PCA Southeast Michigan Region

My First Day of School

by Lisa Schmidt

Heart pounding.  Adrenaline pumping.  I am READY!!

Today is THE day…my very first DE.  Yeah, I know I’m a G #…but I am going to be driving – actually DRIVING – on a real race course!!

I swear I can hear the music from Top Gun as we do the track walk with the sun slowly rising in the sky.  I feel the course under my feet and take-in all the small nuances of the track where we will be in about an hour and a half.  It is going to be a great day.

Sitting in the classroom, we learn stuff – important stuff – but I can’t wait to be out on the track and put all this theory to work!

Getting in the car I look over at my Instructor, Marc, and give him a big smile as I turn the key to the engine and the vehicle comes to life.  I drive through the Paddock and turn onto the track.  Deep breath while waiting for the flag to let me go…and we’re off!

Near the end of the first lap, I fleetingly think about how I was disappointed when I found out that I would not be shifting through the gears today – that I would remain in 3rd gear around the track.  Well, I am now elated that shifting isn’t necessary today.  It is unreal how much mental effort it takes to steer and brake and accelerate smoothly WHILE aiming for the correct line WHILE remembering to breathe and unclench my fingers from the wheel from time to time.  Perhaps I won’t be going flat-out today…that may be for my second DE.

Oh crud..a car just closed-in on me.  A quick glance in the mirror every few seconds reveals he isn’t losing ground and is practically on my bumper.  Wow – this certainly adds a new stress level to this experience – I mean, who wants to be the cause for someone to be jammed-up and forced to go slow?  I don’t want this driver to get irritated that some girl is holding him up and…“Ignore the car behind you.”  This statement from my Instructor cuts through the stressful moment and I feel like the Pope has absolved me of all sins.  Although I still think I had my turn signal on at Skeet House turn in preparation of a pass at Big Bend…

A lap later – hah! I have caught-up to the car ahead of me.  Coming out of Big Bend I’m given the pass finger.  It is a sweet moment of personal victory as I pass the guy.  Short lived moment, though, as my Instructor points-out that I over-braked and I’m not turning the wheel enough around Paddock…

Coming up to my nemesis again…Gulch.  After several laps, I have come to realize this is the turn that really just escapes me.  Since it is up a hill, I’m losing way too much speed when going through this – apparently, I am not giving it much, if any, gas.  This time, I am not going to be too slow.

OK…finished braking and giving it gas – smoothly – more gas – smoothly – more gas – YES! I am NOT going too slow this time!

But wait – the car is feeling sorta funny and my Instructor is saying a lot…something about being way wide and slow down, slow down.  What?? Slow down?? Seriously?? Crud – how do I do that when I am going around a curve? I know I can’t brake – that would be bad.  So I slightly take my foot off the accelerator as I hear an urgent “Slow Down!” again and try to smoothly steer through it…from the tone of the voice in my ear, I don’t think I’m slowing fast enough.  But I negotiate through it and stay on track.  Hmmm…guess I still need to work on that turn.  Luckily, I have 2 more sessions this afternoon to get it down – and my very patient Instructor doesn’t seem to be giving-up on me.

Y’know…you cannot compare performance (what I prefer to call “race track”) driving and rollercoasters.  Rollercoasters zoom – but all you do is sit there.  Driving on a track is not just the zoom factor, but the intensity of muscle, machine and concentration – you sure as heck don’t just sit there for the ride.

The rest of the day passes in a blur – more classroom lessons, more talking about what I need to concentrate on doing, and more track time!  Near the end of the last track session, I can feel muscles in my arms that I’ve never felt before.  And as I come in for the last time, I’m feeling like I did it – I really did it!  I was really starting to get the hang of the different turns (including Gulch), I didn’t go off the track, I didn’t hit anything, the car is still running, and my Instructor is still talking to me…what a great day!

As we walk from the car, I can’t resist looking over at my Instructor and asking “So – will you move me up to Yellow now?”  Without missing a beat, and without mincing words, he replies with a firm “No.”