Sticks IV – Autocross

It was late 1969.  I was stationed in New Orleans watching my ship get built, and one weekend I attended an autocross.  An autocross is a fun event for sports cars, a one car at a time run against the clock on a closed course.  Some are held on parking lots with the course marked with orange traffic cones, and some are held on actual race tracks.  They are a lot of fun, and a mostly safe way to wring out your car.

But this one, my first one, I just watched.  I pulled up in the Porsche and parked so everybody could see it, but I just watched.  I was totally convinced that because I had borrowed enough money from a Navy credit union to buy a 4 year old used car from a dealership in Atlanta, I was an absolutely cool guy.  It seemed patently obvious at the time.  After viewing my awesomeness for a while, the organizers tried to get me to make a run, but I declined and just sat there looking cool.  I thought.

I had a nagging feeling, although I didn’t want to admit it, that if I actually tried to compete I would botch the whole thing, look like an idiot, and disgrace the sacred name of Porsche.  So I just watched, and tried to keep looking cool.  But when I didn’t want to enter the event, people kind of lost interest in my elegant presence.

A few years later, in Savannah, I found myself watching another autocross in a mall parking lot.  The years since the first one, with their succession of personal, professional and financial disasters, had pretty much cured me of thinking I was a cool guy.  In fact, I no longer really gave much of a rodent’s posterior if people though I was a cool guy.  But I still had the Porsche.

As I watched everybody else roar around the course, I got a little down.  Then a voice in my head said, “Are you having fun?”  Obviously not, I thought.  In a lot of ways.  I assumed it was the car messing with me again, but the accent was all wrong.  It wasn’t German, it was something else.  Maybe… New York.

I watched one more car run the course, then walked over to the registration table.

Since I was a rookie, an old hand volunteered to ride as a passenger to show me the course and check me out.   I revved up the engine a bit, and it somehow sounded a bit more purposeful than it did in my morning commute.  The cobwebs were being blown out.

Being in a parking lot, it was a tight course.  First gear in the car ran up to about 30 mph at 6,000 RPM, so I only hit second a few times.  The turns were tight and I was having a great time.  But then I hit the limit of my capabilities.

Almost through the course, there was a left/right/left chicane leading into a short straight with a hard left at the end.  I made it through  the initial left/right part OK, but friends and neighbors, at the third left I just flat lost it.  Suddenly I was sailing down the straight in a 30 degree left crab, tire smoke billowing and my foot still in the throttle out of a mixture of exuberance and panic.  I was watching my progress through the passenger window, catching a glimpse of my passenger trying desperately to stay calm in the clutches of a crazy man.

It’s hard to maintain speed when you’re moving mostly sideways, and in a second or two the car slowed down enough that the tires regained their grip and slung us off to the left.  I’m sure you saw this coming, but once again we darted dead center through the next gate.  I recovered enough to make the final right turn through the timing lights and finished the run.

My guide looked at me, said “Uh, Well, OK, I guess…” and shakily got out of the car.  For some reason, he never rode with me again.

The car giggled.  I don’t know how to describe a Germanic giggle, but that’s what it was.  I could hear it.

I may have giggled a bit as well.

I was having fun again.



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