by John Dunkle
Given the title of this month’s article – I presuming some of you think I’ve finally “lost it”, whatever “it” was. But, let me explain before you send in the men in white coats with a straight-jacket? You see, I was thinking about the NER first event this year at Thompson on May 26th, 27th and 28th, and since the 26th is “Novice Day”, it had me remembering my first Novice Day way back “when” (please, don’t ask when “when was” – but, most of the roads were paved and only rarely were they blocked by a renegade milk wagon). And, for it being Novice Day, here is what I remember…
First – I have to say – I was nervous upon first arriving at the track!!! Oh sure – I pretended I wasn’t – mostly to put on a “brave face” for my wife, who wasn’t driving but came along to accompany (console?) me, but deep down to my size seven driving shoes, I was “quaking in my socks”. I had no idea what to expect, really? It was a “new world”. And everyone appeared to know exactly what they were doing and supposed to do – and were doing just that. As for me? I pretended I was doing something, even though I wasn’t really doing “anything”. And, then it happened…
A person walked up to me, and introduced himself as “my Instructor”. He was simply outstanding, and after introducing himself to me and my wife, told us BOTH what to expect (remember, this was before the Internet, e-mail, Youtube, etc. We had to depend on paper road maps to find the track and pay-phones and gas stations should we get lost in getting to the track). He pointed out what and where TECH Inspection was, what to bring – and “OF COURSE your wife can meet you over there!”. So, I made it through Tech Inspection – and you’d have thought I’d gotten a College Diploma when they affixed the sticker to my car, signifying it had passed. So, back I went to our parking spot. And waited…
Soon enough, back came my Instructor, asking me a few friendly questions about my car – was it my “daily driver”, as indeed it was. How did I like the tires? Why didn’t Porsche 911s have cup holders – you know, the regular stuff. We chatted and laughed a bit – but, in retrospect, all he was doing is welcoming us warmly and putting both of us at ease. And he did, not only for all that – but, too, when he told us “we” could head over to the Driver and Novice meetings. Yes! My wife was invited and welcomed to both meetings if she cared to attend. Honestly? I think it made her feel great to be included – and assuaged her fears quite a bit as well.
And stranger still, is what happened next. It’s imprinted in my mind as though it happened yesterday. And to this day, I use it when I conduct Novice or new comers meetings. The Chief Instructor greeted up, and asked, “Please raise your hand if this is your FIRST DE EVER”. I looked around – and quickly found out I wasn’t alone as a “Newbie”; there were others there too, just like me. Next, he said calmly and confidently “Welcome! And the most nerve-wracking experience of the event is already behind you. You made it safely to the track this morning on Public Roads where most could care less about how well they drive”.
It hit me. That’s what Drivers Education is all about. It is all about learning, teaching, driving, having fun – and it can be a family event. If anyone tells you is not any or all of that, and more? You can tell them for me – that they are wrong. Driver Education takes place at a track, not because we are racing, but rather, it is the absolute safest venue that provides a common roadway (“track”), facilities, and learning/teaching environment to teach us all how to drive for extended periods, at speed utilizing all facets of the cars capabilities, i.e. braking, acceleration, vehicle dynamics, weight transfer, suspension geometry, all of that – and more.
So, let me get back to the “family vacation” aspect and wrap this up for you. That event was a three day event, not unlike all of our NER Events this year. By the afternoon of the first day, my wife had found a new set of friends who weren’t driving either, so they ventured outside the track to the village and discovered a few restaurants, pottery retailers, and – I believe – even a vineyard where they spent the afternoon chatting about whatever folks chat about at those times. And then, she met me back at the track.
That evening, we headed out to a little bistro she’d discovered, and had a wonderful dinner, and just talked about the day and walked about the town a bit. And we did the same the next night as well, and as our group of friends continued to expand, found other families and drivers at those same establishments – new friends, new memories and often, new things to laugh about.
So, this is why I’m dedicating this month’s column to “A Three Day DE Event is the Perfect Family Vacation”. Any spouse or significant other is very welcome, and be made to feel welcome, at any NER event, especially track events. If they and you are “New” to any track – let us know beforehand, as all on the NER DE Team would like to have to opportunity to recreate for you – what was an especially wonderful first time experience for Jen and me.
We hope to see you at the track soon – and if you are “new to all this”, allow me the pleasure of being the first to welcome you personally!