The Indy Story.

2015-09-28 15.00.43
Moxie and Mom on the Brickyard front straight! A coveted shot, a gift from John at Fluid Photo.

I left off here: Awesome Without Borders had granted me $1000 to drive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Thanks to the additional generosity of many folks, I obtained needed supplies.  Amazingly, my hubby was unaffectedly excited about Indy. He doesn’t love cars, but is a Hoosier born and bred. Perhaps the Speedway itself struck a chord that resonated. For the first time ever, Big T actually considered taking vacation days to pit crew for me. Although that didn’t happen, knowing he tried mattered to me.

Ten days prior to departure, I began the loading process. After an 800 mile drive to University, we said goodbyes apprehensively to our firstborn. The young freshman didn’t look back as he joined his new friends for dorm hall meeting. I encountered a jumbled emotional mix. But that’s another story.

My lovely family drove back to North Carolina, and I was left headed with my rig to Naptown.

Let me pause here for a moment to describe the magnitude of the event that was organized by Mid-Ohio Region Porsche Club of America (MORPCA): Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) has existed for 105 years. It has only ever hosted races. There has never been an amateur event for non-racing purposes.

Being an elite track, while very welcoming, IMS had regulations designed for professional racing only. This was a three year endurance effort of planning for MORPCA and IMS. There are many things about this event that were unusual. Some were logistical puzzles. Others were sheer super-coolness.

 

Upon arriving in Indianapolis, Moxie was pre-tech inspected by Brian at European Auto Sports. A hidden gem of a shop, specializing in European performance cars, Brian himself has a racing pedigree as former Crew Chief for Michael Andretti. He gave Moxie the once over, signed my form, and accepted no payment. #whataguy!

Thursday I chased down some racing brake pads and hunted for rotors. I wanted to be prepared at track in case I needed spares. Thanks to AIM Tuning Indy Miata, I got what I needed. By afternoon, I was ready for the MORPCA tech line. Normally, inspection happens on-site at the track. This means you can drive your rig there, get car inspected, unload, and are ready to go the next morning.

However, IMS wasn’t available the night before. The organizers had to arrange for tech inspection at a NON-track venue. Can you imagine this scene? 270 track cars, loaded onto 270 trailers, being driven by 270 tow-rigs, and 270 drivers (not including crew/families/groupies) all lining up in the back parking lot of the Wyndham.

Seriously? But it worked like a charm! Within the space of three smooth hours all had completed tech inspection. Registration, wristbands, and information sessions were incredibly well organized. Waiting at the end of the line was a sumptuous buffet with robust quantities of delectable hors d’oeuvres and beverages provided. Kudos to Kevin of MORPCA and his leadership team!

The atmosphere was festive. People greeted each other joyfully, after all, it was Indy. The MORPCA organizing team went out of their way to welcome outsider like me into the fold: Special thanks to Kevin, Chip and Dave. At registration, I met two advanced solo women drivers. LadyLambo, smiling with kind eyes, introduced herself warmly. She drove a peridot green Cayman R, and is an instructor with PCA (and other HPDE clubs) and for Teen Safety Driving. We were assigned to the same garage bay. ProPorsche, an athletic-looking blonde, works professionally as an instructor at the Porsche Driving School at Barber Motorsports Park. Her garage was near ours, with her black Corvette Z06.

The registration cost of the MORPCA mid Ohio region event was nearly $800, which seemed high at first. But honestly? This was the most well organized, lavishly appointed, pleasant experience I have ever had at ANY HPDE EVER! Dinners and breakfasts were included in the registration, as was individual garage space for each driver! (Also, I should mention, there were excellent dining and wash-up facilities nearby each garage bay. Showering between sessions is critical for me to stay cool when driving in warmer months.)

That Thursday night, after registration, Indy Pro driver Dan Clarke presented an overview of the track. Most present had never driven here, and had been using Dan’s in-car videos to prepare. I slept restlessly that night. I dreamt of my children and Bianca, my 911.

