I’m a loser. Not in the “my life really sucks” kind of way, but I don’t ever win anything without considerable effort. The most I think I ever won was a pencil in the 3rd grade. I think I still have it somewhere.
My longtime friend Glen Cordle is an anomaly of odds. A business card in a fishbowl is a sure thing for Glen. Somehow, some way, his name always gets drawn from the hat. Every so often I receive a phone call from him saying that he’s won something. Usually it means free lunch for Glen, me, and a few friends. The phone call several months ago was a little bit different. It went from the usual “Hey, what’s up?” to utter disbelief. Glen had won the 60 Years of Porsche essay contest, and was taking me to the Porsche Sport Driving School at Barber Motorsports Park.
The prize was a two-day, high-performance driving course. It consists of training on an off-road course, a skidpad, an autocross and the racetrack itself, and teaches specific techniques such as trail braking, heel-toe downshifting, and emergency lane changes. It also means quite a bit of time behind the wheel of some of the best-engineered vehicles in the world. With a fleet of more than 40 cars valued at around $4 million, there’s no shortage of German metal at the school. Cars include the Panamera Turbo, Carrera S, 911 Turbo, Cayenne S, Cayenne Turbo, Cayman S, Boxster and Boxster Spyder.
When we arrived in Alabama, Glen and I speculated our names would be on a sign held by someone named Hans or Ferdinand. I can’t remember the guy’s name off hand, but it (and his accent) rang more of Birmingham than Stuttgart. Seeing the sign with the Porsche crest made the enormity of the situation sink in.
Our smiles from this point forward were permanent. After a short drive we arrived at the Ross Bridge resort and golf course. Surrounded by million-dollar homes, it’s a perfect spot to stay when attending the school. I hadn’t slept the night before due to my excitement, and the night before day one would be no different. Since I had Glen with me, I figured nothing could go wrong.
In the morning we hopped into the van and zipped over to the track. We were greeted by a 911 Turbo; behind it sat the Porsche office and classroom. At that moment I realized I should have brought my wife. I could hear the “but you went and did that Porsche thing,” being used against me even 20 years later.
Our first interaction with the Porsche instructors was in the classroom, learning the physics behind weight transfer, braking, accelerating, turning, and the “circle of traction.” I felt like I could handle it. My history of driving old Volkswagens at their “limit” in the backwoods of Wisconsin surely would put me a step above the surrounding slacks-and-loafer crowd. Class lasted about 45 minutes, after which I found a helmet that fit my giant head, and headed out to the waiting vans.
Our first stop was the skidpad. The slickest thing short of ice, it’s a sealed patch of smooth pavement. Anything more than 10 percent throttle sends you into unrecoverable oversteer. The goal for day one was to learn how the car performs in an over-exaggerated environment. We drove a 911, and having a car communicate with feel and sound the way it did made me realize what we were really getting ourselves into. Being able to predict what the car is doing based on its ability to translate the road to the driver was something I’d never experienced. Day two on the skidpad was similar, but timed. The instructors noted it was obvious we were from Minnesota. I did manage to beat Glen by a full second without PSM (Porsche Stability Management) engaged. With the PSM on he beat me by a second.