By on September 26, 2011

WARNING: If you have any track experience, or even if you don’t, the above video can be painful to watch. It’s the long-legged Monticello Motor Club racetrack as experienced by the IMPA journalists on their test day: coned off, watered-down, speed-limited. Had I made the 584-mile drive to Monticello and found conditions like this, I’d have been furious.

Still, the above restrictions weren’t enough to keep the Korean journalist, identified to me as Tai Sung “Peter” Park, from wiping an IS-F against the guardrail. What followed that incident was an odd tale of international misunderstanding, possible deceit, and Keystone Kops silliness…

Shortly after publishing the above-linked story, I was contacted by a few of my friends in the business. There was a Korean driver who wanted to speak to me. Was it the guy who crashed the IS-F? No, I was told, but you will want to hear what he has to say. When I did speak to Seung Min “Mel” Yu, I found him to be a friendly, forthright, but rather embattled fellow. His public statement, released to his Facebook page first and then to his Korean-language auto review site, MotorBlog, explains why he’s feeling down:

Hello.

Regards to unfortunate incident happened at 2011 IMPA test days,
“Tai Sung Peter Park” who was directly responsible to the incident DOES NOT HAVE ANY ASSOCIATION with My (Seung Min Yu) old blog & company Motorblog LLC & Motorblog.net.

He is working for korean “Power Bloging” website out of naver.com (Famous portal site in South Korea) called motorblog. (Direct address; blog.naver.com/motorblog & motorblog.kr )

Motorblog.net & Motorblog is trademark of Motorblog.net LLC out of Grand Blanc Michigan since 2005.

Motorblog.net LLC discovered the confusion about association with “Tai Sung Peter Park” Sept 21, 2011. and verbally asked him to cease & Desist using “Motorblog” name. I will be taking legal course of actions to prevent any further conflicts as soon as possible.

Motorblog.net LLC is privately held corporation which I’m at the position of President.

If there’s any question about the past history especially releasing media fleet, please do not hesitate to contact me at any of your conveinence.

Best Regards

Seung Min Yu (Mel)

My complete ignorance of the Korean language keeps me from doing the due diligence I’d like to do on this story, but the people who recommend Mel to me know him to be a straight shooter. We will give him the benefit of the doubt. In a phone conversation, Mel gave me some additional details. He’d been the only Korean member of the “International” Motor Press Association for years; when he met Mr. Park the day before the event was due to begin, he immediately realized that there may have been a misrepresentation. Mel is careful to note that Mr. Park probably did not mean to misrepresent himself as an employee or associate of his, but the IMPA folks assumed that two Korean guys, both claiming to be from “Motorblog”, must be part of the same organization. In their conversation, Mr. Park expressed excitement about being on a racetrack, since although he’d done his national service in the Korean army, he’d never had any formal driver training or racetrack time.

What happened next has already passed into buffet-table legend. Approximately fifteen minutes after the event was opened, Mr. Park bounced up to an IS-F and took his first-ever lap of a racetrack. Or, rather, his first-ever half-lap. The video at the head of this article shows tire marks and a rather sharp exit off-track right before the back-straight chicane.

An hour later, Mel was approached by IMPA personnel, who more or less said “Your Korean pal wrecked a $67,000 car and blew the scene. What are you going to do about it?” While I don’t care for the core assumption made here — that every Korean in the business is somehow interlinked, perhaps with an underground network of “kumite” fights to the death — it’s understandable given the stressful situation. Mel told them, “He’s not my guy,” and his personal nightmare began.

As is usual in this business, the rumor spread faster than any potential truth to counteract it. Two different people told me over the weekend that “the Korean wrecked the Lexus.” The idea that there could be two different Koreans in the world seemed a little far-fetched. Mel received emails, texts, and Facebook messages that were alternately accusatory, gloating, or simply disappointed. Press-fleet managers didn’t want him behind the wheel of their cars. For Mel, it was disastrous; he’d been building his brand for six long years and was watching it disappear in a moment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Park’s representatives were apparently working things out with Toyota’s Korean PR people. It turns out that Mr. Park’s blog has some nontrivial clout over there, and whatever dust he raised has been settled in the same casual manner that, say, a fatal collision in a US print rag’s press loaner would be, or has been in the past.

