Eight years ago, in 2010, I had my first experience driving on an actual, proper road course. It consisted of three paced laps at Watkins Glen International in my 2000 Volkswagen Jetta. The occasion was shared with a number friends and acquaintances, most of whom had never driven on a track, either. From the moment I signed up, all knew was I couldn't wait to get on the track and see what it was like.
The adrenaline started pumping the moment I pulled up to the Gate 2 entrance at The Glen. I knew my little Jetta wasn't exactly going to tear up the track, but it didn't matter. I signed in, drove up to the waiting area, set up my camera as best I could to record the event, and less-than-patiently waited for the fun to begin.
A little while later, we were queued up at a gate near one of the spectator stands. The field of cars that day consisted of everything from Corvettes and Camaro’s, to GTI’s and WRX’s, to family sedans and minivans. There was even a 1990 Chevrolet Suburban that I ended up slotted right behind.A pre-drive meeting was held where we learned the rules of the day's drive - among them, no passing! - then all of us got back in our driver seats and funneled onto the track between Turns 1 and 2.
Overly excited, I absent-mindedly hit the left turn signal for a moment (NOOB! TURN THAT THING OFF!) as I passed through the gate. But then we were on the track, my Jetta and me, slowly climbing up through The Essess somewhere behind a liveried Toyota Camry assigned to lead our group’s parade laps.
By the time we reached The Boot, the pace slowly began to pick up. Following my friend in the Suburban kept me out of trouble, I think, as he was smart enough not to throw it into corners with too much speed, keeping me from doing just that. Still, I was surprised at how well my VW was working through the turns, and how much fun THIS REALLY WAS!
Before long, I began to find a new appreciation for my Jetta. By the time we were halfway through the second lap, that manual transmission became one of my favorite things in the world. I thought to myself how this experience just wouldn't be the same in an automatic. Downshifting out of corners to build up speed, upshifting as the engine revved up to the redline, downshifting again for engine braking, using the width of the track - all the stuff you only do occasionally on everyday drives were all falling into place. This felt GOOD. Sure I could have shifted better or found a better line here and there, but at least I didn't do anything that did any harm to the Jetta's clutch or underpowered motor.
Not like the guy in his WRX that blew his engine on a missed shift. There's always a cautionary tale.
Somewhere near the Bus Stop on the third lap I started relishing the sounds my car was making, and a second thought occurred to me: how different this experience would be in an electric car. Even with the Jetta's run-of-the-mill exhaust system, the noise as the engine revved up and down really made the experience. It was the icing on the cake. I was grinning from ear to ear like a little kid!
And then, it was over. A little more than 12 minutes after it started, we all turned up a gravel drive just across where we had entered the track toward one of the clubhouses where lunch was waiting for us. Time to munch on some burgers and compare the new experienced with other smiling faces.
I couldn't wait to do it again. (And I have, lots of times since!)
15 October 2018 ..... Photo by: Todd Nielson ..... Video by: Todd Nielson, Tom Moeller, Ben Moeller