A Track Is Just A Track

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Over a decade ago, in the late-summer of 2007, the rising sun shone brightly over Garrettsville, Ohio, warming the chill morning air surrounding Nelson Ledges Road Course. All sorts of BMWs were parked across the infield, their owners checking tire pressures and making adjustments to suspension settings. I eyeballed the track, noticing that it was a fair bit bumpier than I had anticipated (it would be several years more before a much-needed repave was performed). Regardless of condition, the fast, flowing pavement would mark my first foray onto a real race track in my own car. Having been to plenty of car-control clinics and other similar events, the lure of a BMW Car Club High Performance Driver Education weekend was too strong.

Like many high-skill endeavors—playing an instrument or learning a martial art—the initial perception is often that the activity is all rather simple; really, isn’t driving fast just a matter of pressing the skinny pedal all the way down and turning that round thing? But anyone who has attempted it knows that it is emphatically more complicated than that. At Nelson, it took me less than a lap to figure this out: Driving fast is hard! Not that I would have known that on my first day, as my pace was far from what anyone would call “fast.”

Everything changed on the second day, when fellow BMW Car Club member and all-around good guy Joe Whitman drove my car with me as a passenger, and my entire concept of what a vehicle could do in the right hands was transformed. I realized that many facets have to work together in perfect harmony to make a machine go quickly around a track. So much comes into play, from braking technique to making subtle changes to the driving line—just about everything you do in the car impacts the net result.

Most important, I was learning the vast array of necessary abilities needed to drive well. It’s a good thing that I documented it.

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Page one of the driving journal contains a true gem for driving quickly: “Be decisive!”

Ever since that first day on the track, I have kept a sort of driving journal. This has helped me set goals for each session, and track my progress over the years. It has even occasionally provided some much-needed insight that resulted in leveling up my driving. The first such entry, a poignant reminder written in pencil, reads: “Joe Whitman drives my car.” (Note that this is directly below “other cars are wrecking”; it was a humbling weekend for more than just me.)

Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick just a kick.
After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick.
Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, and a kick is just a kick.—Bruce Lee

Looking through my notes from other track sessions across the years, I find an interesting progression as individual skills gave way to driving theory and application: It’s all about weight transfer, and that’s really the sum of driving fast. From the seemingly simple task of driving, I grew to understand the vast complexity of the art, and then came full circle, finally understanding that when done properly, it is just a matter of using the pedals and steering wheel to drive.

Reading through some of the final entries in my driving journal, one stood out from the rest: “Opting out of final driving activities… going home early to spend time with the family!” As great as track driving is, there are certainly higher priorities.

Like the basement.

Speaking of which, I recently got to catch up with Joe, as he now owns a company dedicated to making all of the technology in your home (or garage) work seamlessly, including the all-important A/V gear. He and his crew stopped by to help support the Great Basement Project of 2018 and Potentially Beyond by setting up the new TV, receiver, and speakers. The basement is still a work-in-progress, but I couldn’t wait any longer to get my speakers up and singing again, and Joe made that happen despite my severe lack of free time lately. Shameless plug alert: Joe’s team at Whitman Automation was impeccable and efficient. I highly recommend them.

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Three very fashionable lawn chairs have been added since taking this photo.

Much the way Joe opened my eyes to driving, the new sound system has opened my ears. It has been a long time since I had a fully dialed-in speaker setup—just long enough that I had forgotten how much better my favorite music sounds when I get to stop listening and truly experience the music. It reminds me of that magical moment on a track when all of the skills blend together and the process flows almost unconsciously.

It also reminds me that I am way overdue for a trip back to Nelson Ledges. At least I have something equally satisfying to keep me and the family entertained during the upcoming winter.—Chris Doersen

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