Mel, however, may find the damage to his reputation harder to repair. Imagine being in a foreign country, accused of someone else’s misdeeds, and trying to fix the mess using only your limited knowledge of the language and a small circle of personal friends. It won’t be easy. This is an insular business. I can attest to that personally. A few years ago, I was kicked off an important press event and deleted from a few press-fleet access lists at the request of a Chicago-area journalist who just didn’t like me and had the buffet-browsing connections to make it stick. I’ve settled that particular score with interest, but Mel will face a similar uphill battle to restore the access on which his livelihood depends.

We’d like to hear from any Korean-speaking resources who have additional knowledge of the situation, as well as representatives from IMPA and Toyota USA, but while we’re waiting for the rest of the story to come out, please join me in wishing Seung a quick and fair resolution to this issue… and please join me in demanding a minimum level of driving competence from the automotive writers you choose to read and support.

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25 Comments on “The Seung Remains The Same: How The Wrong Korean Guy Took The Heat For The Monticello Crash...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Why would you be mad about the conditions? With the amount of rain the east coast has had recently, you can see the mud on the track on the last half of the video, if you put a wheel off you might not be able to get back on due to quick sand like sludge and mud.

    Plenty of opportunity to explore a 3800 lbs car limits. You just will not be working on lap times. Besides you know how hard it is to keep heat in tires when your in and out of a wet surface.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The conditions are no worse than the ones at the CTS-V Challenge… certainly not worth imposing a 60mph speed limit.

      • 0 avatar

        Too bad there wasn’t a speed limit.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Chris, your comments both here and YouTube are duly noted, and duly contradicted by at least three other journos. I apologize to whoever is right here.

      • 0 avatar

        The chicanes definitely slowed things down. There was really no need for a speed limit (which would have been impossible to enforce) because of them. Really, the only things they cared about were 1) not hitting the cones, and 2) keeping your car under control. I hit 90 multiple times in multiple cars and touched 100 a few times and had no problems with the “authorities.”

        Given the level of incompetence among some drivers which you’ve noted numerous times, it’s probably for the best that people weren’t able to hit 140 on the track last week or we may have had much worse than a wrecked Lexus. Also, at the time of the crash, the track was much wetter than in the video you posted. It was pouring rain RIGHT before driving started, and drizzling for the first hour or so.

        Rather than relying on your sources for the speed limit, Jack, may I suggest you ask the guy who ran Test Days? His name is Paul Licata. Or check with someone who works at Monticello. There was definitely no word of a speed limit.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      Jack and I shared that same IS F at Summit Point’s Shenandoah circuit during a weekend of off-and-on wash-out conditions. Shenandoah is known for, among other things, horrible crowned paving, awful drainage, and terrifyingly short run-off areas backed by concrete dividers. The only victims of the weekend were four Bridgestone Potenza RE050As.

      Showing up at Monticello to see it in that lowest-common-denominator configuration would have infuriated me too.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    Reminds me of a track day held by an Audi dealer that I attended many moons ago. I had my children with me, because Mom had something else on. The whole day was very poorly organised. Instead of using the actual pit area, they just parked the cars next to the track.There were no activities lined up for children and the ones present went where they pleased. As I was scared of my pre-schoolers wandering onto the track I took them with me on the ride. So far, so good.

    Getting a ride was just a matter of queuing up. Of course, everybody wanted to get to grips with the big guns such as the S6. Me? I just wanted to burn rubber. An A4 diesel station wagon would do that very well, thank you very much. Since my offspring was in the back seat, I took it easy. Or so I thought until the salesperson in the passenger seat pointed out that squealing tyres was not on. I didn’t pay much attention to him and completed my lap at a reasonable pace. When I got out, I took one look at the disorderly milling around of wannabe’s looking for the next ride and left.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Here’s to hasty generalizations and good ol boys’ clubs!

  • avatar

    I’ve attended public-events by GM, Lexus, Porsche and have always been surprised at the general restraint shown by people at these events. From what I’ve read, the motoring press gets a far less abbreviated version and I’d be surprised if they didn’t expect to write a car off on occasion. It seems against human nature that one would expect any significant percentage of those in the “motoring press” to have spent the time that Jack has on a track. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d bet that if you asked all of the big guys about the cars they lose at press introductions, you could put together a GREAT story.

  • avatar
    jaybird124

    What Print Rag had the fatality?

