Ticket to Ride

Every year, Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers put on a big event to raise money for the Morgan Adams Foundation to help kids with cancer. One way that I can contribute is to drive laps during the racers’ lunch break. The idea is that people make donations to get rides in cars at speed on the track. Seems I make it to these every other year for one reason or another. They do Ticket to Ride on both Saturday and Sunday; in previous years I’ve attended I’ve only managed to do one day. This year I went for both.

Saturday, August 10

They assign us to one of three groups, based on, presumably, how fast our cars are. This year, orange group cars are $50 rides, blue group cars are $100 rides, and green group cars are $250. I’m in the orange group. A few minutes before we were to go out on track, the organizers came to me and asked if I minded changing to the green group.

Not everybody has to make a donation to get a ride. In the past, I’ve given rides to the grid girls and corner workers. It’s typically sunny and quite warm at these events, and people can make a donation to get a grid girl to hold an umbrella over the drivers when they’re waiting on the grid. I think the grid girls are volunteers; I know the corner workers are. Event “ambassadors” get free rides, too. They’re kids who are cancer survivors. It seems we had an unusually high number of ambassadors at the event today, so they moved me to the green group to help with them.

Next to a 1949 MG

They have a little parking area near the table where people sign up to get rides. Usually, I arrive too late to park there. This year I made a point of getting there early so people could see the car. It’s certainly not the most expensive one there, or the most exotic. But it does draw a crowd. Ryan was there with his Exige, and we’d watch people looking at all the cars. I’m not saying they ignored the others, but ours seemed to be more the center of attention. Whenever I saw kids take an interest, I offered to let them sit in it. Not one refused; eight or ten kids took me up on the offer.

Some of the cars on offer

I gave four rides today, all to ambassadors. When the volunteers help them into my car, they tell the kids that I probably won’t be able to hear them. (It’s not “probably”: I certainly can’t hear my passengers.) If they want to go slower, give me a thumbs down. If they want to go faster, give me a thumbs up. We do an out lap, a “hot” lap, and an in lap. Usually the out lap is slower, to get warmed up, and the in lap is slower, to cool the car down. For these things, I try not to go slow.

Each lap I “asked” how my passengers were by giving them a thumbs up. Each lap, each one responded with a thumbs up.

I’m not sure how it is for the smaller kids. My first ambassador was pretty young; too short to see much out the window. And he couldn’t brace himself against the bar in the foot well, and with just regular seatbelts (I don’t have harnesses installed), the smaller kids tend to move around a bit in the seat. They all said they enjoyed the rides when they got out, though.

Afterwards, they provide lunch for the Ticket to Ride drivers. Nothing fancy, but I’m very happy to get a meal and a cold beverage. During lunch a couple of parents approached me. “You gave my son a ride. He really had a blast. Thank you.” I really can’t imagine what these kids and their families have gone through. I’ll admit that what got me out there in the beginning was being able to run some free laps, but it does give me a “warm fuzzy” to give these kids a ride.

Sunday, August 11

Things were scheduled to start a bit earlier today, and I left the house a bit later, so I didn’t get a prime parking spot. They managed to squeeze me in anyway. There weren’t as many ambassadors today as yesterday, so they peeled the green sticker off my windshield and put me back where I belong, in orange. I don’t know if they were having trouble getting people to sign up for the green group, but today greens were only $200.

It looked like the local Viper club came out in force today with five of them in attendance. Unusually, they outnumbered the Porsche contingent. Ryan was there again, and David showed up too, so we had three Lotus. Both David and Ryan were in the blue group, with their superchargers and sticky tires.

Yesterday it was a bit overcast. I somehow neglected to apply sunscreen but luckily didn’t get too badly burnt. Today the sun was shining brightly, and although the forecast indicated it would be cooler, it was pretty toasty. I applied the sunscreen right away and spent more time in the little shade that is available.

