Driving at Road Atlanta
by Rob Tiller
I had a few butterflies about taking Clara down to Road Atlanta for the Rezoom track event. There is, after all, an element of risk to pushing a car as hard as you can. But at the same time, there is something that felt right about the trip. A Porsche 911S was not created to be mere transportation. It is a sports car.
After a simple breakfast at the Holiday Inn, I was loading Clara when I saw some working-guy types staring at me. My first reaction was to assume they thought I was a twit. Then I realized they were admiring the car. This wasn’t exactly pleasant, but not exactly unpleasant. I wasn’t interested in attracting their attention, but I could understand it. It occurred to me that this is something that very attractive people must deal with: the slightly unsettling attention of strangers.
I had more butterflies when I saw the field, which included some true racing machines, stripped of creature comforts and equipped for massive speed. My instructor, Bryan, had one such: a Miata with everything torn out that didn’t have to do with the business of moving.
It also had an awesome paint job. Bryan introduced me to his track buddies, all from Jackson, Mississippi, and invited me to hang out at their canopy area.
The track was 2.54 miles — about the same size and shape as VIR, but more difficult. There are big elevation changes, and vertigo-inducing blind curves. Where VIR has fields to run off into if you misjudge a turn, RA has hard walls. Bryan took me as a passenger out as a passenger on the first session, and scared the bejesus out of me. It was a fast, very rough ride. I felt car sick, but managed, barely, to avoid spewing.
The drivers were divided into notice, intermediate, and advanced groups, and each drove 30 minutes per session. As a novice, with an hour between sessions, I looked at the other cars as they prepared to run or ran. I enjoyed talking with Bryan and his friends.
They knew an amazing amount about cars. They must have thought I seemed a bit different, but they were really kind to me, and went out of their way to explain things and be helpful. It was great to hang out with them.
After the first couple of half-hour sessions, I began to get a feel for the track. It demanded total concentration. The senses are overloaded with sensations — screaming engines, rushing edges. There is no room for ordinary thought. Bryan kept coaching me to use more of the track and carry more speed through the turns. Gradually I got faster.
At times I couldn’t stop smiling. There were, however, some harrowing moments. Once I hit the gators at speed coming off the blind turn at number 12, and skidded dangerously. That scared me, and it took a few laps to regroup. As I kept pushing against the limits of the turns, a few times I found them, and barely hung on.
But with each session, my confidence increased, and on the second day I broke the two-minute barrier for a lap — a milestone. As I prepared for the fourth run of the day, Bryan announced I was ready to solo. He asked me not to do anything that would embarrass him. I was really pleased, and I didn’t.