Friday, June 3, 2011

Chapter 15 - Ferrari Track Day

It was on Wednesday, July 16 2008 that someone, probably someone sitting at home contemplating the past weekend, spent alone watching reality TV shows asked “do you get more dates if you drive a Ferrari?”

Ferrari Track Day

Turns out there were some fringe benefits to owning a Ferrari. One of which was getting invited to all sorts of interesting car centric stuff. During my year with the car RTGT was closing their dealership every other Tuesday night to show F1 races. If you are a car guy and are not able to attend an F1 race in person the chance to watch a race surrounded by Ferraris while eating pizza, and drinking a beer is not a bad substitute. It was at an F1 night that I was invited to a RTGT Ferrari track day, an even better fringe benefit.

The Ferrari track day was Monday June 16 2008. It was not overcast and there were Ferraris everywhere. I had no idea there were so many Ferraris in Portland. Where had they been hiding? I might see ten Ferraris a year on the road and here were twenty or thirty of them.

The RTGT track day was organized by ProDrive and followed the same format but with an additional session, a fancier lunch, and lots of Ferraris. There were about equal numbers of 360s and 430s, a couple 575s, a Challenge Stradale, one beautiful F50, and a nearly new 430 Scuderia. In addition to the various flavors of Ferraris there was a monster Ford GT with slicks, a race prepped Porsche RS America and a Lotus 211.

There were three 355’s in attendance. The 355’s were the oldest, slowest Ferraris to show up. Chronologically, the F50 was probably a year or two older than my car but as you know I view F50s as timeless. There was sufficient density of exotic cars to cause an unbalance in the universe which resulted in a small but noticeable increase in the price of a barrel of oil.

My goal for the day was to try to follow my advice from the previous track day. Listen to Tony. I was more comfortable this time. I listened to Tony. I went faster. I passed Porsches. I passed Corvettes. I passed Ferraris. I did not pass the Ford. The Ford, which Alex and Christina nicknamed “Noisy Car” passed me. The Ford did not just pass me. It blew me off the track. Once, when it went by I tried to keep up.

Bad idea.

We had both just passed a 360 and I was feeling punchy. I braked too late and entered the chicane with more speed than I wanted. I was still on the brakes after I turned in which resulted in the car being much looser than optimal. Don’t ask a car to do more than one thing at a time. Tony was yelling “Brake, HARD BRAKE!” as we skipped and hopped through the chicane.

Aside from my testosterone induced silliness with the Ford I drove well. For brief moments I explored the limits of grip with the car. It was like being on a flat roof and walking slowly to the edge, looking around and then walking slowly away. It is a testament to the engineering of the 355 that a driver with my limited skills can safely explore its limits. The feedback provided by the car is so clear and so direct that once understood the car can be taken right to the edge of its capabilities.

The car does not obviously telegraph the decreasing amount of traction through squealing tires or slight slipping so much as a general feeling of diminished control. It is as if the road surface becomes progressively slicker as you reach the cars limits. It is a difficult sensation to describe. Once that limit is passed it is another story. A car which was working with you suddenly becomes very difficult to control.

I had accomplished one of the big things I set out to do when I purchased the car. Drive a Ferrari on a race track. After the Pro Drive day I was hooked on driving on the track but I did not feel like I “drove” the car on the track. I went around the track, I went kinda fast but I did not really drive the car. This time I drove the car. If I could have sold the car that instant I would have. It would have guaranteed my time with the car ended on a high note.

When the day was over my brain was mush. Somewhere, at some point I processed too much information and was done, cooked, toast. I felt tipsy, giddy and euphoric, a result of too much sun, gas fumes, and Ferraris. That evening I could still smell overheated brakes in my hair.

What a day.

Sometime after the Ferrari Track Day I stopped dying. Alex became comfortable with my mortality. I am still unsure what causes a young adult to consider their parent’s mortality. Is it an event or combination of events? Is it the result or the child’s increased awareness?

I am confident I could ask Christina if I was going to die and she would answer affirmatively. Alex would have given me the same answer when she was six. Why did it start to bother her when it did? Should I expect the same from Christina when she is 10?

Will I be buying another Ferrari in 2011?

When I consider my own experience I cannot point to any specific event which triggered my sudden worry about my parents dying. It was not a worry I had during the day but as I was trying to sleep all I could think about was my parents dying. I was scared to be alone. My sister was seven, my brother five. How would I care for them?

I missed our talks. She was worried about me. This beautiful, smart, wonderful person who has everything in front of her was worried about me. It made me feel important, special. It made me sure I was necessary in her life. While I missed our talks I was glad she was no longer so worried about me.

Although I was no longer dying I realized I had a desire for greater risk in my own life. Generally, I am a risk adverse person. I do a good job of analyzing and limiting risk of physical injury but wanted greater risk, not too much but some. I suppose a good analogy would be climbing a small mountain with a guide. I thought driving on the Ferrari on the track would satisfy this desire but it did not.

It was an odd combination of desires. On one hand I wanted to do something so over the top and outlandish that someone else would write a book about my exploit. Something akin to sailing around the world solo with only graham crackers, an Ouija board, and a profane parrot. I wanted to entertain the constant risk of a nasty death, a death held at bay by my quick thinking, resourcefulness, and perseverance. On the other hand I wanted to spend all my time with my family. I wanted to ensure that their lives are full, rich, and comfortable.

At first glance these desires seem mutually exclusive, maybe they are. Unfortunately, both are desires I have. Driving the Ferrari on the track was not enough to satisfy my need to “do something risky”. It was a great start, but after the euphoria faded and the smell of gas and burnt rubber left my hair it was not enough.

One of the major realizations of my first track day was how safe it felt to be on the track when compared to driving on public roads. To compound the problem it was not my wits and my skill keeping me from harm. It was Tony’s knowledge of the track, understanding of my skill, and the car’s capability keeping me safe.

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