The Vipers’ nest

My riders today were all paying passengers. One gal was particularly enthusiastic. Lots of “oh, yeah”‘s and “this is great”‘s. She waved at everybody who we passed or who passed us. When we pass, we get a point-by, and when I point somebody by, I get a little wave of acknowledgement in return. At the time, I was thinking she thought they were waving at her, so she waved back. It may be, though, that she was just enthusiastically waving at everybody we saw on the track.

The last few times I did Ticket To Ride they also had Pro-Am races so there were a bunch of professional racers in attendance. This time they were unable to source some cars so they could have a race in equal equipment, thus no Pro-Am race, and no gaggle of pros. But Randy Pobst was here. I’m pretty sure he’s here every year, whether there’s a Pro-Am or not.

With Randy Pobst

I ran into him before we gave laps and had a short conversation with him. Then I saw him again having lunch and sat down next to him for more discussion. He’s a very nice guy, very friendly. He told me he has always liked the Elise and is interested in the Evora. I asked him what his favorite tracks are (Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca, and Mont Tremblant, in no particular order) and what sort of fitness regimen he subscribes to (nothing much any more, other than good diet). I told him I lack technique: I can’t seem to figure out rev matching. He said he’s coaching somebody on that now, and he could help me, and that it’s hard to learn without a coach. I have no doubt I could learn quite a bit from him.

I enjoyed my time at the track. I didn’t get too sunburned, ran a few laps, shared some happiness with some deserving kids, spent some time with some friendly people, and made a small contribution to a worthy cause. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

RMVR/RAKC

Saturday, July 29

It’s that time of year again, when Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers do their big event and raise money for the Race Against Kids’ Cancer, benefiting the Morgan Adams Foundation.

On the road to the track, it was overcast and cool, and a few raindrops fell on me. I was looking forward to a cool day. It was not to be. At the track the sun was shining brightly through scattered clouds, and it was warm and muggy.

My contribution to the event involves giving rides during the lunch hour. It’s called ‘Ticket to Ride’, and people donate $50, $100, or $250 for a ride, depending on the car. A couple years ago I was a $100 car. This year I’ve been demoted to a $50 car, which is where I figured I should be, given the other cars that were there.

Photo courtesy Mike Rogers, Driven Imagery

This year the goal is to raise $150,000 that will be used to purchase a machine called an IncuCyte ZOOM. It’s used by cancer researchers in the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Program. Just before I went on track, Heike came out of race control and chatted with me a bit while I was lined up waiting to get into pit lane. She said they had already exceeded their target. It gives me a bit of a “warm fuzzy” to be able to contribute, even just a little.

The program says people are buying three laps: out lap, fast lap, and in lap. I did this year what I did last year, and ran a second fast lap. I asked them all if they wanted to do that extra lap, and the all gave me the thumbs up. Sometimes we got stuck for a while behind slower cars, so I felt that was a good excuse to put in that second lap.

I gave four rides. My first rider was a kid who could barely see out the windshield. You can’t even see his helmet in the video. My second rider, maybe 20 years old, told me the Elise was his childhood dream car. Third and fourth riders were grid girls. They get free rides. The first girl screamed a lot. It was her first time in a car on track. At first I thought they might be cries of terror but she kept giving me two thumbs up. The second grid girl had just gotten a ride in a BMW.

The first thing I did when I got out of the car was turn off the cameras. The rear mounted one wasn’t running. It was powered up but not recording. I was sure I had pressed the shutter. The battery wasn’t dead, and the memory card was empty when I started so I’m not sure why it stopped. My lap timer recorded for 54 minutes, I got 54 minutes on the front facing camera, but only 44 minutes on the rear one. Seems like it’s always something. If my major malfunction for the day is losing 9 minutes of video it’s a good day.

Each year, the array of cars running lunch laps gets more interesting. This year, Kent brought his BMW i8. There was a 2006 Ford GT, a fully race prepared Aston Martin Vantage, an Ariel Atom, a Porsche Carrera GT, a Subaru rally car, and an assortment of 911s, a Corvette, a recent Mustang, and a 350Z. A few of the RMVR racers had passenger seats, and these ran as well: a classic Mustang and Firebird, and an old MG. Ralph Schomp BMW brought out a bunch of BMWs and Minis. I was the only Lotus today.

