Sunday, August 12, 2012

3rd New Thing ~ Dear Life

Sunday, July 29, 2012:

“And I was going to stay home today!!” I must have said it a dozen times.

Riding in a surprisingly fast car (or truck), maneuvering maniacally in and out of the strategically-placed orange cones, then screaming down the (too-short) straightaways of the closed course at Bremerton Raceway, gives the term 'Hang on for dear life!' new meaning for me.

I arrived at the track, not far from my house. Pulled up to the front gate, received a bracelet to wear and signed the required waiver. That waiver should have been my first clue. You know that ‘Hang on!’ part.

My goal, heading to the raceway that day, was to scout out the event. Determine if I might be interested in driving on their closed course. Driving on any closed course is one of the things on my list of 50.

My co-worker, Matt had previously described the Sunday events, but it was a bit difficult to picture so I thought I’d attend and see for myself. Reconnoiter. I had no idea what to expect.

I parked my car and found Matt’s truck.

“You made it out,” he greeted me.
“This is pretty cool,” I said, scanning the grassy areas along the edge of the track. “So, where’s the best place for me to watch?”
“From the passenger seat,” he said.
“Really?” Gulp. “Can I?” Trying to sound less terrified than I was.

Before I knew what was happening, I had a loaner helmet tucked under one arm and was walking the course with some of the drivers. Matt explained, in “Barbie terms,” many of the course elements and skill basics. The ratio of steering to braking to accelerating. (Seriously? Math?) He pointed out what the different cone positions meant. Directional cones. Gate cones. Turns out the cones that I thought had just fallen over, were supposed to be lying down like that. Course indicators, of course. Who didn’t know that??

I relinquished my driver’s license to some official looking guy, as an aid to identify my remains later, I guessed.

Because of Matt’s pure enthusiasm for Autocross, he would not be my only driver that afternoon.

Before I climbed in for my first ride-along, Matt set me up with “Important Safety Tips”:

1. Helmet and safety belt required.

2. Adjust your seat all the way forward so you can brace your feet against the car’s firewall.

3. Keep your hands in the car at all times or the driver will kill you because he’ll be disqualified.

4. Hang onto the handle, if there is one. And if not, hang onto the edges of the seat. (For dear life!)

My internal chant was: Be brave, Barbie! Be brave. Breathe. Breathe.

My first driver was Reuben in his deep blue, classic Datsun 240 Z, with the coolest side mirrors, mounted way up on the front fender. My first ride-along at Autocross was a complete blur. Did we hit any cones? No idea. Did we make every gate? Who knows… ? What was our time crossing the finish line? Time? Who cares?
What. Just. Happened?

When we rolled to a stop after that first ride, I climbed shakily out of the car, wondering if my legs would support me.

Matt looked at me.
“Well?” he grinned.
“I got no spit,” I said. Honestly.
One of the most deliberately terrifying 50-some seconds of my life.
It was true! I couldn’t swallow because I had no spit. For the rest of the amazing day.

The initial tips that Matt gave me were required, not optional. I went through the little check list in my head every time we sat at the start, waiting to launch.

Fortunately, on the first corner of that first ride, I also discovered that if I very deliberately pressed my helmet back into the head rest of the seat as hard as I could, I was jostled and bumped around much less. Plus it increased the intensity of the feeling of being forced back into the cushion of the seat, like taking off in a jet or on a roller coaster. I love that feeling.

My favorite car is a Porsche. It’s not that I’m an expert on their engine sizes, turning radius or other specifications. It’s just that I love them. I think they're beautiful.

Classic 911, especially the early 80’s models.
Although I also love a sleek, red Porsche.
I remember how sexy the new 924 looked when it replaced the 914 in the mid-70’s. The 914 body style was never my favorite but what do I know?
Being my favorite car and never having even sat in one, riding in a Porsche was on my list of 50 New Things.

My second driver was Jordan. In his 1994 Porsche 968. It was a pretty, dark blue car and Jordan was a fun driver. A tall young man, light-hearted and just having a great time.

It was perfect. My first Porsche.

Reuben and Jordan were just the first of a few drivers for me that day. A couple of the drivers were quite nervous. Chatting to me, to themselves, to the Autocross gods. And a couple drivers were quite serious, no extra talk at all. All focus! I was grateful to each person I rode with. But the drivers that were out there having a great time, the ones laughing and smiling were by FAR the most fun. Matt fell into this category. I think he was enjoying himself most, of all my drivers.

