Greg Myers_15551567671_781ccc8867_o

10 reasons I’m glad I don’t own a Porsche 911

It’s beyond obvious that Porsche makes first-rate sports cars. I track my car frequently, yet need a backseat for my five-year-old princess, which means I’ve seriously considered owning the Porsche that does it all—the iconic 911. Yet here’s ten reasons I’m glad I don’t.

10. I don’t have to fraternize with other Porsche owners, and say ludicrous things like, “I actually prefer having the bulk of the car’s weight over the rear axle.”
9. I can barely afford my track addiction as it is.
8. When I show up at the track, people don’t expect that I’ll be fast.
7. I don’t have to give a nanosecond’s thought to rear main seals.
6. I’ll never be lumped in with 996 owners whom we secretly feel sorry for: “He owns a shit 911 and doesn’t even know it.”
5. I don’t have to flat out lie to my wife about the price of quality tires.
4. When I lift the hood, I get to contemplate the rugged, powerful beauty of the combustion engine—not stare at a hole.
3. In social conversation, I don’t have to admit, in a somewhat embarrassed manner, that “I drive a Porsche 911,” and then go on to explain that it’s NOT for the same reasons every other SoCal surgeon owns one.
2. As my car collects the inevitable dings and scratches, I get to say, in my man-of-the-world way, “Well, at least it’s not a Porsche.”
1. It keeps my dream alive of someday owning the perfect 911.

Image Credit: Greg Myers

9198436199_1d249fcd56_k

Becoming a pretty good high-performance driver, part three: getting some instruction

Part three of a five-part series in which I explain how became a pretty good high-performance driver.

As with any sport, you can only get so good on your own. I’ve got the car and have procured enough seat time to know what I’m doing. Now I need instruction.

So I hired Chris Sarian, the resident instructor at High Plains Raceway, for half a day. We got four sessions in, which seemed just about right.

A quality instructor confirms what you already know. I’ve known for some time that I need to carry more speed into corners, the crux of which is braking later, harder, quicker. The basics of proper braking are easy enough: lay deep into the brakes till you feel the flutter of the ABS, then release. What’s tricky is knowing when to brake, as well as getting on and off the pedal quickly, yet smoothly. That was the biggest takeaway from the session: brake later, harder, and quicker. So key, especially in the lightweight, low-horsepower FR-S whose quickness depends on momentum.

Up to now, I’ve been pretty much pussy braking. All very gradual and within a braking zone that’s twice and perhaps even three times as long as it should be. Why? Mostly because I’ve been heel-toeing at every corner. Every car guy knows that real drivers heel-toe. Problem is, I can’t heel-toe AND brake late, hard, and quick. I don’t have the coordination, the feel necessary. So for now, when on the track I’m giving up heel-toeing until I get proper braking down.

Another helpful suggestion related to braking: “Keep your eyes up as you approach the corner. Look through the turn. Don’t just drive point to point.” This gestalt-sounding tip, Chris informs, will help me get off the brakes sooner, as well as prepare for completing the corner and launching onto the upcoming straight. Makes sense. Focus your eyes, not where you are, but where you want to go.

And where you want to go is around other cars. I need to be more aggressive. Always scheming as to where I can pass the slower car in front of me. Pressure the driver, so that he either makes a mistake or waves me by.

What I dug about Chris is that he didn’t talk a lot. He observed my driving and gave a few choice recommendations. For example:
“What’s the redline in this car?”
“About 7100.”
“You’re shifting early. Ideally, you want to shift at redline. But for now, let’s shift at 6500.”
“Ok.”

Simple enough.

A good teacher boosts your confidence—in your skills as a driver and the capabilities of the car. Quickness springs from confidence.

Many of us aspiring high-performance drivers know that we need professional instruction. But we put it off. As men, we don’t exactly relish feeling inferior. And then there’s cost, which makes a high-priced hobby, even more so. Though we feel good about paying $800 for new rubber, man, do we squirm when writing a check for half that amount for someone to teach us what we don’t know.

