps are recalled and replayed in the mind’s eye. Did I pass anyone? Did anyone pass me? At this point I am hooked. I am addicted. I cannot wait to come back and give it another go. I have tested myself. My experience of myself has permanently changed. I cannot say how. I just know.
I would go on to do many more track day events. I believe it is about 36 events or so now. This has included the Skip Barber three-day racing school at Moroso in open wheel formula cars and a two-day lapping school at Sebring with the Panoz school. Charles Espenlaub was one of my instructors. I graduated along to the blue group and then to the solo group, being signed off on a very good day by two Porsche Club instructors. I became an instructor myself eventually and have had a new range of positive experiences working with students. I have ridden shotgun in such awesome vehicles as a 600 horsepower Dodge Viper convertible, a Mustang Cobra and A Subaru Impreza WRX STI. One guy even had a retired NASCAR racer. I had to climb in through the window. I do not think he heard a word I said.
The wait between events became too much to bare and so I took up kart racing. I became the John Smith Subs Night Karting Series track champion at Moroso in 2005. I have driven trackday events at Homestead, the Firm and Sebring, in addition to PBIR. Along the way I have met professional racers Shane Lewis, Guy Cosmo, Guy Smith, Walter Borhen, Bert and Brian Frisselle, Peter Argetsinger and Kevin Buckler. Buckler showed up at a PCA event the weekend after he won the 24 Hours of Daytona outright in a Porsche GT3-RS, beating out the Daytona Prototypes in their first year of development. Very cool. The car still had all the tire rubber marks all over it from Daytona. I have signed the same wall at Chicanes in Sebring as Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, AJ Foyt and Paul Newman. I have made good friends and enjoyed the tailgating atmosphere in the paddock areas waiting for that next run group. My wife and I now participate together in track days. After the Boxster, I drove a 911 and a 350Z. They were all street legal but lightly modified track cars. My wife and I share our current track car; a Mitsubishi Evolution X MR. It is an awesome vehicle with a dual clutch transmission, magnesium shifter paddles, all-wheel drive, active yaw control, Brembo brakes, Eibach springs on Bilstein struts, BBS wheels and Recaro seats. Dare I say it? I think the Evo is the best handling and fastest of the track cars I have driven. It is a blast to drive and it handles our marital double stinting without a problem. One long time racer we met said of the Evo, “Between the dual clutch tranny and the AWD, it’s almost like cheating.” I suppose it is controversial to be driving a two-pedal, but it is definitely faster to flick the paddles than to push in the clutch, heel and toe downshift and then row the stick.
As far as I am concerned, I have fulfilled many bucket list items already. It is probably no surprise that my bucket is full of driving events, car stuff and cars. I am so fortunate to be able to share this hobby with my wife. Driving as many new tracks as often as possible is our goal. Can you tell? I am a car nut and I love track day driving events. Do I want to race cars? Not me. I am one of those career HPDE and instructing people. My wife and I have developed this on line magazine for you. We realize that there is little available to scratch that driving itch between events. We would love to read about cars and tracks, events and tech items, but there is no journalistic venue meant specifically for us. There are the major car magazines, but the track day articles are few and far between. There is that autocross-oriented magazine, but how many of us have the patience for auto-X and really want to learn how to weld and fabricate. I know, I know. Autocross is excellent for learning car control. But waiting all day for five or six 55 second runs? Really? Give me turn 1 at Sebring at 90 miles an hour, looking for the cone on top of the fence for the apex and letting the car drift out toward the wall at track out. There is nothing like that feeling. We take a journalistic approach to this magazine. We have all too often seen how others will write an “article” about some new product only to find a full page ad from the manufacturer of that product a page or two later. We do not sell out to the advertisers and will offer you objective evaluations of car mods, trackday companies, and venues. In addition to journalistic articles, we have assembled resources for you to learn about track day driving and to plan your next steps and events. We have a forum for you to post questions, pictures, videos and experiences. We have a classifieds section for our readers to buy and sell trackday related items and vehicles. We are interested in receiving your submissions. Send us articles, videos and pictures. You just may end up in print. Use our contact-us page to let us know what you want to learn and read about. Thank you for joining us. We look forward to seeing you again on this wild ride.
Welcome to Auto Track Day Monthly (Part II)
By Ziva Allen
February 1, 2014
In putting out our first issue, we want to take a few moments to introduce ourselves, tell you a little bit about ourselves, and give you a view into who we are and how we found ourselves publishing this magazine.
Finding myself in the track day world is not something I envisioned twenty years ago. Loving to drive, yet finding no outlet for it however, had always left me yearning. Among my fondest memories as a little girl while going on family outings in upstate New York are of sitting behind my father in the backseat, watching in awe as he maneuvered the car up the highway. In fact, we had a special spot – right there on the Taconic State Parkway! As we got closer and closer to that spot, my brother and I would yell in glee from the backseat, egging our father on, “You could do it Daddy! You could do it.” And then as we got closer to “our” spot, for just a short burst, my father would pick up speed, my brother and I yelling louder and louder from the backseat encouraging him on, the car would go faster and faster, and then suddenly, just like that, we were airborne. For just that one brief moment in time. And my heart would skip a beat. He always knew where that little blip in the road was and how to create that magic for us. And I was in awe. I could not wait to get my license to drive. But I had many years to wait. And many lessons to learn.
