Somewhere out there is a kid in a red BMW 325 with a ski
rack who thinks he spanked my well-modified '83 Porsche 911 the other day. He came up on my rear bumper on Route 9W looking for a fight, blew past at 65 mph, and wailed away at what I guess to be about 90 mph. He's probably wondering why a poseur has a roll bar and speed-equipment stickers on his rear quarter window yet drives like he votes in St. Petersburg.
As I watched him disappear in the distance, I thought to myself, Have a nice day, 2Fast 2Stupid, I'm going to the track tomorrow.
No, I'll never be a racer; I'm way too inept to ever bang fenders at Watkins Glen. But every couple of months, I rent the racetrack at Lime Rock or Pocono and go play. My daughter often comes along, and we take turns driving the little yellow coupe. We do this for about $100 a day.
I'll explain the how in a moment, but here's the why. Our car culture tells us to buy machines that are fast enough to get any ordinary driver into a world of hurt in about six seconds. No doubt, as I write this another expensive crew is shooting another
TV ad showing a sports sedan carving
corners, tach at the redline, along a magically traffic-free road. Never mind the silly, small-print caveats in those ads (closed course, professional driver, don't try this at home), the message
is clear: Buy a high-performance automobile and drive it as if you knew how. Yet aside from the tiny minority of drivers who attend performance-
driving schools, we don't know how.
Performance-driving schools cost thousands. Here's how I get my Porsche onto a racetrack for a hundred bucks: About 150 other drivers and I rent said track under the auspices of the Porsche Club of America, and the
C-note—the cost varies a bit depending upon the track and the sponsoring PCA region—is the fee to participate in a driver-education day. This basically consists of screaming around the track as fast as you're able to, with a club instructor—usually a serious amateur racer—in the right-hand seat. It isn't racing, but it can push you to the limit of your driving skills in a much safer, smarter way than tearing up 9W.
One of the best-kept secrets of enthusiast driving is that a number of marque clubs do much the same thing as Porsche's, and many of them welcome a variety of other models. The events are low-key and noncompetitive, and nobody worries about whether you are a speed bump or a budding Schumacher. Cars are allowed to pass only on selected straights and only after the slower
driver has signaled. It's probably safer than the drive to the track. The only requirements: a willingness to learn, have a good time, and wear a helmet.
At 07:00 on a ceiling-zero foggy June morning in Watkins Glen, New York, I find my way from the woodsy Seneca Lodge to the track and, as always, am humbled by the variety of Porsches present. My '83 is an antique among Twin Turbos, full-race Cup cars, GT2s and specials that arrived in enclosed trailers. Never mind. I also see Boxsters with friction-tape numbers on their doors, older guys
in brand-new water-pumper 996s who've never come close to 90, and a harried woman who can't find the tech-inspection line for her Targa.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.