IT WAS A COOL EVENING IN MONT Tremblant after a wonderful two-day NEQ track event. Several of us spending a last night in this picturesque setting met for dinner to celebrate the end of another successful Audi driving season. Seated around the table were Greg and Rebecca Haymann, Alan and Wendy Bellavance, Rick Williams, Steve and Carol Blacker and Steve and I. All had been NEQ members since the beginning days of the club. I’m not sure how the conversation started but it could easily have been me (or perhaps Rebecca Haymann) who queried once again, “So, when will the NEQ sponsor a ladies day for all those wives who have been watching this sport trackside?” This was not a new topic of conversation, but the discussion grew lively as all of the women around the table said, “If there’s a ladies day, I’m in!” Greg, as chief instructor of the NEQ, tucked this conversation away and sure enough, as the calendar was coming together for the 2013 season, he asked Richard Asch, co-event master for the annual Lime Rock Park HSDE, to check and see what was going on at the track the day before the calendared event. The track was available!
The day before the scheduled event, during last minute preparations for the drive from Vermont to Connecticut, I discovered a nail in the front tire of my new RS5. Bummer! No way this car is going to be tracked tomorrow! But also in the back of my mind is the little voice saying, “Well, now you have a good excuse not to do this event.” After all, it was the excitement of the moment AND after a few glasses of wine that I agreed to this deal! I even went so far as to email Giovanni Tomasi, the other co-event master, to give my slot away, as I knew the event had filled quickly and there were several ladies on the waiting list. Luckily he never acknowledged my email!
The day dawned clear and sunny and I headed off to the track early still wondering if I would drive and what I would drive. Steve and Candace Cuniberti had headed out earlier and when I arrived, Candy had both her track cars there—E30 M3s. She handed me the keys to one! Rick Williams, my instructor, was not due to arrive at the track until mid-morning, so after our classroom session with Wendy Bellavance where we learned some of the physics of driving, we headed to the skid pad. Greg Haymann offered to jump in with me even though we didn’t “need” instructors and I gladly welcomed him along. He told me he was going to show me how to put the M3 sideways without using the handbrake! It took me a few sessions but I finally started sliding around in the wet and learned some car control!
Finally it was time to get onto the track. I was paired with Tennille Neilsen who was driving a new Fiat Abarth. As we checked the air pressures in our cars, she told me her stomach was in knots which made me feel a bit better. Then I ran into Rebecca Haymann, who had done several schools years ago but signed up for this event. She was driving her faithful Audi 4000. She said she was a bit nervous as well. OK, so what I am feeling is normal!
When Rick arrived he invited me to ride with him in his Coupe GT. (Rick is one of the original instructors who stayed true to his Audi track car.) Again, you need to understand that after 20 years of manning the registration desk at Audi events, I have successfully managed to avoid ANY track time—driving or riding—so this was a big step for me to ride with Rick. (I think he was only doing about 5/10ths on the track, as he knew how reluctant I was!) I noticed after a few laps of not breathing that I had no sense that he was ever using his brakes. The ride was smooth and graceful. While his speed varied as he rounded the track, there was no immediate awareness of change of speed or a feel of change in direction. Yet the track has plenty of curves. I guess that’s why they call driving an art!
Now it is my turn. Once on the track, Rick’s calm voice guided me around the track pointing out turn-in, apex and track out points. Big bend, back straight, no name straight, the downhill and main straight all now had meaning! White-knuckled I ended the session. Well, I guess that wasn’t so bad. Before I knew it, it was time for my second session. Again, Rick continued in his “pilot’s” voice to point out the important features of the track. He cautioned me when I entered a turn too early or too late, and this prompted me to set goals for myself. There was so much to remember! Eyes up, braking points and those cars in my mirrors!
At the end of the session I thought okay, it’s hot, I’m getting tired, I’ll do one more session and skip the last session of the day. Session three: things begin to come together. I remember this turn! Hey, that was kinda smooth! I’m carrying some speed into the diving turn! This is fun! Needless to say, I took my final session, and Rick had to spend MORE time telling me to brake as I was taking too much speed into the corners. And, while I was still giving point-bys, I was getting some, too! How fast was I going? No idea—no time to check!
In between sessions, I found my buddy, Tennille, and she was also relaxing and beginning to enjoy herself. During our afternoon class, other participants reported how things were coming together and how much fun they were having. What was most unexpected for me was how safe I felt all day.
Do I wish I had had my RS5 to drive? Are you kidding? Did I learn a lot? Yup, but there’s much more to this! Does the NEQ have the best instructors ever? According to all reports! Will I do it again? You bet.