Photos by Dito Milian - Originally published in the Spring 2014 quattro quarterly
IT HAS BEEN ALMOST TWENTY YEARS since I have participated in an ACNA event in Northern California. You know what? In the middle of January…while a large part of the country was in the Snow Miser’s clutch (Snow in Southtown! Wha?)…It was undoubtedly worth the wait. Much like the tropical vacation in the dead of winter, there is just something decadently satisfying about enjoying a dry track event while many across the country suffer their car’s garaged hibernation.
In some parts of the country, “Winter Driving Event” can only mean low coefficient of friction work on snow and ice. In Colorado, for example, it means availing oneself of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School facility in Steamboat Springs or ice autocrossing on a frozen solid, Georgetown Lake in Clear Creek County. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Quite the contrary, if you haven’t enjoyed quattro (or, if you’re lucky enough… a quattro) with steering lock dialed-in, wide open throttle, bouncing off the rev limiter in third gear, full sideways (looking through the driver’s window), drifting through the apex of a corner at reasonably sane speeds, well, add it to your bucket list…as you are missing out on part of the quintessential marvelousness that is quattro ownership!
Head 1,170 miles due west (as the Audi drives) around the same time of year though, to Willows, CA, and “Winter Driving Event” means something TOTALLY different to NorCal ACNAers (mild climate folk). While there is always a chance of precipitation this time of year, the Golden Gate Chapter Winter Driving Event was mostly dry and pleasant this time around.
For those of you that haven’t participated in formal Driving Events, or “DEs”, like all ACNA DEs, the Golden Gate Chapter’s Winter DE was open to drivers of all skill levels from first-timers to advanced drivers. First-timers and novices, or, as I like to call them… “Underclassmen,” typically enjoy classroom as well as car control sessions early in the event that are designed to enhance their car control skills in a measured and safe environment, such that they can build on these basic skills throughout the course of the event. Upperclassmen typically enjoy a bit more free time between run groups to socialize, turn wrenches on their cars, etc.
During all on-track driving activities, all levels of students drive their own cars, and are accompanied by ACNA instructors who sit “right seat” (i.e. in the passenger seat) to instruct, coach, encourage and generally assist the driver as they improve their driving skills. Attendees are aggregated into run groups which are established to allow students to be on track with other drivers of similar experience. Underclassmen always have an instructor in the car during on-track sessions. Upperclassmen are assigned an instructor (who I like to think of as more of a “coach” at this level) for the event too. Depending on the skill level Upperclassmen demonstrate to their instructor during the event; students may be signed off to solo in-car should they so choose. To ensure that the club provides each student with a safe and secure environment, passing is allowed only on designated sections of the course, and under very controlled circumstances.
Thunderhill reminds me of another track that I am very fond of, High Plains Raceway in Byers, CO. Both tracks share a similar open, flowing feel and layout and both are located in rural areas. Wide open rural spaces allow for flexibility in track layout and design that includes the option of large runoff areas. Consider it breathing room. Underclassmen, or no, breathing room is a benefit that adds to the enjoyment of learning the art the high performance driving.
A full complement of ACNAers attended this year’s Golden Gate Chapter Winter DE. The respective run group grids were full, but not overcrowded. As cliché as it sounds to write…A good time was truly had by all. Event Master Joe Luccio, acting Chief Driving Instructor Paul Jorgensen and their collective crew put together a terrific event. It was very well organized and ran smoothly from Friday’s registration, to Saturday evening’s attendee banquet, all the way through Sunday’s final run group. Kudos to everyone involved in putting the event together and running it like a finely tuned German machine. If you have yet to attend an ACNA DE and you have even the slightest inkling of doing so, make time on your schedule now, the training is invaluable in terms of real world skills that translate to being a safer driver on public roads and the fun and camaraderie between like-minded ACNAers cannot be beat.
Mine is a cautionary tale however…do not like it too much. It is a slippery slope (a Teflon® one actually). The greatest risk is that you will go from a wide-eyed first-timer to a grizzled veteran track-rat in a very short time. This is a wonderful, deeply satisfying, accomplishment. The second greatest risk will be to your children’s college savings plans. Apart from motorsports (which includes planes and boats), every other sport is less expensive. I have to admit though; I just don’t get the same rush swinging a golf club as I do executing a perfectly executed revmatched downshift and nailing the apex of a corner. Why not learn how to do both sometime soon?