I rode with Matt twice. I didn’t once think to look over at the speedometer or at the driver’s face on any of my ride-alongs Just watching straight ahead, sometimes clenching my eyes closed tight when it was too much. But when riding in his 2006 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner, I couldn’t help but notice Matt’s arms steering wildly: all the way one direction, then all the way back the other, steering hard right, then extreme left, then right and left again! It was a workout watching him. Matt’s X-Runner wanted to travel sideways more than any other vehicle for me that day. Every second, I thought we’d spin out of control. It was a terrifying THRILL!

On my first ride along with Matt, I was so excited when we screamed across the ‘finish line’ that I slugged him in the shoulder. I have NO idea why. But I want credit for not pummeling him. I needed some outlet for the energy that the rides caused in me. I was absolutely stoked!! I wanted to just pound my fists. I was so excited and I needed some way to release it. Like I was going to burst. Matt was lucky to get away unscathed.

A few of the drivers explained, as we sat waiting for ‘our’ turn, why we might not get a great time on the clock. But frankly, I kept forgetting to even notice the clock. Honestly! In my effort to retrieve my breath each time we crossed the finish, I failed to even look. (I say ‘Our’ because I was technically their co-pilot, right?) One thing I do remember about the time clock is when Matt said if you spin out of control and ‘take out’ the clock, it’s a hundred dollar fine. I didn’t ask how often that happens.

Even if no one had been ‘keeping score’ with times and cones and gates, I was having the time of my life. And was only impressed and grateful for each driver’s complete willingness to share such excitement with a total stranger, just because she showed up with a goofy ‘Holy Crow’ grin on her face.

I noticed that there was no middle ground in the driving that day. Each time, we started off by rocketing forward, then slamming on the brakes to make the first turn. The car screaming from one limit to its opposite. Complete acceleration, full brakes. Steering all the way left, then all the way right. Every extreme. Now, I’m no physics genius but there were times when I looked in front of us, took the speed at which I believed us to be traveling into consideration and thought “NO FRICKIN’ WAY are we going to miss that bank of cones!!”

But every single time, you know what? We didn’t die! Or even spin out of control. A couple times, as we came to a stop back in line, I asked, “Can I just sit here for a second? Don’t think I can walk.”

Just as I was recovered from one ride, Matt would call, “Barbie, over here. I have another ride for you.” After my fifth ride, I lost count.

I had one woman driver. Jill. And her 2006 black Lotus Exige.
As grateful as I am to Matt for the entire day, for sharing his passion, Jill may have been my favorite.
We strapped ourselves in. Her husband wedged a small, square pillow between her lower back and the seat so she could reach the pedals.
She played the precarious balance between throttle and clutch. The car died.

“Oh, that’s embarrassing,” she said.
“Or maybe it’s good luck,” I replied.
She restarted the car and we rolled forward, taking out place at the start.
As we sat waiting for the ‘Ready?’ I told her that I’d just turned 50 and as part of the celebration, I was out there to do something I’d never done before. She looked at me as we waited our turn. “You’re not 50!” she said. “I would have guessed you were in your thirties. Maybe even younger!”
This was the moment she became my favorite driver of the day. Or EVER!
I could have kissed her right on the lips, which would have been another on my list of 50 New Things!

I loved each driver, well as much as you can love someone you just met 61.4 petrifying seconds ago.

Thanks to each one, including but not limited to:
  • Reuben, my first Autocross driver. 
  • Jordan, my first Porsche. 
  • Jill, my first Lotus. (Surprised the hell out of me! Who knew to even put ‘ride in a Lotus’ on my New Things list??) 
  • Steve’s Porsche GT3, probably the most expensive car I rode in that day or ever and quite stunning. 
  • Chris, my first time riding in a car with the steering wheel on the right side. It was like 59 seconds of Autocross in England. 
  • Mark, my first red flag. 
  • And of course Matt, the most fun and the reason I was even at Autocross. Matt, who kept looking over at me with that “You ready? Hang on!” look on his face. 

I was really struck by the sense of community in an environment where every run was timed and held up against the other drivers in their class. There was no sense of ‘every man for himself.’ No grumbling and hard feelings. It was the most friendly competitive event I’ve ever attended. Sharing each other’s triumphs and frustrations. Everyone, in great spirits and good sports.

It's no big secret. I've always wanted to drive fast. Like race-car fast. Not necessarily against another person. But on a closed course. A place I can drive as fast as I want, without risking the lives of fellow drivers and without my auto insurance premium doubling because of the moving violation that would surely ensue. I think I mentioned this at work one day. Before I went out there, having listened to Matt explain that people could go out to this event with their regular street cars to compete, I thought, “That would be no problem,” shrugging my shoulders. “I can go out there and drive on a closed course, against the clock.” No problem, right?

