I suppose I should start at the beginning. It was dim but almost glowing, it was confusing but calming at the same time. Suddenly there was a light, a pinhole in the distance at first but the light got closer. No, it wasn't getting closer it was getting bigger! I grabbed my nearest possession, for comfort. A giant creature with 5 tentacles came rushing in and simultaneously I was thrust into the light. I clutched that item, I mustn't loose it. This is how I came into this world, literally (figuratively) My one possession was a small wooden toy car. Ever since, it's been a whirlwind of ups and downs, but I've always loved cars.
My automotive history is ripe with Volkswagen's, Audi's, BMW's, Volvo's, and a few oddballs like a Land Rover Discovery 1 and a Locost project that never got on it's feet, er wheels. I just love European cars, to the extent that I was one of the founding members of a local European car club, back when a car club was a club, and people actually met up and talked, face to face.
Porsche, in and of itself, has always been an idol. Something that for a long time I felt was unattainable. But even so, it was something I lusted after. So it was no surprise that when Porsche sponsored an essay contest to celebrate 60 years of Porsche Passion, that I entered that contest and poured my heart out. Roughly 3500 other people felt the same way and entered as well. Internal to Porsche, someone was reading all of these essays and scoring them and at the end of the day, or week, or month they gathered together 20 of the entries that they felt were the top choices. One of which was mine. Those 20 were put on display online and for a week they were open to inspection and voting from the public. After that week was finished they tallied the votes.
I couldn't believe it. Well, I could believe it. I had read all of the other entries of course and I genuinely thought mine was the best, at least the top 2. The amount of excitement was an overload, and what made it better was being able to share it with one of my best buds. When I shared the news with Kris he was pretty floored too and to be honest neither of us had any clue what we were in for.
Day 1 started with Kris and I getting to the airport. A lack of sleep and shuffling of cars made that a little difficult, but the excitement for the next few days vastly overshadowed all of that. It didn't quite feel like we were actually going to do it at that moment, we had been planning the trip and getting everything ready for a few months and it was finally go time. The flight, as almost all flights go, sucked. One layover in Atlanta that was just short enough to require us to "Home-Alone" it through the various concourses. After a short connection to Birmingham we had finally arrived and were greeted by a man holding a paperboard sign with the Porsche emblem on it. Things just got a little more real.
They put us up in the Ross Bridge Resort and Spa. Apparently one of the best places to go if you like to Golf. If you're there for anything else though, there's not much to do besides sleep, eat, and wander around feeling like bored royalty and looking at odd sculptures that cost more than your life. We turned in early to get some rest for the next days activities.
Day 2 was non stop. We met the shuttle downstairs and took the 40 minute ride out to Barber Motorsports Park. When many of you see the name "Barber" and the word "Motorsports" you think of Skip Barber. Well... this was George Barbers place, and this guy is my hero. Originally he wanted to build a museum for all his cool motorcycles and cars (much more motorcycles than cars, but plenty of both to be consumed for hours dribbling all over yourself) with a small test track out back. One thing lead to another and it became one of the best tracks in the US. Excellent elevation changes, relatively small straights, and G-force inspiring hairpins make this track and absolute riot to drive. Porsche has the track all to itself for the two days, so it was only us out there.
We started with a short classroom session going over the basics, and eventually led into everyone stating their history. Crap... I was going to try and keep it a secret that I had never even driven a 911, or any Porsche outside of a late 80's 944 for that matter. With much humility I explained that I won the trip, have no actual track experience (only Auto-X and carting), don't own a Porsche, and wouldn't have the means to own one for many years. I could almost hear the other participants filling their alligator skin underwear. We were grouped up with two people from Kentucky who had just purchased their 2nd Porsche, a 2011 Boxster S. Next we had the option to buy insurance. Both of us opted out, instead choosing to instantly go into bankruptcy if something were to go awry.
First session for our group was the skid pad. A large open area with special pavement and sprinklers keeping everything slick. Object of the game was to keep the 911 Carrera S from understeering and oversteering as we did figure 8's around two circles of cones. This came pretty easy for Kris and I, coming from Minnesota it's quite often we drive in slippery conditions. It was still a challenge though as the surface is quite different than anything I had driven on. I can hang it sideways circling roundabouts in snow all day long, but this setup had such a fine line between having it and loosing it, it was best not to try and do anything fancy.
We then went to the Auto-Cross, another elongated figure 8 with a few twists thrown in for good measure. The car in this exercise was a 2011 Boxster, which is pretty stout even though it's nowhere near as quick as the 911. This was very straight forward and we all took turns riding with the instructor and driving, with the assurance that we would be timed and have some competitions the following day. The Boxster handled like it was on rails and it was fairly easy to drive it fast around this track.