Here’s the paradox: quality instruction is expensive, yet pays for itself almost immediately. Good instructors, usually badged with some racing success, are the ones “Who Have Gone Before.” Sort of like Sherpas of motorsport. When you fork over that sizeable wad of cash you are able to mine the knowledge that took them years and tens of thousands dollars to obtain. For instance, before I even took my session, Chris’s recommendation about tires saved me about 300 bucks.

Becoming a competent high-performance driver doesn’t happen by accident. It takes large whacks of time and thousands of dollars, in addition to the cost of the car. It’s but one way to get more out a hobby. Some guys go the equipment route and troll online forums for the latest and greatest mod. Some guys go the aesthetic route, detailing their car with Q-Tips and an artist’s care. And some guys go the social route, spending Saturday mornings ensconced at Cars and Coffee or taking part in the car club get-together and group drive. But for me, my car is about going fast—as fast as the car was built to go. What I find most intriguing, as my favorite song puts it, is the limits of machine and man.

For me, that’s where the fun is.

3246500533_beb17f33f6_o

Becoming a pretty good high-performance driver, part two: seat time

Part two of a five-part series in which I explain how I became a pretty good high-performance driver.

Now that I’ve appropriated a suitable track car—in my case, the cheap and tossable FR-S—the next step is procuring large doses of “seat time.”

Seat time refers to the hours spent behind the wheel on a track. Obtaining such you come to know the strengths and weaknesses of your car. My stock Bimmer plowed through corners as if its name were Jethro, yet the erotic thrust of the turbo six and the unflappableness of the car at triple digit speed did make me feel as if I were in the pocket of the Almighty. In contrast, the FR-S attacks corners like jungle cat who has eaten in a week. Owing to the modest engine, however, there’s no heady and heroic rush of speed as I redline out of slow corners—just a gradual buildup of momentum (wait for it, wait for it) that I have to learn to maintain, if I want to be quick.

Seat time helps shed the fear of going fast. You acclimatize to speed. For instance, hitting 102 mph at the end of the straight becomes sort of normal the tenth time you do it, especially when you recall the Bimmer could hit 125. Of course, there are still many pucker situations—a faster car coming out of nowhere and overtaking you just as you are about to turn into a corner; the inexperienced driver whom you nigh sodomize because he unexpectedly lays on the brakes as you are looking ahead for a place to pass. Given enough seat time these situations are little bubbles of stress that rise up and pop in about as much time. On track, there’s little space for thinking.

Which is why, if you want to be fast, most of your inputs to the car need to be automatic, not the result of conscious effort. The same is true of any high-performance athlete. If you have to think much about when to brake or driving the right line, you won’t be fast for long. Things happen too quickly. And that’s the main purpose of seat time: to make high-performance driving behaviors automatic. I know this is true, because I have NOT made all the basics automatic, not yet anyway, and so am quick on certain sections of the track, langorous on others—for example, sharp corners following a straight. I still pretty much puss out on those. But I’m committed to learning.

Reading has helped, and is a cheap way to make track days more efficient. Ross Bentley’s Ultimate Speed Secrets provides a lifetime of tips. Also, Carl Lopez’s Going Faster, though less concise and geared more toward the burgeoning race car driver, has earned a permanent place on my bookshelf.

Procuring large and consistent doses of seat time makes plain that high-performance driving is a serious hobby. You need a car you can afford to track on a consistent basis. This alone may demand months of research and a re-arranging of priorities. You need to prep the car for the full days on track during which you are essentially incommunicado from all other meaningful relationships in your life. And then there’s the track fees and tires and expensive fluids you gleefully burn through.

These are the prereqs for becoming a pretty good high-performance driver. Good thing for me is that I’ve completed them. I’ve procured seat time, and a result know the strengths and weaknesses of car and driver. Now I need some professional help. Now I need some instruction.