    It seems like coning the track has become rather standard issue these days on ride and drives. Am I wrong?

    A speed limit is rather ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      korvetkeith

      I recall a fatality back in the mid to late 90s when top speed shoot outs were in vogue. I’m pretty sure it was a journo and not a pro driver. I don’t remember the name or particular rag.

      • 0 avatar
        Matthew Sullivan

        @korvetkeith

        Sounds like you’re referring to Don Schroeder of Car and Driver who died in 2000 doing a high speed run at the old (Goodyear?) test track in Ft Stockton, here in Texas.
        http://www.caranddriver.com/features/00q2/a_death_in_the_family-column

        Not sure whether JB is referring to the same event.

      • 0 avatar
        Matthew Sullivan

        @korvetkeith

        While looking up the Don Schroeder info I stumbled across another C&D death, from 2003.

        http://www.caranddriver.com/features/03q3/a_new_look_new_specs_and_a_tragic_loss-column/in_memoriam_page_2

        http://my350z.com/forum/2003-2009-nissan-350z/38071-car-and-driver-assistant-dies-in-350z.html

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I’m not sure what difference this makes.

    1. It’s Lexus who rented the track, got the insurance, brought the cars and paid for the food, etc.

    2. They don’t sell that many cars to hot-shoe hotshots, so their opinions aren’t really that important. Who cares if the speed limit on the track is 60 mph? You can’t legally drive much faster than that anyway.

    3. It sounds like Lexus might have screwed the pooch in not making the speed limit 55 mph, or 56 just in case some blog-o-be is old enough to remember a Sammy Hagar tune.

    This seems like neither a tempest nor a teapot.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to split hairs, Rod, but this was an event sponsored by IMPA, but people who attended had to pay $95 for tickets (which included a banquet, cocktail reception, two lunches, and a breakfast) and were on the hook for their own hotel rooms.

      The manufacturers certainly subisidzed the event by bringing their cars and paying for fuel/insurance and by buying sponsorships (the “platinum” level topped out at $5,000), but there were probably about 70-80 cars there, and not all Lexus/Toyota products.

      http://impa.org/what_is_test_days.cfm

      • 0 avatar
        Rod Panhard

        Thanks for the link Mr. Haak.

        Looks to me like you’ve got hacks (pejorative term for writers) from anywhere and flacks (pejorative term for public relations practitioners) from everywhere (OEMs, marketing firms, PR firms, ad agencies, lubricants, car polishes, air fresheners that hang from mirrors, perhaps even the local car wash, and maybe even the 5 hour energy stuff sold at gas stations next to STP products) trying their luck on the track.

        In that situation, it looks more like a networking event and as such, it looks like IMPA was at fault for setting the wrong speed limit. Since the only thing this has in common with a “track day” is that it’s at a “race track,” the speed limit was too high, even at 60 mph.

        So, uh, what’s the problem with this and why should we care?

      • 0 avatar

        Rod, you’re basically right in your assessment. To be an IMPA member, you have to write for a print or online publication and be paid for it (I think) or work for an OEM/PR agency. It was mostly journalists driving, but I think some PR people did take their turns.

        Just to re-iterate my earlier comment that I made to Jack: there were no speed limits mentioned or enforced on the track. The chicanes did a good job of slowing people down, and they black-flagged you if you hit a cone or drove in a way that appeared as if you were not in control.

        The person in Jack’s YouTube video clearly took it pretty easy, but I believe went over 60 mph several times. I drove faster than that, but did not get anywhere near the cars’ or my limits. I probably took it at 7/10ths at most because I didn’t want to be flagged, but again, no speed limits were in place.

        I wouldn’t call it or think of it as a track day, either. The cars were spread 20-30 seconds apart, and though you could catch the guy in front of you if you drove harder than he did, passing was not allowed. There were no prizes for driving and no laps were timed. I saw it as a controlled environment in which to drive cars wihtout fear of being stopped for speeding/reckless driving, nothing more, nothing less. Networking is certainly part of it as well.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Not that I want to get in the middle of your pissing match with Jack, but you are kind of splitting hairs here. Maybe there was no “posted speed limit” or whatever, but they had the driving line coned off, they were watching you drive, and would flag you if you hit a cone or “drove in a way that appeared you were not in control”, i.e. sqealing tires, smoking brakes, etc, or speeding. Would that not imply that there was a “limit” being imposed for the drivers with higher skill levels than the typical attendee?? Would it be likely that the limit on curves was around 60mph, since anything above that might pull a flag? So you hit 70, or even 90 on the straights, I can easily go from 60-80 then back to 60 without even realizing it myself on city streets, I am sure an IS-F can do it in a blink of the unexperienced eye. Jack mentioned having hit 140+ on that same track… HUGE difference.