After that we walked down to the Racing Dynamics course where the instructor taught us all about braking points, methods, and car control. This was a simple loop with a short slalom section. For this exercise we got to drive either the Cayman S, the Boxster Spyder, or a 911 Carrera S. I chose the Spyder for this even though it had the ridiculous bikini top on. This was a whole different animal compared to the Boxster I was just in and the fixed seat backs didn't help much with the elegant way one had to enter the car.
Finally we got out on the track in the 911's. Each of the three groups had an instructor leading the pack with a 911 Turbo, and 3-4 Carrera's following behind and learning the lines of the track. The radio intercom system setup in each car made sure the instructor could communicate with the drivers, calling out reference points along the way. Gradually they would increase the speed of the group as we became more comfortable in the cars. After each lap the students would rotate, so that everyone got time directly behind the instructor. We had a lot of track time and for some odd reason our run group was smaller than average. There's that "luck" thing again...
After lunch we rotated through the areas again learning some new things here and there and got back out on the track in the 911's for a few more long track sessions. This time we got the opportunity to take the Cayman's on the track, which I really loved. The Cayman's just seemed easy to drive fast, there was a stigma behind the 911's that made me a bit wary of pushing it too much. This thought, by the way, completely reversed the next day as I became more comfortable behind the wheel of the 911.
Day 3 was much like day 2 for the first half. We did the Auto-Cross competition which was a relay race of sorts and we only had two penalties. We did the figure 8 skid pad competition, which was difficult but taught some good car control. And the third session was replaced by a heel-toe downshifting exercise which was great because today we would actually be shuffling through the gears on the track. A few track sessions in the 911's and Cayman's, a lane-change course where we got to witness the Panamera Turbo using launch control, and after that we broke for lunch. Filling our bellies with the finest Alabama had to offer, we all got in the Cayenne's and took off towards the off-road course.
With ample warnings of the "natives" (which were supposedly tiny little skinny people with red eyes) and that if we had the windows rolled down monkeys would attack us, we drove off through the woods. The capabilities of this thing really astounded me. Very steep grades and declines, mud, rocks, and all sorts of wildlife filled the course which we were assured was deep in the jungle. There was one event that could have caused some trouble. One of the other drivers started turning the steering wheel while going down a steep section... almost hit a tree, no problem, everything's fine.
Upon completion of the off road course we headed back out on the track, this time with different groups. Apparently the instructors noticed Kris and I were much better out there, because they split us off so we could have our own little group. You may be thinking we were just the "special" kids, but the proof is in the pudding. Our group managed to lap everyone a few times, even when we were in the Cayman's and they were in the 911's. The instructors kept pushing and we kept taking it in. We had a lot of track time this afternoon, it never felt so good to burn off brakes and tires. These moments were the best of the class, with Kris and I who were pretty equally matched, hauling it behind a professional race driver, all while driving some of the best machines available.
Alas, it was time to turn in. Our driving experience was soon to come to a close with just a few things left on the schedule. One of those things was a hot lap session with us as passengers in the instructors cars and a few other cars they had on hand. One little tidbit I left out earlier is a new arrival at the PSDS... a new 911 GT2RS. They had used this car for a few of the lap sessions, but hadn't really been driving it hard due to the fact that a train of Carrera's had to follow it. They were willing to let one person take a hot lap ride in it instead of the 911 Turbo, and a random helmet drawing revealed that I was that "lucky" person.
It was simply indescribable. It was a supermodel serial killer. It ripped my face off, but it was so beautiful in the process that I didn't really mind. WOT informed me that my intestines do not in fact taste very good at all... This was the time of my life and I am so happy I was able to do it. The Panamera Turbo and the Cayenne Turbo were simply shocking as well, riding along I was for sure we were all going to die, but the instructors were able to drive these cars at seemingly 10/10ths and still be able to hold a conversation. Unbelievable.
Following the hot laps we all went back to the classroom for the awards ceremony. Much to the surprise of a few gator-skin wearing cake eaters, Kris managed a 2nd place time on the auto-cross, and I pulled out the quickest time. Our team of 4 (lovingly named the Thunder Chickens) pulled away with the win for the team competition as a result. Almost a full minute ahead of the 2nd place team! What an amazing way to end an amazing couple of days, but it wasn't over yet. After the dismissal we were invited to visit the museum which was a short walk down a very serene sidewalk. Reeling in our success at the competitions as well as knowing we were faster then the other students, we brought back all the high points that had led us this far. So much concentration and non-stop activities had us pretty well spent and slightly emotional, and then we walked into the museum... 30 minutes until the Town Car arrived. 30 whole minutes, to look at 4 stories full of some of the most epic motorcycles and automobiles of all time. I assure you we used every bit of that time, and then some.
In the years that followed, Kris would become the owner of his own Porsche a 911SC, and eventually sell it and purchase his 1972 911T. Meanwhile I went through a few cars, landing on a 2001 Audi S8 for a spell then moving onto a new project. A 1971 Porsche 914.
This was a life changing trip. Something I will look back on forever. I am so glad I was able to do this with one of my best buds and come out victorious, shiny side up.