With Tanner Foust. It looks like I’ve been sucking on a lemon.

This is the seventh year RMVR is doing this. This is the fourth time I’ve driven the lunch laps. The whole event seems to get bigger each year. I think this is the second or third year they’re doing a Pro-Am race. This years pro drivers include Alex Figge, Nick Ham, Robb Holland, Robby Unser, Randy Pobst, Tanner Foust, and a couple of others. One of the others is a guy called Paul Gerrard, who was The Stig for the American version of Top Gear.

Last year, after we were done giving laps, we drivers were treated to a lunch and plenty of cold beverages. I looked around but didn’t see where to go. I was hungry and thirsty so I bought a burger and soda and sat in the pavilion and ate. While I was eating, William came by and told me he had gotten a ride with Randy Pobst. William told him he wanted to learn something, so Pobst kept up a running commentary of how to get around the track, all the while going at a pretty good clip. William particularly wanted to see Pobst’s footwork, but said taking his eyes off the track made him a bit queasy.

About half way through my burger I saw where the lunch drivers were congregating. I didn’t need any more to eat, but certainly could do with some more hydration so when I finished my burger, I went over and joined the crowd.

The driver of the Ford GT was there. I needed to apologize to him. He was going quite slow and I needed to pass him a couple of times. The first time was between turns 2 and 3. I was sure he pointed me by on his right but before I was around him he was moving toward me. He was pretty casual about it. It looks pretty close to me on the video. Rather than pointing me by, he was putting his fist in the air, which signals he’s going into the pits. That was inappropriate here, we were nowhere near the track exit. Fortunately, I passed him pretty quickly and there was no drama. In viewing the video, I see that he was always using this gesture.

I grabbed my second bottle of water and a tiny square of dessert and took a seat. I was with Foust and Pobst and a few other guys. It didn’t take long to figure out that they were the pros. It turned out to be Ham, Figge, and Holland, but nobody was using any names. Robb Holland and I finally introduced ourselves to each other in the end, but I didn’t know who they were until later. I had it pretty well narrowed down, but didn’t know which names went with which faces.

I would say that I spent an hour chatting with them. It may be difficult to believe, but I didn’t say much. I just listened. It started with somebody asking Foust if he was going to watch the new season of Top Gear, which led to him to talking a bit about his time working on the show. He said it was one hundred fifty days of work a year, and the days were long with every hour planned. He said nobody on the show knew who the Stig was except whoever wrote the paychecks. He knew who it was, though, as he knew Paul and helped get him the job. When he was on the set he never spoke and didn’t shake hands with anybody. But sometimes Paul would show up for dinner on shooting days, “just coincidentally” in the area. Nobody ever suspected he was the Stig.

Foust got up and left after a while. The rest of the guys kept chatting. They had all raced against each other for years, sometimes as teammates. They were waxing nostalgic. “Remember that time at Miller where my car broke?” “And mine broke at the same time and I parked behind you?” “And the time you had that crash at Miller.” “That was a bad one, but the crash in Detroit was the worst.” I could have listened to them for the rest of the day.

I wonder how many of the pros were on track while I was doing laps. William tells me that only a couple were doing lunch laps, but that many of the others were out with their Pro-Am partners testing the cars. I know Pobst was driving the Focus and I did see a couple of the Schomp Minis in and out of the pits. Although I was running laps with five or six or seven pro drivers, I don’t think I passed or was passed by any of them.

I’m a big football fan but I’ve never had the delusion that I could ever do what Joe Montana or Terrell Davis could do. I was never going to throw a perfect spiral fifty yards down the field while stepping up in the pocket, facing a safety blitz or catch a screen pass in the flat and go the distance. I also don’t have the delusion that I could do what Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton could do. But I can watch a sports car race or a touring car race and imagine doing it, and doing it well. Sure, it’s a delusion too. But I just ran a bunch of laps on a race track with a half dozen accomplished professionals and never got passed. My delusion survives intact!

And I think it’s pretty cool that I got to see some pretty cool cars get out on the race track.

I had a really good time.