But now that I’ve been out there, what do I think? “There is NO FRICKIN’ WAY! None!” Okay, well maybe. I mean, wouldn’t it be GREAT!?! But probably NO WAY! My car? I don’t think I could do it even if the goal was to go as slow as possible. Every ride that day felt like we were just straddling some fine line between barely in and completely out of control. That any fraction of an inch or a second and we’d spin off the course and into the grass, the fence, the other drivers.

On the other hand, we could just invent a new motor sport.
“Autocross Ride-Alongs” If we could pull that off, I’m your girl. 

“And I was going to stay home today!!”

I have some great battle scars on the knuckles of my left hand. They look like rug burns. From hanging on so tightly. Rubbing against the upholstery. It’s been a week ago and every time I make a fist, they still sting. I’ll be sad when they are gone.

Later that evening, I’d catch a glimpse of the bracelet on my wrist and grin. I refused to take it off. Like a little kid who doesn’t want to cut off her Dizzy Pass bracelet from the fair because every time she looks down at her wrist, she remembers the exhilaration of each ride. Which ones were her favorites. And so all the other kids in class the next day would see the proof of what a great time she’d had. The thrill of hanging on for dear life. I wore that bracelet to work the next day and even though none of the other ‘kids’ noticed, it made me smile all day long.

It was a fantastic day. Sunday July 29th. But I had a dilemma. 
  • I had no plan to do a New Thing that day. Research purposes only. For potentially, eventually, maybe.....driving on a closed course.
  • Then unexpectedly, something from my list of 50 New Things presented itself: Ride in a Porsche.
  • And then even more unexpectedly, something NOT from my list of 50 New things presented itself: Ride-along at an Autocross event. (I had no idea what Autocross was until that day...) 
So, as tightly as I find myself wanting to hang onto the Porsche thing, it was the ride-alongs. 
The 3rd New Thing. Autocross Ride-Alongs!  
Do not get me wrong, the Porsche element was amazing (better than I hoped) but as it turns out, just frosting on the '3rd New Thing' cake. Look at me, adjusting! Adapting! Growing right in front of you. Being reminded of the lessons here....REMAIN OPEN! 

Matt sent me pictures a couple days later. I wasn’t expecting them, I squealed when I saw. I’m in the passenger seat of Matt’s blue Toyota Tacoma. And that’s me with the white helmet in the 2002 Porsche 997 GT3! I KNOW!! 

Like I said, now that I’ve seen it up close…….. I do not know if I can do it. I don't. It's terrifying to think about. But. We’ll see what happens. I gotta run now, need to check Craig’s List for a good, used Subaru Brat!!

Post Script: I met a lot of people that day. It's quite likely I met the photographers responsible for these two pictures. However, much of the day was a blur and I can't remember for sure. Either way, I want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH for taking these shots. I get a silly smile on my face every single time I look at them. And I look at them everyday. 


  1. This is so cool! And brave. I like that you are open to these opportunities and I think the writing of them is an added benefit to us. This feels very joyful, much like a celebration. I can't wait for the next thing!

  2. I'm thinking I have made you my new hero, replacing Batman. You are most definately a joy filled woman with such a beautiful smile. Live it, love it and laugh at it my sister.

  3. What a fun and exciting thing to do! Your adventures sound like so much fun! I am looking forward to reading more about them.

  4. Way to go Barbie!! I know how you loved to drive your mustang fast when you were younger, all you need now is a sweet ride to get you back on the track. Great job

    1. Man, I miss that car. Although it cost me a fortune in moving violations. I wonder if everyone has a car they wish they could get back? Willys Pickup? Chevelle? GTO?

  5. I wish I could get back the Mustang. All I got was a seat belt, which will one day be a cool guitar strap. It was not that fun to drive around Central in a VW Fox. Although, I did get it up to 110 on I-82. :)
    Tara's car would be fun on the track, not as good as a GT3. Was that the kind with a roll cage built in? Tara has a 2001 Toyota Celica GT, it isn't nearly as fast or powerful as the Porsche, but it does handle like an over-sized go-kart. Lotus actually took the motor from that car, tuned it up and slapped a supercharger on it for the Elise and Exige when they first came to America.
    Good to hear from you.

    1. Well, I love that you're reading here. YEA!

      I'm not sure about the roll cage; there were so many cars that day and most of them were quite modified.

      I will tell you that my car is on its last miles and I'm car shopping. USED car shopping.

      I'd love to get something functional for daily traffic but also something I could take to AutoCross on weekends. That would be a New Thing I could live with. Keep your eyes open.

      Please share the blog link with Tara. If she isn't in my distribution list, its because I don't have her email.

      (Does she like her Celica? And she had a VW for awhile too, yes? I'm looking for recommendations.)

      Love you both, ~ B