Clara, a car, goes to the track and does what she was born to do
by Rob Tiller
My car, Clara, had her coming out event this week — a track day at Virginia International Raceway. After several weeks together, I knew she had many virtues — beauty, sophistication, and awesome power. Clara is the ultimate product of generations of German engineering genius a 2006 Porsche 911 S,in a particularly lovely color, lapis blue. Is this just a car? You could say so, and certainly, it serves as transportation. But viewing her that way seems overly crude. She’s a work of art.
But calling her art suggests stasis, and her nature is kinetic. She was bred for speed and agility. She is a sports car. It would be a waste to treat such a machine like any old car. Thus I felt a certain responsibility, as her new owner, to get her to the track and let her do what she was born to do. I was happy to sign up for the PCA event at VIR, near Danville, Va.
VIR is a world -class road course. 3.2 miles, 180 feet of elevation change, curves of every description, surrounded by forest and countryside . As a driver in the novice class, I was assigned an experienced teacher, Glenn Mead. There were a few rules about such matters as passing and emergencies. But no speed limit.
We did four half-hour all-out sessions. Like all drivers, Glen and I wore helmets, and we communicated via a wireless system. Soon Glenn found a few things he liked about my driving, and several that could stand improvement. At each of the turns, he was looking for the perfect turn. I hit a few, and he effusively praised these efforts. Others were not so great, and he made sure I knew it. The point of the perfect turn, I eventually realized, was to carry and keep as much speed as possible. Glenn encouraged greater and greater speed. It occurred to me that he was not only a good guy, but also a brave one.
After a few imperfect turns, I realized that there was an aspect of Clara that was frightening. I could not sense the limits of her power, and could not tell where I would lose control. At each turn, the margin of error was thin. And I didn’t really yet know Clara’s characteristics of balance and handling. At one point, Glenn reassured me. “This car is a ballerina,” he said. “She’ll do what you tell her to do.”
She was, and she did. We had a few squeals and skids, but we worked on technique. It got better and better. I got a big dose of adrenaline, and also the aesthetic pleasure of some beautifully shaped turns. Clara did what she was born to do.