Volume II, Article 1
Road Atlanta 2003:
Of Hairdryers and Hospitality
I think it is safe to say that the luxuries and care bestowed upon our children born in Zuffenhausen (or Uusikaupunki!) are far greater than those for the "other" family members. When it is unseasonably cold, as the 2003 edition of January was, it is safe to say that this dichotomy is exaggerated. It is easy to quickly forget how cozy most Porsches are stashed in our garages during the especially chilly days. Easy until the other family members, those who live life outside in the harsh real world, fight back...
As he strode past his 2002 Boxster S neatly parked in the warm garage on the way to start his Ford Explorer parked outside, my friend Colin Mazzola was anticipating the glory of piloting high-powered 914s through the corners of our nation's best road courses. Road Atlanta is certainly one of our nation's best road courses and, cold weather be damned, it was Colin's destination that upcoming weekend. Colin, along with fellow GTC Motorsports gang and NNJR members John Flynn, Nick Albrecht, and myself, was heading to Peachstate region's annual January Road Atlanta Driver Ed weekend. Of course that weekend Colin was going to be driving John's weakly motivated 914 "Slow White" (aptly named because it is white and, well, has laptimes measured by sundials), not the fire breathing 3.2 powered 914 "Pesky"(the well known green 914 will no doubt receive a name change when it is painted purple next month...). For a moment it seemed that Colin would not be driving at all, however, because Colin's Explorer - relegated to being parked outside in the single digit temperatures - would not start. Colin called me in a state of panic. After all, it was the Explorer that would be towing Slow White to Road Atlanta. If the Explorer did not work, John and Colin would be forced to miss the event. Unless, of course, Colin took one of my three recommended remedies:
1) Have the car repaired in one day
2) Buy a new truck
3) Get out the (we'll assume) wife's hairdryer and start warming up anything that might have frozen in the Ford
Colin tried option #1 but due to work constraints, tow company timing, and repair shop availability it was obvious this would not work. Option #2 was still on the table when he tried option #3. Lo and behold, this worked! The Explorer begrudgingly started after receiving a quick blow, and Colin was off to load up Slow White; the hairdryer having become a permanent addition to his toolbox...
The 14-hour road trip to Georgia started with the Boyer family towing the 2001 Boxster S "Chickster" (more on this name derivation later...) ahead of Colin and John towing Slow White. Early into Delaware, Nick joined the caravan in his 1998 Boxster. After a night's stay in the D.C. area, I left my family, wife Katie and kids Maddie and David, with Katie's parents. Friday was the long haul day and we started early. It was bitterly cold as we started our journey with a fresh inch or two of snow on the ground (always a great omen for track, eh?). Our shivering quickly receded as we began to partake of the five dozen (!) cookies that Katie, the GTC Food Angel, had made the day before.
Snow covers Chickster at the early morning pit stop en route to Road Altanta. Note that it is clean!
The trip down to Road Atlanta was surprisingly uneventful, despite the cold and ice on the roads. Nick demonstrated his best car control skills by keeping his Boxster pointed straight on the icy patches, but otherwise it was typical highway cruising. We passed the trip mulling over our Talkabouts whether Slow White would beat an old VW Vanagon Diesel in a 1/4-mile drag race. We concluded it would be too close to call...
Peachstate region has a few distinct differences in their Driver's Ed format from NNJR's. Notably is that they tech the cars at the track the night before the event. Additionally, they only tech the cars once per event so all those who were able to be at tech on Friday night were free from morning frenzy each track day.
Run group assignments were received when we checked in for the tech. I was assigned run group 4, the equivalent of NNJR's black run group. Although I had signed up as an instructor and noted that I was an approved instructor in three PCA regions and Zone 1, I did not have any expectation that I would crack into their highest run group, the vaunted #5. Much like NNJR's red run group, Peachstate has more instructors than can fit into one run group so it would be unreasonable to expect to jump into those lofty ranks, despite my history running in red with NNJR.
