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A Gal On The Track

November 3, 2009

One fun aspect of the car culture is club track days.  Clubs or groups rent race tracks (Lime Rock, Pocono, VIR and Summit Point to name a few) so that their members can drive their cars as fast as they comfortably can, no competition and with safety in mind.  Track days offer the chance to drive at speeds which no highway in the United States will allow – legally.  When I drive on the track I am in the clear minority.  My first two times out I was one of five women among 120 drivers and one of three women among more than 100 drivers.  Women on the track are not rare but at the same time we are in the great minority.

A Gal on the Track

My First Laps on the Track at Pocono

My first experience at a club track day was as a spectator.  My husband took his Porsche 930 out for the day, and I played photographer/cheerleader.  The same role as many of the women at the track that day.  I wanted to see what he liked about having the chance to drive the track, not in a race, but to challenge himself.  He truly enjoyed the opportunity to drive his Porsche “the way it is meant to be driven”.  I enjoyed watching him on the track and took lots of great shots.

I was hooked! I wanted to drive fast too!  I don’t do well driving the Porsche though.  I can drive it, but the clutch is awkward for me – more awkward than the other cars we have with clutches.  This gave him the excuse and the opportunity to look for a car with F1 style paddle shifters – more on that another time.

We purchased a Lamborghini Gallardo with e-gear.  I fell in love with the car as soon as I had the chance to drive it.

We signed up for the Celebration of Speed and Design at Pocono, he with the Porsche and me with the Lambo.  Because he has had track experience he was qualified as an experienced driver.  I on the other hand was new to track experience as was assigned an instructor.

My instructor was a dynamic woman who had been driving Porsches on the track for at least 17 years.  She was introduced to driving by her husband who had always enjoyed driving on the track.  She got tired of watching him, she owned her own Porsche and so she signed up for track time.  In no time at all she was equalling and sometimes beating his times.

I’ll call her Ann.  Ann was a professional woman off the track.  To look at her you would think she would rather be at the tennis court or on the links.  Nothing about her screamed, “I DRIVE FAST!”  To speak to her, she is a mild mannered and even tempered person.  She did not fluster at any of my driving errors (maybe they weren’t that bad). She has been teaching at club events for at least five years.

Ann could read a track within the first couple of warm-up laps. Most of  her experience lies on the tracks in the Northeastern US and Southeastern Canada.  She has ventured throughout the US to broaden her experiences.

She taught me well.  There was another novice driver with a nearly identical car, I’ll call him Doug.  The first few laps Doug was passing me on a regular basis.  Ann asked that I get a feel for the track and learn it’s secrets before unleashing the power of my car.  I agreed not only because I wanted to be a bit cautious on my first round, but also because of the way she delivered her wisdom.

She taught me to ‘feel the way the track wants me to go’ – ok, so she’s a woman and women are about feelings – no! That is not what she meant!  She meant that every track has its own groove – a place where you will find you are ‘one with the track and the car’, where you don’t have to fight the car to stay on the track.  Ann taught how to take the turns, when to accelerate, decelerate and when to start braking.  Doug’s instructor didn’t get that through to Doug.

By our third set of laps, I was passing Doug with ease.  I would approach a turn from high on the wall, drop in for the apex and let the speed of the car and the shape of the track propel me back onto the straightway.  I could then build up speed and prepare for the next turn.  It was exhilarating!  Doug would pick a ‘lane’ and stick with it through the whole turn.

At the end of the day Doug and I were comparing notes about our first track experiences.  He said he had to work to keep the car in its lane.  He asked why I would drop on the turns.  After I explained what Ann taught me, he said that his instructor tried to get him to do the same, but he thought the instructor was bogus.  He complemented me on my driving.

Ann taught me a lot that day about driving, not only track driving.  I use a lot of those lessons every time I am on the road, and they have made me a much better driver.  I will share some of those lessons in blogs to come.

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