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.