Another difference between NNJR and Peachstate DE is that Peachstate requires a check ride to verify your run group assignment. Thus I was paired with a chief instructor to ensure I was qualified to run with group 4. Coincidentally, I bumped into this instructor before the tech Friday night. Seeing my rather modest, stock-looking Boxster, he felt the urge to probe me for my driving qualifications. This was my encounter with Southern Hospitality #1:
"This is your first time at Road Atlanta?" he asked.
"What tracks have you driven at?" he continued.
"Oh, Watkins Glen, Pocono, Lime Rock, Mosport, Mid Ohio, and VIR. Ooh, and Bridgehampton, may it rest in peace," I replied.
"Er, ok" was the instructors muffled reply.
His startled reaction to the fact that I was about to drive at my eighth track was the first example of the weekend confirming a suspicion I have long held: NNJR drivers generally have the most well-rounded driving skills resulting from diverse track experiences and training.
After exchanging pleasantries with my check ride instructor, I unloaded Chickster and took the trusty steed up to the tech line. The torque checker approached my salt covered Boxster and saw the #4 proudly stuck onto my windshield indicating my run group assignment. This was my encounter with Southern Hospitality, #2:
"Man, you must have encountered some weather on the way down here," the wrench wielding volunteer noted.
"Yes, we followed a salt spreader for a bit in North Carolina, of all places, " I replied.
"I see you are in run group 4," he mused.
"You know, group 4 is pretty fast. It is loaded with very fast cars like that Supercup car. You might consider asking to be moved down," he advised.
OK, so I was not from the region and it was my first time at Road Atlanta. But I started to think that my Boxster was going to get no respect. I realize that some believe the "true" Porsche aficionado should frown on anything that is not a 911. Being a "cute convertible" probably does not help, either. I have heard people argue that the Boxster is a "girl's" Porsche. "Well that's fine. My chick's car and I will show them!" I vowed. Hence the name, "Chickster".
John did not have a very good first impression, either. He quickly learned, as did Nick, that groups 1 & 2 did not have "normal" runs in the morning on Saturday. Rather they would follow an instructor in a SUV or similar track worthy vehicle in a formation known as "Mama duck" or "ducks in a row". This is not a practice that NNJR follows and I suppose it is a matter of opinion whether it is a good learning tool. Both John and Nick felt they would have learned more with an instructor in the car rather than following behind another student following a student. They felt the exercise was more like playing the kids game "telephone" but with the correct driving line being muddled as it was passed from student to student.
Two laps into my first run group with my check ride instructor, he declared I was fit for group 4 and wanted out of the car. Interpret that however you want, but those two laps - for a moment - looked like they would be all I would drive that weekend. The pit-in worker met me as I was pulling into the pits. He mentioned to me that the flag stations were reporting that Chickster was smoking. I went back to the paddock and took off one of the rear wheels. To my surprise I found my car was leaking oil enough that drops were falling onto the catalytic converter and promptly burning into little puffs of smoke! In my non-expert opinion the leak was so slight that I was at no risk to myself or to others. But since I was a visitor in this region I sought the approval of my check ride instructor and a region mechanic. While the car was being looked over I experienced Southern Hospitality, #3:
A man walked up and said to me, "Other than being F---ing filthy, what's wrong with that car?"
The car was clean when we left New Jersey, honest!
I was a little taken aback by this comment (ok so the car was covered with salt, something Southerners probably do not see everyday) but shrugged it off because I was cleared by the inspectors to resume driving. A favorite line from Star Wars popped into my head at that point, too: "It may not look like much, but it's got it where it counts, Kid!"
Slow White: is it moving here? It can be hard to tell when it is moving or standing still...
As I was overseeing Chickster's medical exam, Colin was taking his turn going around the track for the first time. Going around seemed to be what Colin was interested in doing, too, because I do not think he made it one lap before off the track he went. As the story goes he was being pushed by another car (easy to have happen in Slow White, remember!) and was not sure of where the track was going so he drove off straight. This excuse makes some sense when you know that Road Atlanta has many blind apexes.
