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Becoming a pretty good high-performance driver, part four: becoming the mechanic

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

I’m not a super handy guy around the house. Ask my wife. Recently, I had the front of my FR-S on jacks and was on the creeper switching out the front brake pads when my wife poked her head into the garage: “Ummm….should you be messing with your brakes? That makes me nervous.” Truth be told, it makes me nervous, too. Becoming a pretty good high-performance driver means tracking the car on a regular basis, which means burning through a good chunk of disposable income. In an effort to control costs and allow the giddy fun to continue, I’ve been pushed deeper into maintenance and repair. Continue reading

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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

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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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

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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