July 16, 2012
caption. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Michael Schlee
Let’s face it, being a car enthusiast is hard today. Never before have we been offered such high performance capable machines direct from the manufacturer, and never before have there been more rules, laws and surveillance devices out there to ensure we do not use our vehicles to their full potential on public roads.
There is nothing more painful than driving your 412-hp Mustang GT in stop-and-go traffic, or being forced to stay on a paved parking lot in a National Park behind the wheel of your Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
However, there is still hope for us. There are venues across our great country that will allow you to drive your vehicle (or maybe theirs) around a closed track with no worries of traffic, pedestrians, or law enforcement repercussions. For pavement drivers there are drag strips, ovals, road circuits, or even temporary autocross courses. If getting a little dirty is more your cup of tea, thankfully there are off-road parks and trails to be explored. Regardless of what turns your gears, if you consider yourself a ‘driver’, then it is well worth getting off the street and really testing your abilities and your vehicle’s limits.
Sure, you can save yourself a lot of money and attempt to find the limits of your vehicle on public roads, but chances are you will eventually be caught by the authorities or cause a horrendous crash scene. No matter how fast or on the edge it may feel on street, you will never, ever, ever find the true limits of either your vehicle or your abilities on public roads safely. There are just too many variables at play that can alter a situation in milliseconds, the largest being road conditions. That car slicing through rush hour traffic from lane to lane cutting every third car off isn’t quick, nor is its driver. They are brazenly stupid, but quick—most likely not. I have met many people in my relatively short lifetime who claim they are a fast driver because they travel at ludicrously high speeds on the street and perform insane passing maneuvers in the city. I am sorry my friend, you are not fast; overconfident and driving on borrowed time, yes, but not quick. I would love to have one of these individuals take a lap with our ‘Autos.ca hot shoe’ on a closed racetrack so they can experience what driving fast really is.
Truth is, I always considered myself ‘relatively good’ as a driver and thought I was getting all I could out of my car on the street. Then, when I was 19 I had the chance to lap the Mosport Oval. It took one lap to realize just how different things are on a closed circuit. I could push that little Cavalier (yeah… I know) as hard as I wanted and really feel the unrelenting understeer as the front tires tried to roll over on themselves. I was hooked. Oval, drag, circuit, or autocross, I wanted to drive more. Although I spent a good chunk of my mid-20s at the drag strip on random weekends, it wasn’t until the past four years that I really have begun hitting more and more courses. I would still consider myself a novice when it comes to track time as I have only been on them a couple of dozen times. So, from my trial and error experiences, I hope the following will help other rookies discover the joy of track and off-road driving.