Then when I did finally get my license and began to drive, I discovered some things about myself. One, I was inherently good at it. Two, I never wanted to be the passenger in someone else’s car. And three, there were two kinds of passengers in my car. The kind who would announce, “Let me out. I don’t want to drive with you again.” And the other, “I’ve never felt safer with anyone else.” What I came to discover early on is that my reflexes are quicker than the average person’s, I have a natural ability to sense and anticipate the road ahead as well as others around me, and to maneuver and manipulate accordingly. It would be many years later, after meeting my husband Michael, a track day enthusiast with a track school education, years of studying under instructors and an instructor himself, that I would come to learn that I was already doing naturally what others had spent years learning. As he tells me, I know the apex simply because I do and no one had to tell me to use the whole road. From the moment we met, he felt at home in my car. (And the rest of that story is history!).
I did my first track day event quite differently than my husband did his. As you have read, Michael put in his dues. He put in a lot of time. He went to school. And he studied under coaches for some time before he ventured out onto the track solo. I took a different route onto the track my first time. First of all, making the decision to participate in this activity was easy for me. I already had three very important components. One, I’ve always loved to drive. Two, I knew I had natural ability. And three, it’s in my husband’s blood and, as they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I’m no dummy. But also, I knew about myself that I could simply take the car out onto the track and just do it! And I wanted to do it by myself. Just me and the car. I do not suggest going this route for everyone. I am a firm believer that everyone’s natural ability is different. Everyone must drive within their personal limits and their own personal capabilities. And that is different for everyone. Maturity is a key component to self-realization. If you are not mature enough to know your limits as I believe I know mine, you are not mature enough to undertake track day driving solo without training. You are then a danger to yourself and to others and we all have a responsibility out there to be safe for us all. However, this is the route I took and it was the right route for me. Of course I was nervous that first time out on the track. And of course I was the only girl. As I entered the track that very first time, I specifically remember feeling confident and just simply – ready. I’m finally here.
Just a little bit about the car we drive on the track and why we chose it. We drive a 2011 Mitsubishi Evolution X MR. Although my husband had always driven standards on the track, I have always had a personal philosophy about standard versus automatic (which is a whole other article) and so we began to discuss looking into a dual clutch transmission. We looked at several, one of them being BMW’s dual clutch transmission. We arrived at the dealership and the salesman brought us out to the lot. However, in honesty, we never even test drove the car because the BMW was not my cup of tea. But then, when we got to the Mitsubishi dealership and I saw the MR, I knew I was in love. But that feeling only paled in comparison to how I felt on that test drive! And I knew then that I could not wait to get this car out on the track. Take a look at our feature on The FIRM in this issue.
I find it interesting that although I grew up loving to drive and have spent my entire adulthood loving to drive, until I met my husband, I had never even heard of nor given any thought into how I could possibly drive for recreational purposes – off of the road. And when I came to learn that he drives his car on a track, legally, and that anyone could do it, well to be honest, I was shocked. And I’ve always asked myself why would I not have known of this activity? Now that I am involved though I can see that, to an extent, the activity is somewhat exclusive to men. I have felt welcomed and included. But I have also at times felt unwelcomed and excluded. It is my hope, through putting out this magazine, that I could attract more women to this activity.
My husband and I sort of stumbled upon the idea to put out this magazine while having a conversation about car magazines in general. Michael has been an avid car magazine reader practically since he could read. He’s always got four or five car magazines going at any one time. But he would complain to me that really the only reason he reads these magazines is in the hopes that he could find one, just one, article catered to the amateur track day driver enthusiast. I remember, upon hearing him say this the first time, turning to him and exclaiming, “What?” I could not believe that in all of these magazines and with all of the time he spent reading them, that there was not one magazine exclusively covering our hobby! And I knew then. If there is anyone capable of putting out a magazine, it is Michael. And if there is anyone capable of helping, it is me. Why not do it ourselves?
Michael earned his Ph.D. and has published previously. Throughout my school years, I was on our school’s newspaper staff and ran the creative writing club. In general, Michael and I both have always loved to write. In putting out this magazine, we now have an outlet for writing while filling a need, not only for ourselves, but for the track day community as a whole. Having said that, we hope you come to appreciate this site as, above all, your track day news source. We will keep you current on the hard news of the day as it relates to our beloved hobby. Other car magazines disguise their advertisements as articles. There is no credibility there. Our magazine will not only exclusively cover track day only information, but our articles will be true journalism. Credibility is our number one goal.
Finally, it is our hope also that you, the reader, see this magazine as a source to which you can turn to fulfill all your track day needs. We hope you see this site as your hub. Whether it be while planning your next track day event, reading about your peers, utilizing the classifieds or simply feeling part of the track day community between events, we hope you come here to fill those needs.