SATT at Summit Point
Apparently it's going to take the calendar flipping over to Jan. 1 for my 2005 race season to actually come to end. The network of friends that I have accumulated within the motorsports community simply will not let me put away my driving suit and helmet for the winter.
At least twice this year I declared that my racing was finished for the season after the car broke crucial components. On both occasions friends rallied behind me to help get my car back into the fight. So the racing season continued.
After making it through my entire racing schedule, I was certain that the end was finally here. However, that was not to be the case. My friend David Hawkins coerced me to take the car out one last time to take a shot at setting a record in the quarter-mile.
Unfortunately that record was not in the cards. To guarantee that David would not try to drag me out (kicking and screaming of course) for just one more try at that record, we dropped the car off at my mechanic's home for its scheduled winter work. The car was parked for the winter.
I was finally done -- so I thought.
Barely three weeks after putting the car away for the winter, I ended up at a racetrack. I spent the first Saturday of December at Summit Point Motorsports Park in Summit Point, W.Va. My friend, Peter Doane, invited me to Summit Point's first Saturday at the Track -- known as a SATT -- which they plan to make an annual event.
For years, Summit Point has run Friday at the Track, which are, not surprisingly, called FATTs. Summit Point's Web site explains that FATTs are open-track days where novices and experienced drivers can come out to experience high-speed driving in a safe environment.
For the novice drivers, instruction takes place both in-car and in a classroom. The day also includes several 20- to 25-minute sessions of high-speed driving on Summit Point's main track. Although you are on course with a wide variety of cars and drivers that have very different capabilities, risk is limited through restricted passing opportunities. You can only pass someone when they point you by. Furthermore, passing is limited to specific locations on the track.
The SATT that I attended was held for the instructors who have invested their time throughout the year aiding the novices during the FATTs. It was the track's management's way of saying "thank you" to their instructors.
They divided everyone into two groups -- street cars and race cars. Peter and I spent the day racing his stepson's 2003 VW GTI amongst the other street cars. This particular VW is completely stock and I was quite surprised at how accommodating it was to being thrashed around the 10-turn two-mile road course.
In fact, the GTI seemed more prepared for this activity than I was. I am finding that as I do more and more racing a s a driver, I am becoming terrible at being a passenger. Somehow traveling over 100 mph heading into a 180-degree turn is less appealing to my senses when I am not the one gripping the steering wheel.
My weakness as a passenger caused me concern before we even got to the track. It did not subside at all as I donned my helmet and strapped myself in for our first session.
As we got waved onto the track, Peter started to bring the VW up to a healthy jog for the first lap. With his experience, he was well aware of how foolish it would be to charge into the first few turns on cold tires. So I "relaxed" for a quick tour of the facility at moderate speeds.
When we completed the first lap, he started to really hammer on the VW. As we accelerated to triple-digit speeds going down the front straight, all of the fears of the situation ran to the forefront of my mind, crashing into each other along the way. Can he slow down in time? Can he really negotiate the next turn at these speeds? Why , oh why, did I eat that last donut?
Although we traveled through that turn with apparent ease, each ensuing turn became harder to stomach. The tires were squealing like pigs on the way to the butcher. The noise was barely enough to drown out the internal yelps of my mind.
After two laps of this insanity it dawned on me that I was being paid back for everyone that I had ever scared while driving. Three laps into this I started considering the consequences of asking to be let out -- namely, it was really cold outside and the day had just begun. I opted to stay seated.
On the course next to us, there were some law enforcement officers doing vehicle training and as we sped by I nearly yelled to Peter to slow down. It's rather funny now thinking that in the midst of all that action it actually crossed my mind, for the briefest of moments, that Peter might get a speeding ticket.
Another six or seven laps into the books and I started to settle down. I was able to take in the experience. By the time we finished the 25-minute session I asked if Peter had slowed down for the last few laps. He said he hadn't and that was when I realized that I was getting used to the experience. That also happens to be about the time when I finally unclenched my right hand from the door's handle and realized that the death grip I was using to hold on was causing me some serious pain.
As the day progressed, I became acclimated to the sensation of intense speed, braking and turning from the relatively foreign location of the passenger seat. I got comfortable enough that I was able to watch the other cars at different points of the track instead of tunnel-visioning on what I was afraid we would hit next.
In fact, I actually relaxed to the point that I was able to take a nap. OK, OK, the nap happened between sessions while we were parked in the pits, but I was still in the car and there were cars racing around me.
In all, there were six sessions available for us to race, but we were only able to take advantage of four of them. It was quite an experience. It has motivated me to add some track time onto my 2006 schedule of hillclimbs and drag races.
For more information on racing opportunities at Summit Point Motorsports Park, check out: www.summitpoint-raceway.com