Yee Haw! We shore had a great time riding the range and runnin' with the bulls at Watkins Glen over the weekend. Maybe I should describe everything in detail from start to finish about how much fun it was to drive on a historic track! Naah, here's the highlights:
|WATKINGS GLEN, GATE 2, TO THE INFIELD!|
NASA, and specifically NASA Northeast does a great job with getting you started on track with an instructor in your car, helping you negotiate the bazillion things you are doing as you drive, brake, release, shift, steer, accelerate, look ahead, heel-toe, check the flag workers stand, look in the mirror, point by the fast guy behind, brake, steer, gas, and much more. And that's just one corner out of 11 in one lap.
|TUNNEL UNDER THE TRACK TO THE INFIELD|
The track. If you are a motor head and know about places like Indianapolis, COTA, VIR, Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, and a lot more, you definitely have heard of Watkins Glen, and likely watched a race from there, either F1, NASCAR, or Indy Cars. NASCAR did the Glen this year, Indy last raced there in 2017. To get to drive on the same track in your own car? F.U.N.
Safety: always important. Every one wears a helmet, and the racers have all the safety gear in their track cars from HANS devices, fire suits, harness systems, roll bars, etc. Better to have and not need, than not have it when you do need it. In the Driver Education (DE) groups, an added safety feature is that before you pass another vehicle, you must receive a point-by from the lead driver. Knowing what the "other guy" is going to do is critical to safety. Hey, just imagine if you KNEW what everyone was doing on the Interstate, if nothing else it would be safer than guessing, like we all do now.
|#177 FOR THE WEEKEND, FIAT 500 ABARTH|
My mighty FIAT Abarth hit 70,000 miles on the way to the track, and I have to admit I had an issue. My wheels with summer tires had a problem, so after experiencing front end wobble between 50-80mph, we pulled one of the wheels, and my instructor Kyle spotted that the wheel itself was no longer what scientists refer to as "round". Yes, ever since the invention of the wheel, one of the key attributes of the "wheel" is that it really needs to be "round." Likely I hit a pothole somewhere, but bottom line, it was toast. I took off all 4 of those, and threw on my regular daily driver wheels/tires, and the wobble went away. So, I managed to stay on track and drive the rest of the weekend. Sure, on slightly less better tires, but I still had fun and was much safer.
|ELEVATION, LOOKING BACK DOWN THE ESSES|
TOWARDS TURN 1 AND 2
|BRIAN AT THE FRIDAY TRACK WALK|
OUR FIRST LOOK AT THE TRACK
The track part II: ELEVATION! In my limited experience on a small number of tracks, most of them were flat, so the Watkins Glen elevation changes, in the corners, was a blast. Makes driving more challenging, but who wants to just drive in a flat circle? Well, OK, some people do, but turning both ways, up and down, on a road course is fun even in a slow car!
|KYLE HEADS OUT FROM PADDOCK|
TIME TO PUT THE CAMERA AWAY
|BRIAN IN THE RED NMS #86 MIATA|
How fast/slow? Sorry I don't have any track data devices, so I can say a quick glance at the speedometer on the long straights I saw 103mph. The going fast in a straight line is easy, it's the braking, lifting, steering and going into the next corner where you have to up your game. My car has upgraded brake pads and fluid, so it held up to the weekend. Time to check everything out again,and judging by the sounds my car is now making, it might be time for new pads and rotors. And brake fluid. And a replacement set of good wheels. With good tires. Besides counting the dollar signs, did I mention how much fun this was? A LOT!
|PAID FOR SATURDAY AND SUNDAY|
THUNDER AT THE GLEN
Watkins Glen. Besides the driving, it's a scenic part of the world, and there were some good places to eat in town. They even have checkered flag crosswalks in case you forget where you are! Our motel had a great collection of famous racer photos of world champs (Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill) and others that had stayed there. F1 hit town from about 1960-1980, so it was an extra charge to be driving where those greats have been, and NASCAR had been just a few weeks before.
|HOTEL DRIVER PHOTOS|
|WATKINS GLEN MAIN STREET|
CHECKERED FLAG CROSSWALKS
The Cars. There were a LOT of cars, so the atmosphere at a track weekend is kind of part car show if you're a motor geek like me. Ferrari, Corvettes, spec racers, BMWs, Miatas, Vipers, Alfa, Lotus, etc. Plenty of nice tow rigs and motor homes too. Maybe driving is not the cheapest hobby, but a lot of people were there giving it a go! At one similar event we were reminded that "nothing you do today will increase the value of your car," and that is true! The NASA Northeast chief Joe Casella reminded us to take our cars home the way we brought them, as in "don't crash." Great advice!
|VIPER HEADS FOR TRACK ON FRIDAY|
Other drivers. The other drivers were in HPDE groups 2, 3 (like Brian and John), 4 (like my instructor Kyle), an Instructor group, and then there were the Time Trial races, and the multiple racers broken up into the Lightening and Thunder groups, with each group being made up of various classes of racers. Each group got a good amount of driving time, like my groups 8 sessions on track during the two days. Friday was another option, and the die hard drivers like John drove all three days!
OUR CLASSROOM INSTRUCTOR ENRIQUE'S RIDE
The weather. These events go rain or shine, and we had a lot of shine, with just a few rain drops. That might have made things a bit trickier, but driving in the rain is an important skill to practice also. In fact, maybe you've seen the recent movie in theaters, The Art of Racing in the Rain. To be honest, it has a lot of story involving the driver and his family and life-events going on, so it's not totally about racing, just so you know! We'll call it 80% chick flick and leave it at that.
|CORVETTE IN THE GARAGES|
Flags. Driving is all about communication. On the one hand, my instructor Kyle was communicating a LOT to me, helping me learn what to do and what not to do. Then there is the communication that I'm terrible at, which is reading or hearing what the car, tires, brakes, and road is telling me. If I could read that communication better, just maybe I'd be a better driver. Also important on track is the communication from the course workers, like with their flags. Checkered flag=finish, that's easy. Yellow flag=caution ahead, no passing. There are other flags, and unfortunately there was an accident ahead of me on one session, so in a few corner worker stations we saw the progression from yellow, to waving yellow, to RED (stop on track, everyone, now), and then black flag to come back to the pits once the accident was taken care of and it was safe to proceed. One thing I learned in a previous track day, when you see a red flag to stop, stop on the side of the track where you can still see a flag worker up ahead, so that you'll know when it's safe to go again.
The NMS team and friends had a great weekend, thanks to NASA NE. We had tons of fun, learned a lot, and can't wait to do it again. Thanks to my instructor Kyle, I feel like I made some improvements. If you're reading this, I'll once again quote Mr. Junior Brown in his song Highway Patrol: "If you wanna race, then get on a race track!"