The Casual Blog

Tag: VIR

Carolina Ballet’s brilliant Beethoven, and a Porsche track day

Clara at VIR on May 19, 2012

Sally and I went to the Carolina Ballet’s final program of the season on Thursday night. Ballet has so much emotional power. How fortunate are the dancers who can embody it and touch us with it. As they move, our minds move and feel. Could it be our mirror neurons? Perhaps that, combined with a common tradition and vocabulary of movement. Maybe, when all the stars align, we connect at a fundamental level with the dancers and the dance, and are changed ourselves.

On Thursday, we saw the world premier of Robert Weiss’s new ballet, Beethoven’s Ninth, and found it very powerful. The music is iconically familiar, but apart from the familiar ode to joy, extremely strange. Weiss’s creation honors the tradition of the music, and also brings it into the present. He uses a large cast and a lot of movement. The stage surges with high-speed running, leaping, and spinning in every direction, creating tension and excitement. It’s wonderfully dense and complex, like the music. The work seems more about groups and relationships than about individuals. I thought it was truly brilliant. Is this possible? Could a work of amazing complexity and transcendent beauty shine forth in Raleigh, our sweet but modest mid-size southern city Of course!

On Friday and Saturday, I took Clara up to Virginia International Raceway for some track driving fun. Both days were mild and sunny. There were dozens of beautiful Porsches, along with quite a few BMWs and Corvettes, and onesies and twosies of other vehicles. I was paired with Mike T, a very experienced teacher and Corvette guy.

There are seventeen turns in the 3.27 mile VIR course, and each one is different. Mike expected me to know them by name, and have a plan for each one. As we did laps, we communicated through in-helmet headsets. He coached me through each turn and gave instant feedback, such as, “You turned in too early,” “You need to brake earlier,” and, occasionally, “That was good.”

Like a lot of accomplished people, Mike was a perfectionist, and it was difficult to satisfy him. I felt a bit discouraged. At times he seemed to be coaching me towards a high-speed disaster, which in retrospect I think was the result of my not getting some of his vocabulary. Anyhow, there were some close calls involving taking too much speed into corners. But as the laps accumulated, the percentage of good turns increased, and I was passing most of the cars in my group. Mike didn’t make me feel great, but he may have helped me move me towards the next level.

Track driving at VIR and chamber music

Clara and friends at VIR on 10 September 2011

We had plans to go to the North Carolina coast for some wreck diving this weekend, but the trip was cancelled because of rough (eight-foot!) seas. I was a little disappointed, but also a little relieved. The last couple of weeks have been turbo-charged at work, and on top of that I’ve had lots of extracurriculars. Today is gray, drizzly, and chilly — a great day to relax and reflect.

Last weekend was exciting, but not relaxing. I took Clara, my 911S, out for two days of hard track driving at Virginia International Raceway. She’s a great car, and did almost everything I asked. The weather was pleasantly warm and clear. My instructor, M, was very experienced and initiated me into some new aspects of track driving.

M gives a pointer

M stressed that the key to faster laps is smoothness and consistency — threshold braking at the same spot, hitting the same apex, coming into the throttle and tracking out all the way to the same track edge. It sounds like consistency could get boring, but for me it didn’t — perhaps because it’s so hard to do. As I got better in a particular difficult turn, it required throttle and brake adjustments for the following turns, which were seldom perfect. I had a couple of hair-raising moments, including a skid off the track and into the field (too much speed into turn 1), but no damage was done. There was plenty of exhilaration, and over all I felt an increase in competence.

This week I had two meetings with the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, which recently elected me to its board of directors. I’ve loved chamber music, especially string quartets, since high school, and I’m pleased to be able to lend a hand to sustaining this great tradition. The RCMG is 70 years old, and has brought many world-class ensembles to this area. From what I’ve seen so far, the board seems like a good group. I’ve tried to make peace with the fact that some people don’t like chamber music (though I confess I cannot understand why), and just be grateful for the music and the people who enjoy it. They tend to be an educated, articulate demographic. But it isn’t easy for these music lovers to find each other or communicate about the music. It’s partly normal shyness, and also the difficulty of translating music and related feelings into words. RCMG may be a good venue for me and others to make some of these connections.

Another night this week I had a class on wreck diving, in preparation for diving on the Hyde and the Markham. Penetrating wrecks involves a higher level of risk than reef diving that we generally do, and it requires some training and careful preparation. I learned about various safety measures, including hazard assessment, redundant equipment, and laying a guide linet. I’m hoping to do the dives in late October.

Why do people engage in even mildly perilous situations, and imagine themselves in dire ones, when they don’t have to? People do it, at least to some degree, all the time — in sports, amusement parks, and scary movies. We’re funny animals, for sure, and we do some stupid things, but theres some sense to it. Maybe we confront manageable risks in play to prepare ourselves for real dangers. It could help develop some reserves of courage. And risk takes us out of our daily routine and out of ourselves. We forget ourselves, and feel more alive.

Clara, a car, goes to the track and does what she was born to do

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.