Image Credit: Michael Nera

8286461000_61a823bda6_o

Becoming a pretty good high-performance driver, part one: Get the right car

Part one of a five-part series in which I explain how became a pretty good high-performance driver.

The first step in becoming a competent driver is getting the right car.

Until recently, I had a 2008 BMW 335i (manual, sport package) which I thought would’ve happily performed double-duty as family hauler and track companion, and perhaps could have. It had a backseat with room for Princess and glided across town and country with aplomb (and my Lord, didn’t its turbo six make me swoon), but there were reasons, all related, as to why it couldn’t serve as my ambassador to apex hunting mayhem. Girth, being the primary one. It was too damned heavy, which, along with muting its aliveness on-track, caused my Direzzas to wear at an alarming rate. True, I could’ve spent five grand on exhaust, suspension, and wheel upgrades and had quite the Gentlemanly Beast, yet that substantial outlay wouldn’t have made me a better driver. No. You need seat time for that.

I needed a car more reasonable to track. Something lithe and tossable, with a backseat for Princess. Were I rich man, my next words would have a cluster of 9s in them, as in “997 911” in Artic Silver with black leather interior. Alas, I am not a rich man. And so write, “Scion FR-S.”

Unimpressive, I know. Not even the Subaru version of the car. Still, it’s a gruff and tough little machine built for scooting around a racetrack. AND it’s cheap. A car that helps me become a better driver.

Image credit: Nate Stevens

Image credit: Brian Stalter

Becoming a pretty good high-performance driver

A five-part series during which I learn how NOT to embarrass myself at the racetrack. In other words, how I became a pretty good high-performance driver.

For the last few years, I’ve wanted to get to the racetrack regularly. Up to now, that Strong Man money stood in my way. No longer. Not that I have stacks of Benjamins littering the back hall, but enough to get to my local track, High Plains Raceway, if I keep modifications to a minimum, do my own maintenance, and run tires that have decent longevity.

It’s not just that I want to get to the track more, though — I want to become a competent high-performance driver.

What does that mean? For me, anyway, it means that during open lap days at High Plains, I want to be one of the quicker cars in the slow group. (If you’ve never been to an open lap day, cars are often split into two groups: fast and slow. 911s, Corvettes, exotics, and the like making up the former — Miatas, FR-Ss, sporty daily drivers making up the latter.)

You may be asking, “Why do you want to be the fastest of the slow?” Mostly because I have a yen for lightweight, low horsepower scoots, a proclivity I explore in the next segment, “Finding the Right Car.”

Image credit: Brian Stalter

Photo credit: Kārlis Dambrāns

The joy of a morning drive in winter

To the car that inspired this piece: 2008 BMW 335i

Like other stick shift junkies, I take the majority of my soul-percolating spins in spring and summer when faith in adhesion allows me to carve deep in the bends. Yet winter drives when the roads are clear and temperature reasonable have their own charms. For one, they are a lot things that summer drives are not.  Continue reading

Warning: your car may be trashing up the neighborhood

Austin, TX

I’m a suburban middle class guy, which along with a penchant for Hondas and Toyotas, requires that I have a two-car garage. All my neighbors do, too. Yet as I look down my street I see that many of them have one of their cars parked out on the curb, as if it’s the holidays and all their families are in town. Now, I’m not a big fan of homeowners’ associations and their clumsy, paint-by-the-numbers aesthetics, but they are dead right about one thing: cars parked on the street trash up a neighborhood.

Continue reading

8093316695_d0afb63ddd_young-love

The first time I smelled a girl

When I was in eighth grade and living in the seaside and preppy hamlet of Duxbury, MA, the local sporting goods store chartered a ski bus for a day trip to Loon Mountain, NH. My friend Tim and I signed up, as did many of our classmates. Like many outings of the “field trip” variety the most interesting happenings occurred on the bus to and from the main event – e.g., on the way, the bus overheated, and the 90 minutes we had to wait for another afforded one philosophically inclined sophomore the opportunity to expatiate on the reasons why we enjoy smelling our own flatulence.  Continue reading