For the first time ever, I would face a new track without an instructor.

Arrival at track was early, allowing time for the nearly 300 rigs to unload.  En route, I stopped to fill the fuel jugs. Track went hot at 8:00 am for the instructors to take the yellow students for a ride. My run group (B1/PCA White/Intermediate Solo) would be next, at 8:30. The MORPCA team proved their mettle by ensuring that all unloading was done seamlessly, for people to grid by 7:50 am.

After unloading my gear and parking Moxie in her bay I checked oil, tire pressures, and gas. I thought she needed gas. Hurrying to drivers meeting at 8:00, I decided to gas up afterwards.  But drivers meeting started late. And ended late. They were calling our session.

Most of my run group gridded up quickly. Could I risk it? My gas gauge was unreliable: maybe I had enough gas? But then, did I want to be THAT guy? That idiot running out of gas very first session, making the entire session black flagged?

Heart pounding, with trembling hands I hoisted the 5 gallon jug, siphoning in gas. By now, my run group had left the grid. Gearing up, my harness got stuck but I couldn’t see where. I got out, removed my helmet and fixed it. But when I reached grid, the next session was lining up. The grid worker waved me away. I had missed the entire session!

Fighting the bitterness rising in the back of my throat, I sat watching my run group pit in. I bit my lip hard and tried to breathe deeply. I drove Moxie to the garage.

But the rest of the day went well. I was glad I’d done my homework: For 2 weeks, I had been  watching in-car videos by pro drivers daily, and had practiced by visualizing the course. Also, I’d printed aerial views from Google Earth to plot the driving-line. MORPCA had sent out a link for two Pro Coaches track walks. I knew the configuration well.

The Indy GP course has minimal elevation change and only two decreasing radius turns.  As is often the case, it appeared deceptively simple on video. Driving the course, the challenge became clear: the turns are very closely spaced together. By the time you exit one turn, you are already in the middle of the next turn.  All of Friday, I had no choice but to work on my vision. The track itself forced me to think two turns ahead.

Another surprise: I felt very comfortable in my run group. When registering, I had requested to be put in the lowest run group with an instructor but the registrar had bumped me up. In B1/Intermediate solo, I wasn’t the fastest, but certainly not the slowest. Overall, I kept pace just fine. Amazingly, I was NOT the greenest driver by a long shot.

Throughout the day, I chatted with Lady Lambo. That weekend she wasn’t instructing, but still generously shared her knowledge with me. Another first for me: this very experienced driver expressed an interest in hearing my technique, and exchanged ideas for how to approach some tricky turns: in particular turns 4 and 13. This reciprocity was entirely unexpected! Surely she was just being kind…but maaaaaaaaaaybe just maybe…… could it possibly be….that what I was saying made sense?

Late Friday afternoon, Moxie’s calipers made an odd grinding noise. I worried that I had burned through my brake pads. I asked LadyLambo if she could tell. We realized the only way to be sure would be to remove the tires. I discovered the jack I bought was too high to fit under Moxie. I borrowed my other neighbor’s racing jack and (for the first time ever!) put her on jack-stands. Track people are incredible: LadyLambo and CaptainF-16 showed me how. Yeah…that’s how big a doof I was. Chip Vance from Auto Assets in Ohio stopped by and very kindly pulled off the wheels. My brake pads were FINE! Well over 50% thickness! When I offered payment, he declined.

Fears put to rest, I enjoyed my final session on track. By Friday’s end, I felt I’d comfortably handled turns 2 and 3, turns 5-6 and the 7-10 complex.

After garaging Moxie and a quick shower at the hotel, I returned to the IMS Museum for the reception/dinner. What an experience! While people mingled near the buffet, I slowly drank in the automotive history on display. Before leaving, I stopped at the gift shop and bought T-shirts for friends and family. Except Hair-Gel…None on display were to his taste, so I bought a beanie.