Cut #1 from my one lap of Road Atlanta video. See the whole lap at www.gtc-motorsports.com.
Blind turns or not, the weather was not ideal for track driving, particularly on track tires. The high each day was only 48 degrees. That seems downright cold when you consider our normal Spring through Fall schedule. But compared to the single digit temperatures we had left in New Jersey, 48 was a veritable heat wave, and we drove like it was summer time!
Cut #2 from my one lap of Road Atlanta video. See the whole lap at www.gtc-motorsports.com.
John and Nick quickly established themselves as the best drivers in their group. Our foursome just about had the event covered since we had drivers in groups 1, 2, 3, & 4. We would all gripe that we were probably each assigned one run group too low. John had a particular beef (well, we know he eats a lot of beef) with his assignment because Peachstate does not allow any signoffs whatsoever for the entire event when you are in group 1. John impressed his instructor, however, with his consistency and ability to pilot the 95HP powerhouse. Specifically John drew accolades for his skillful save from an encounter with trailing throttle oversteer. Yes, we have his instructor's shriek of terror followed by praise on videotape...
Cut #3 from my one lap of Road Atlanta video. See the whole lap at www.gtc-motorsports.com.
On Sunday, Nick was moved to the top of the group 2 signoff list. Another difference from NNJR's methodology, Peachstate requires a chief instructor to perform a check ride with each student prior to their being able to drive alone. So after receiving his instructor's signoff, Nick rode with a chief instructor who validated that Nick's skills were up to the task of flying solo. Those of us watching from the pits had no doubt as Nick, in his stock 1998 Boxster on street tires, was dominating the group and clearly out pacing everyone else.
Cut #4 from my one lap of Road Atlanta video. See the whole lap at www.gtc-motorsports.com.
Colin kept his momentum into Sunday. Unfortunately it continued to be heading off the track. A little too much aggression caused him to loop the white 914 in turn 1. As this story goes, the guy in front of Colin was too slow in the turn. This is clearly possible but remember that Colin was in Slow White. Nonetheless: no harm, no foul. Peachstate is fairly liberal on their spin rules allowing two spins per day. Embarrassment is extracted in other ways as was learned when Colin's offroading adventures were used as an example of what not to do during the Group 1 and 2 drivers meeting. Of course John was in this meeting and was none-too-pleased to hear that his 914 was being used for cross-country expeditions.
Cut #5 from my one lap of Road Atlanta video. See the whole lap at www.gtc-motorsports.com.
The last run group of the weekend was a combined 4 & 5. I lined up Chickster at the front of the line and confidently waited to be waved out on track. As I waited the staging chief walked up to my car and I unexpectedly experienced Southern Hospitality, #4:
"Are you ready for this?" the staging chief asked.
"Yes, I am ready to go," I calmly replied.
"No, I mean are you ready to run with group 5?"
It was a little freaky because at that point she put her hand on my arm and looked me in the eyes and continued, "It can be crazy out there, I want to make sure you are ready."
Is it the car? Does driving a chick's car, er, Boxster mean I am not fast and cannot run with the big dogs? Was she worried because there were two 996 twin turbos lined up behind me? Were they going to eat me? I did not let her intimidation get to me and had a fun run. Nobody passed me.
Nick's Boxster did not suffer nearly the ridicule mine did. Perhaps because it was "in its place" in run group 2?
After watching the Super Bowl in our hotel rooms, we started our trip home early Monday morning. John, Colin, and Nick chose the "fast" route home through West Virginia. I went direct to the D.C. area to pick up Katie and the kids. Few things are as "fun" as trailering 13+ hours nonstop in one day after a successful first trek to Road Atlanta. The trip home gives a lot of time to plan next year's pilgrimage to northern Georgia. Next year perhaps we will add the new track in Birmingham, Alabama to the winter southern road trip agenda, too!
Thanks to Peachstate region for welcoming us and hosting a wonderful and safe event!