racing in the rain

You may have heard me mention that Doug is putting together a car for the 24 hours of LeMons race at Infineon Raceway in March. Well, George and I are helping a bit (me a very little bit) working on the car and are also supposedly going to help drive the thing. A major concern with this plan, of course, is my total lack of experience and competence racing a full-sized car on a racetrack, especially in the presence of other people trying to do the same thing. I did one autocross long ago, but let’s just say that driving alone around cones in my 104HP Honda Civic hatchback probably doesn’t do a lot improve my status.

Well, all that changed today, ho boy! George and I went racing at Laguna Seca (he’s in the gray car on my left).

We signed up for a 4-hour “Intro to Racing” class at Skip Barber, which uses Laguna Seca near Monterey as one of their school locations. It was outrageously fun and terrifying, not least because it was pouring rain the entire time we were on the track. Each of us was outfitted with a Mazda Miata MX-5 Cup Car and followed an instructor (insultingly driving a pokey Mazda 3 much faster than us). We started slow, and did increasingly faster and faster laps around the full track.

Just being on the track sort of fulfilled a lifelong fantasy of mine, because I’ve probably done at least 500 laps around Laguna Seca while playing Gran Turismo 3. In fact I actually said (out loud, while driving, about 5 times), “Oh shit I’m lapping at Laguna fucking Seca.” George and I agreed that it felt smaller in person than it did when playing a video game, but we both think we benefited from our minute acquaintance with every turn. Here we are just before the start (George ahead of me in 09):

The rain made everything hard, but also more worthwhile from a learning perspective. It was no problem at all to put the car into a skid with just a touch too much throttle too fast coming out of a turn, and I ended up in the gravel more than once. After I realized I wasn’t dead, I pulled it back on the track with a huge smile on my face. What a blast.

I should have had video of the whole thing, but like a dumbass I put the Doug’s loaner video camera in take-a-still-picture-every-two-seconds mode instead of take-a-video mode. Luckily, George paid for the professional in-car video and spent half the time right behind me. Hopefully I’ll get a good clip of the time I spun out spectacularly right in front of him after leaving the corkscrew (he dodged me with aplomb).

Here’s a final, accidental shot of me just after removing helmet. I look exhausted, yes… but do I also detect a slight air of smug satisfaction?

$21 beer.

Leslie mentioned when she saw it on the shelf that it had been one of Saveur‘s 100 reader-submitted taste-experiences (or whatever). I was intrigued… I love me some bottle-conditioned beer, and here it was, with a biblical reference and farm implement on the label. How could we not buy it? Oh, here’s how: it costs 21 fucking dollars, legal tender US. For a bottle of beer. Beer, also available in sub $0.50 can form, with more or less the same pharmacological end effect. OK, whatever, let’s do it. The guy at the checkout mentioned that, as far as he knows, it’s the most expensive bottle of beer available (at the Whole Foods Market, in Berkeley California. Yeah… nowhere down to go, really, from there…).

But, heck, here’s the deal: it’s like an unholy union of beer, champagne, and really laid-back merlot (maybe that comes from it being aged in old wine barrels?). The first sip was like, “Oh, okay, it’s a wild ale. I like that. WAIT. Wait. No, it’s… light. It’s like a sparkling wine. But there’s the malt. What the hell is this, in my mouth, costing more than twice what I’m normally willing to spend on a bottle of wine? It’s damned good, is what it is, and even more so with a nibble of sharp white cheddar or a garlic-stuffed olive.

Andrew Jackson wasn’t much of a president anyway, so I’ll throw Washington in after him for .75 liters of this stuff any day.