Saturday morning, I felt fresh and ready. I knew what to do: turn in sooner for 4 and brake later/harder into 12. Turn 13 kept surprising me with its acute angle which made me slow getting on the gas at turn 14. Oh yeah, Also?…brake later at 1. Still had ZERO visual cues for optimal turn in there.

My third session Saturday would be an in-car coaching session with Dan Clarke himself! And I was in for a treat: SpeedyDan gave consistent directions, turn after turn after turn. Gas gas gas! Brake hard! Now! Roll it, roll it, roll it.. Now! Breathe the throttle, breathe it. NOW eyes up, eyes up, eyes up!…On the gas on the gas on the gas! It felt exhilarating to carry faster speeds into turn 1, 2 and 3. I went into 4 slower and came out faster. Braking later than I could ever imagine, I carried more speed into turn 7 and (as often happens) found it was so much easier to take it and 8-9 at higher speeds.

Afterwards, Dan sat with me to review his notes. I could see what I’d fumbled, and where I’d progressed. He hopped out to for his next student.

Midday Saturday, LadyLambo had experienced some  transient visual changes while driving, and had pitted in early. I was on grid when she came in, but was tipped off by CaptF-16 that she had gone to the EMS unit. I went to check in on her and found two EMS staff standing with her. They said they didn’t know what to make of her symptoms.

LL consented to my examination: A quick neuro screen showed zero focal findings. Immediately relieved, I suggested electrolytes: gatorade and a banana. She remained, understandably, shaken and decided to rest in the infirmary. Eventually, she felt ready to try another session on track…just to see how the first 3 laps went. She’d pit in if it felt bad. Happily, she completed her entire session and felt fine!

That evening was the final reception at the track. The MORPCA organizers had somehow managed to get access to the dining pavilion nearest to the track. I puckered up at my chance to kiss the fabled bricks.

2015-08-22 19.47.43
Smooching the bricks at last!

By Sunday morning, I’d dropped my lap time by 30 seconds from Friday’s first session. LadyLambo had decided to leave early on Sunday, so we said goodbye and promised to meet again. The rest of the day was an exhilarating blur! I was faster! I passed several cars! I even had an off (onto grass) after overcooking turn 7! Here I was, a mere 3 days short of my 47th birthday, driving my race car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What an immense gift I had received from my family, Awesome Without Borders, my other sponsors, Swami Mike (who provided text-support all weekend!), my instructors, and my friends. The humility and gratitude washed over me unexpectedly, as I snuck in a solitary moment over lunch with my track notes.

 

 

That evening, after track went cold, I had planned to load up The Pig Rig and drive partway home. But my college kiddo’s credit card had expired. So, instead The Rig and I drove an hour and half to drop off Cufflinks’ fresh card. I had hoped to buy him dinner. When we met, he was very sweet.  He hugged me, and helped me realign the spare tire rack. Some dorm friends stopped by to ooooh and ahhh over Moxie. Clearly, my son was busy, happy, and didn’t need me there.

Driving away, exhausted entirely, I slumped over the steering wheel, feeling famished. I had another hour and half drive to the hotel.

Heading out of town, I noticed a drug store flaunting a temptingly empty parking lot. Parking the rig, I went inside to use the ladies room and pick up a picnic dinner. As I paid for the fruit and cheese and salad, I impulsively told the clerk “Gimme a pack of those Marlboro lights.” I smoked my first cigarette in 19 years. Immediately followed by my second cigarette in 19 years (which I photographed). I left the rest of the pack on the smokers bench at my hotel. It would have worked equally well to get a tattoo, but I don’t do tattoos.

In predawn darkness, The Pig Rig and I drove home, 700 miles. We arrived 13 hours later in time to pick Hair Gel and Diva up from school. After many hugs and kisses, I moved Moxie and the tires into the garage, and drove the trailer to Buddha’s shop in Raleigh.

By clinic the next morning, I had a fresh manicure and a new attitude.

MoxieCrossingBricksIndy2015

 

 

6 thoughts on “The Indy Story.

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