A day nearly 19 years in the making

17 Jul

Today I did something I dreamed of shortly after my son Joel, who turns 19 in August, was born. As most of my close friends know, I’m a “car guy”. Love the things – the worst investment in the world, I know. But cars are one of the things in life that make me happy. Thankfully, I’m blessed with a wonderful wife, who, while not fanatical like me, does like a good set of wheels.

The other thing I like, which seems to go nicely with cars, is driving. And even more specifically, competition driving. As in “racing’. Now, I’m not one of those street racing jackasses who roam the expressways at night looking to throw down against others in performance cars, nor am I a drag racer. I love road racing – twisty, turny road course racing. With low budgets, and just production cars, you’re generally limited to a style called “autocross” – this is just you against the clock, one car on the track at a time, taking one lap at a time on a short course. Often they are cone courses set up on parking lots. Sometimes, they are on actual race tracks, and that is where it gets really fun.

Ok, so back up nearly 19 years. When we learned at his birth that Joel was a boy (yes, we went for the surprise!), the next day I was day dreaming about all the things we would do together – and a significant number of the dreams came around cars – going to the Indy 500 (we’ve gone together six times), going to the Chicago Auto show (many times), car shopping (all the time) and the big mac daddy – the day we would go do a track day or autocross together. That day was today.

Today’s race day was sanctioned by the Chicagoland VW Organization (aka “CVO”) – a club of auto enthusiasts dominated by drivers of the Volkswagen make. It was at Tire Rack’s testing road course in South Bend, IN. Tire Rack, if you don’t know them, is a great online retailer of tires. Highly recommend them. We’ve been driving past that facility for years, and every time, Joel and I have said to each other “we’ve gotta figure out a way to go drive on that course.” And we did.

We got up at the godawful hour of 4:20 AM – registration began at 7:30 AM and we would lose an hour driving there. We arrived about 7:45 AM just as registration was getting going. Got through a quick tech inspection (our car is box-stock, so no surprises there) and off we went. The road course at Tire Rack is interesting – it is a series of asphalt straightaways, turns and circles all linked together, so with cones, you can make an infiinte number track layouts. Here is a Google Maps look at where we were: Tire Rack. This particular course featured two passes around their high-speed circular skid pad, several turns, chicanes and slaloms and enough speed to make it very interesting.

We each got 12 runs on the day – our poor little VW GTI got one hell of a workout – 24 passes on that course today. I’d bet we took 5000 miles off the tires and at least that off the brakes! We each had five runs in the morning and 7 in the afternoon. First I drove, then Joel. Joel rode with me for my first 3 passes then went and got the camera, and after that first run, he says “Ok, let me tell you where you can be faster.” And it was at that moment, where my pride welled up, as did my eyes slightly and I realized just how much I had been looking forward to this day. With his coaching, I definitely found a lot more speed today. Awesome – the kid really has a talent for this.

When it was Joel’s turn though, suddenly he got very quiet and pensive, and I realized he was pretty nervous – I asked him “how’s your heart beating?” and he laughed and said “Fast!”. And with that, it was game on. He made a few rookie mistakes of course – overcooked a few corners, didn’t go as fast elsewhere as he could, but with each run, he tweaked, and thought, and focused and improved. And he LOVED it. And I LOVED that he loved it. I wasn’t surprised that he would, but nonetheless, I loved it.

At the end of the day, we are both bashed. It was HOT out there – upper 90s. And, well, this sport really takes it out of you – that heavy helmet is trying to pull your head off, and well, you’re seriously stressed in that car. But, what a satisfying day. And, he beat the old man. His best lap was 1.2 seconds quicker than mine – 66.8 seconds versus 68.0 for me. Boy did he lord that on me.

Every parent says at nearly every age (maybe not early teen years), that they wish they could just “freeze” their kids at a certain age – because they are just perfect. When they are babies and their personalities switch on. When they are 3 years old, still a baby, but being oh so grown up. When they are 8 years old and mom and dad are heroes. But as much as I’d love to “freeze” today, I don’t want to freeze Joel, nor do I want to freeze Alex and Brian. I want them to grow up to be the great men that I know they will be. And I know, as adult friends, we will have a LOT of fun. Just like today.

As you were,

Stew

And a few pics of us in action. I was number 355, and Joel was 35:

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2 Responses to “A day nearly 19 years in the making”

  1. Mitzi M July 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    awesome read…thx for sharing…really made my day! Mazel Tov on not a only a wonderful adventure, but also on your wonderful son, you must be sooo proud!

  2. carpetbagger July 19, 2011 at 1:53 am #

    Very cool. I remember when Joel was a little boy (5 or 6?) and he not only knew every NASCAR driver, but what product was on their car. “I want Ricky Rudd Corn Flakes!” He should have done commercials for them. I’m still looking for a Pontiac Vibe Rally for my poor little orphan car.

    Coincidentally, this week is Pittsburgh’s vintage British sports car grand prix:

    http://www.pvgp.org/67461012312852830/site/default.asp

    They run thru one of our huge parks that has lots of twisty, turny roads.

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