Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's Valerie's Fault

It was the Spring of 1998. On my return from a week long trip to take some depositions in Salt Lake City, the women of the family (wife Lois and daughters Valerie and Karen) made it known that "Mom" needed a new car. So the next day, a Saturday, the family Hutchins went car shopping.

Lois, being practical and thrifty, would have settled for an economical vehicle with a good service record as reported by Consumer Reports. But not, it seems, Val. She had brought home several car enthusiast magazines and been talking up sporty models, such as the Camaro and the Mustang. Lois didn't cotton to the Camaro, but admitted the Mustangs were snazzy. So, we found ourselves at the local Ford dealer climbing into a dark green, convertible, V8 Mustang. Lois put her foot down. Fun! We put the top down. More fun!! After a day of shopping around and driving other cars, we were back at the Ford dealer to buy that green Mustang. Lois named her Beatrice and we still have her. Good car. But that was only the beginning of the rest of the trouble.

I drove her from time to time and liked the power. I had never had a "fun" car before. Val must have noticed, because she started pointing me to the articles about Corvettes in her car mags. Pretty soon, she and I were discussing how much fun we could have in a Vette. Several months later, I bought a really pretty, white 1989 Vette with a red interior. I named him Yeti because, despite all his great features, he was an abominable snow car.
This is where the real trouble begins. I went looking on the Internet for somewhere I could let Yeti run. I found it: Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia, a 10 turn road course where they have something called Friday At The Track (FATT). FATTERs get to take their street cars out onto the race track with an instructor who shows them how to hustle the car faster and faster through the turns and down the straights. Yeti loved it. I was as bad at first on the track as he was in the snow. But persistence pays off. After about 8 FATTs, I was getting the hang of it. A fellow who had described me on my first day as, "Driving like Grandma" came up and said I "Looked pretty good out there. Almost like a racer." But of course, FATT is only practice, not real wheel-to-wheel racing.
Yeti and I spent three seasons going to FATT and similar events. But it was a rough life for the Vette. After several crashes and much time in the body shop, Yeti caught fire one day on the track and burned to a hulk. I was very sad, but undeterred by the crashes or the fire.

Two weeks later, I had acquired a 1997 Miata and a plan to convert it into a real race car and go wheel to wheel racing with the Sports Car Club of America. I spent most of the summer of 2002 doing the conversion: stripping out unnecessary stuff (e.g., A/C, power steering, interior, soft top, etc.) and installing roll cage, racing seat, stiff suspension, hard top, kill switch, and more. My single bay car port beside my suburban house served as my race shop. My neighbors were very understanding. I did the whole conversion myself and was I thrilled when the car passed technical inspection and was ready for my two required racing schools. I did both schools in the fall and got my racing license.

I have spent many weekends over the last five years racing at Summit Point, Watkins Glen, Virginia International Raceway and other East coast tracks. I do almost all the maintenance and repair work (necessitated by the occasional crash) myself, still in my car port. I'm a mid pack driver who does it for the sheer fun of wheel to wheel competition. When I am on the track dicing with another car, it just doesn't matter if it is for 7th or 27th place. Its just pure fun, if a bit scary. Sure, when I get back to the paddock, climb out of the car, drink some Gatorade and walk over to look at the result sheet, I always wish I had been just a little faster and finished just a bit higher. But the real reward is the doing of it.

My renewed interest in rock climbing has curtailed my racing this past season. Recently the County building inspector threw up another impediment to my racing in the form of an order to remove my race car from the premises. It seems vehicles not registered for the road are not permitted to be kept in my too spiffy neighborhood. But now that I have retired, I am hoping to overcome this hurdle and do a lot of racing and climbing.

And what about Valerie, who started this thing going? She has graduated from the University of Pennsylvania where, in addition to earning a degree in economics, she lettered all four years in crew and was chosen an All American. But, all is not lost. I think I may get her into the racing game yet. I took her riding in the race car on a practice day at the track a couple of years ago. After several sessions where I was pushing the car pretty hard. I asked her what she thought. Now, everyone else to whom I have given race car rides says something like, "Oh my god! That was incredible. How do you do it?" But Val just looked at me and said in a bored sort of voice, "That was OK, but I wish we had spun out. I wanted to see what a spin feels like." Gotta love her.

Photos: Top - Yeti at FATT. Bottom: Bill racing the Miata at Virginia International Raceway.

1 comment:

Valerie said...

Hah, very cute Dad. Guess you're glad we caused so much trouble as kids!