PCA Southeast Michigan Region

From the Blog

P4-2018-01/02 – It’s not the Drive; It’s the Journey.

Story and Photos by Andrew Olson

In the fall of 2013, my wife and I joined the SEMPCA Fall color tour.  At the mid-way stop for cider and donuts, Mark Molzon made an impassioned speech about participating in a High-Performance Driver Education (HPDE) event.  He was also giving out discounts for first timers who might want to try it the following season.  I grabbed one of the coupons and put my name on the list.  Around the same time, one of my fellow 928 owners, Dave Kowalewski, had recently participated in the last HPDE of the season at Waterford Hills Raceway and told me how much fun he had.  It sounded exciting and fun, but I was still nervous about driving on a track.

Over the winter months of early 2014, we held a 928 Tech Session at Munk’s Motors in Waterford.  Jim Heisick from Lansing, who also happens to be a 928 owner and an HPDE Instructor, was there and walked us through what to expect and how to prepare for a HPDE event.  This is what I needed to get me mentally and physically ready for my first HPDE.

I signed up for the season opening of the HPDE schedule. May 8, 2014.  It was such an eye-opening experience that I still, to this day, remember it like it was just a few months back.  I was nervous as heck.  I wasn’t sure what the protocol was, or who most of the people were.  Michael Eblenkamp was the Chief Driving Instructor and he paired me up with Jimmy Stevens as my very first Driving Instructor.  Jimmy has a 944 Race car and is very competitive and an accomplished driver.  But Jimmy was patient with me and really took time to walk me through the basics of driving on the track.  I quickly learned that driving on the track is very different that driving on the street.

I had such an amazing time that first day that I went to the remaining HPDE events for that year.  Then in 2015, an opportunity to purchase a slightly crashed 928 racecar presented itself.  After consulting another 928 owner, John Ford, who owns a body shop, I pulled the trigger, and purchased what is now commonly known as the “Coke Car.”  John fixed it up and I also bought an open trailer to haul the Coke car around and proceeded to expanded my track repertoire to include Grattan Raceway near Grand Rapids, Mid-Ohio, and Gingerman Raceway that year.  This is where I discovered each track has a unique set of characteristics that one needs to adapt to.

In 2016, I really expanded my HPDE events and my driving skills.  I attended 14 track days over 11 events at various tracks.  I added two new tracks to my list: M1 Concourse, and Virginia International Raceway (VIR).  And I think it was VIR that really woke me up.  That track has so much to offer and is one of the premier tracks in the country.

This past year I attended 21 track days at 7 different tracks including: Waterford Hills, M1 Concourse, VIR, Gingerman, Mid-Ohio, Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI, and Pitt Race, just outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  I am now an official track junkie!  I had so much fun at each of these tracks and I felt that I really improved my driving skills.  I flirted with disaster after my Pitt Race event where I found a spun bearing on my engine.  Luckily, however, everything worked out and there was no major damage to the motor.  I went through several sets of brake pads, a set of rotors, and let’s not forget tires.  That’s just part of doing so many track days in a single season.

With all this track experience accumulating and my skills improving, I was able to achieve another of my driving goals.  This past fall I became an official PCA HPDE Instructor, and I have now had my first 2 students already.

Having these two students made me reflect on my own experiences and what it was like to get on track for the first time and how rewarding of an experience it was.  I think it has also made me a better driver, because I now need to practice what I preach and pay more attention to my own driving.  I continually see areas for me to make slight improvements to my own driving and to self-analyze and self-critique.

2018 promises to be a fun-filled year.  I already have 8-12 events on the calendar tentatively for a total of about 27 track days.  I plan to add at least one new track, and possibly two.  With the added responsibility of instructing, I think this year may give me the greatest growth yet as a driver.  I look forward to what it has in store for me.

I encourage each of my readers to consider trying a track day.  You don’t need a racecar.  You don’t even need a Porsche (although we do like them… a lot!).  You just need to have the desire to try it.  If you need encouragement or if you have some questions, feel free to reach out to me or any of the other instructors.  There is usually a free “HPDE 101” event in April that lets you see the track, get some idea of what to expect, how to prepare your car, and answer any questions you may have.  You really should give it a try; it’s a hoot!  Who knows, I may even be your first instructor. See you on the track!

Here I am in the Coke Car coming around _Left Hook_ at VIR, probably my favorite track so far My very first track day. If you look closely, you can see Jimmy riding shotgun