On The Fast Track
By Cyndi Walter
My experience on a performance driving course
Blink! Eyes wide open. The room is dark. Soft breathing sounds from my husband. The bed cradles my achy body. My tongue runs over the sore spot where I bit my lip. Was I dreaming?
“More throttle. Gently let the car climb. Don't lift! Shift to 4th! Now lift. Apex. Power. More throttle. Full power. BRAKE HARD! Not yet, not yet. NOW! Shift to 3rd. Don't fight the car. Let it curve out and move smoothly back in. More power! Shift to 4th!” went the rapid staccato voice in my ear. I tried to translate each instruction, knowing I only had seconds. What had shaken me awake was a dream-version replay of the happenings of the day before.
All by myself in my brand new little red FIAT 500 Sport I drove two and half hours to the Brainerd International Raceway (BIR) to try out a performance driving course. What was I thinking?
To get started, a group of students filed into an SUV for a tour of the track. The instructor rattled off all kinds of tips and suggestions on how to make the corners and hold the best lines. I thought, how was I going to remember all of this as we started the second lap even faster. Into the pits, our tour was over.
All I could think about was how I could escape. Would they refund my money? Maybe I could just complete the classroom lesson and forget the driving.
Then came the sobering part. There had been a rash of serious accidents. Drivers being a little too aggressive on their solo runs. The instructor described the errors in detail and how to avoid them. “If you are feeling tired and wobbly, quit!”
The time had come. I climbed in my car and adjusted the seat belt. I put my helmet on and tugged the chin-strap snuggly. My drive-along instructor, Aaron, and I both had ear-pieces from a chatterbox system in our ears. Each earpiece had a microphone attached. I started the car and proceeded to line up to enter the pits.
There is a flagman at the end of the pits who acts as a rear view mirror and eyes for your entrance. The entrance was on a hard left turn, zip under a bridge, and swoop a big right turn. And we were off, with Aaron rapidly annoucing the moves I needed to be making. Oh, this is too fast. Can't we take a Sunday drive first?
At one point I realized I wasn't holding the line as Aaron instructed. I had gotten caught in the pack mentality of following the leader. Not good. More staccato commands continued. With welcome relief the checkered flag came out for our cool down lap and a break.
What a rush! And, so many mistakes. Was I going to be able to learn all of this? My second session was faster and more physically demanding. Each lap I gained experience.
Finally after a really good lap and the checkered flag for last lap I made the call that my day was over. There was another session but it was like skiing. I didn't want to make that last run when I knew I was tired. I was excited and felt good that I'd actually done the course. And I was in one piece. And I'd driven over 100 mph!
As I climbed out of my car the burned smell of hot brake fluid and melted tire rubber offended my nose. There were little black streaks of melted tire stuck to the sides of my car. Little badges of honor that I had driven hard and fast. At least according to my world. After all I was celebrating my 60th year!
After I treated Aaron to dinner for being the best, most patient instructor. I started the trip home. As promised it was very difficult to keep my speed down. It would be days before I come out of the euphoria of driving fast.
What's next? I plan on taking a StreetSmarts driving class. It will teach me how to handle situations in everyday driving such as dropping off the edge of pavement and driving in slippery conditions. And then maybe another performance class..... oh, YES!
My name is Cyndi and I'm a new volunteer with the Vital Aging Network. I'm currently the peanut butter-jelly portion of my sandwich generation, often feeling quite squished between my 24-year-old son who lives locally and my 86- and 89-year-old parents who live in Michigan. My husband's dad is local and a phone call away when he requires assistance.
After years of working, raising my son, homeschooling my son, and a non-ending list of other activities the house is empty and very quiet. Even the pets went on to their next lives taking their fur and squeaky toys. My husband is still working and we are trying to figure out the next part of our lives.
In addition to performance driving, I play the cello. I started lessons when I was 52 and am still taking lessons every week 9 years later. I also enjoy reading, learning to knit, zen doodling, yoga and other creative/artsy type thing