My car is a little island of happiness for me every day. Every errand, every commute, and every road trip, I think, how beautiful it is, how intelligent, how powerful. I have had cars that I served me well as transportation pods, and I was grateful to them, but this one is much more than that. My BMW 335i Montego blue coupe is wonderful.
Yet I’ve sometimes felt a tiny twinge of a combination of embarrassment and frustration regarding this car. Not that I think it’s excessive (though I can see that point of view). Rather, I have never used its full potential, and probably will never do so. The power (electronically limited top speed is 150 MPH) and the sport tuned suspension is designed for driving that I never get to do.
It was good, then, to take the car to Virginia International Raceway last Thursday for the Porsche Club’s spring event. The track, out in the country not far from Danville, Virginia, is 3.27 miles of twists, turns, rises, and falls. There’s grass around most of the outside, and trees beyond that. It’s an excellent place to drive.
As a novice driver, I was accompanied by an instructor. Chad Lackey was a friendly, experienced, and very helpful teacher who never got visibly alarmed at my driving. As I told Chad, I always remember my first teacher of everything, and I’ll definitely always remember him.
The day was drizzly and foggy, but this may have kept us particularly on our toes. Anyhow, we went. I was primarily hoping to 1. survive, 2. not hurt the car, and 3. have some fun, and I got those three things done. I also learned some things about what driving can be about — timing, precision, focus, getting the right line, feeling the changing suspension, sensing the point just inside the danger zone. Technical driving is a lot more challenging than it looks.
There was, of course, a bit of fear. We had to wear helmets, which brought home that this is a serious business. We were also advised that running off the track in the wet grass is more than normally hazardous. Cars can flip. I had a few bursts of fight-or-flight when my back end fish tailed during the rainiest run.
But the adrenaline was mostly pure, strong, and good. And I felt at last that my car was doing what the brilliant engineers at BMW created it to do. The car’s potential was not fully realized by me that day; I’m confident it could have done much better with a better driver. But at least its potential wasn’t completely wasted. We had a taste of something new. This could be the start of a new phase of our relationship.