        Now, I also happen to think you are right… this doesnt sound like a “track event” at all. It seems more like the off road driving events Land Rover dealers used to put on for their owners; But to be more upscale, they had it at a fancy race track and served a fancy buffet. Probably not the kind of thing Jack would want to waste time on anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m certainly not disputing that the track was speed-limited by chicanes, but as someone who attended the event, I can say on no uncertain terms that the very specific notion of a 60 mph speed limit is fiction. The rules were imposed to keep speeds down on a wet and (to many) unfamiliar track. To say that the track was limited to 60 mph post-accident when the rules didn’t change isn’t right. Coming up with a scenario by which Jack’s statement COULD be true if it were applied to corner speeds really sounds like a hair being cut down the middle to me. The turns are all of varying radii, so some could be taken at 90 and some at 30. :)

        It would have been more fun – but less safe – to drive the track without the cones or chicanes and with a perfectly dry track. But as Jack himself has pointed out, with the average skill of the guys and gals at that even so low, would that have been a prudent thing to do?

        Incidentally, nothing but the facility itself was particularly upscale. Lunch was burgers and dogs one day and cold cut sandwiches the second day. We ate on bare metal tables in the clubhouse garage. The Monticello restrooms are remarkably clean. :)

  • avatar
    petervisor

    I’ve only been to two track-day weekends, and I wish the track had been set up like this on Saturday with cones to guide me through the turn-in and apex. Then Sunday take the cones away. That would have been great, because the instructor couldn’t always be with me, and often couldn’t explain the best line because there are no reference points on the track.

  • avatar

    Jack, I don’t have a problem with the cones, particularly if they aren’t trained track drivers. It looks like they’re just laying out the line, with turn in points and apexes indicated by the cones – not much different from the driving aids you can activate in a sim.

    Speaking of “the line”, I’ve been thinking about reconciling finding the best line with what you’ve said about how “racing” means competing with other drivers on the track. The old military aphorism that no plan survives contact with the enemy is applicable. In traffic on a track, it seems to me that the ideal line becomes irrelevant and instead it’s the best line you can drive in the circumstance.

    Zanardi’s pass of Herta in ’96 down the hill at the corkscrew at Laguna Seca wasn’t exactly the way they teach you to drive that part of the track.

    Speaking of Laguna, just how scary is it coming over the hill? It’s the opposite of what you’ve said about vision and track driving. There’s no way you can look ahead, it’s a blind curve where you have to put yourself on the right line turning left before you reach the crest of the hill if you want to be able to be in the right place to turn right and make the corkscrew. Frankly, I’d consider it an accomplishment if I were able to make it through that section of track even with cones and a speed limit.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      It’s not easy, I will tell you that, but if you take a look at this move I made to take first place in a Skippy race, you will see that I paid attention to Zanardi as well. I’m in Car 01.

      http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/D3S_1328-Large.JPG

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    “The idea that there could be two different Koreans in the world seemed a little far-fetched. “

    lulz

  • avatar
    mitchw

    My experience at a Lexus ISF event at Monticello was that the PR people checked my ID very carefully indeed. My license was checked against a list of invited people, and I had to sign a waiver. Then there was a brief ‘introduction to driving’ session, then helmets were worn. There was a speed limit of around 50 or sixty, but on the south track at least, that’s plenty fast enough to get into trouble. Some very tight low speed turns, elevation changes. Maybe IDs weren’t well checked or instruction given at this particular event. My recollection of the track is that after that temporary chicane on the straight, there is a brow you don’t want to mess up;so it’s a good place for forcing speeds down. Any word on where the ‘agricultural’ happened, because at the chicane you’d have really had to go nuts to go off.

  • avatar
    Signal11

    I speak and read Korean. What do you want to know?

    Looking at the comments on the various blog posts, it’s mostly fans of one blog sniping at another. (Imagine that!) I usually avoid big Korean blogs, mostly because of all the idiotic commenting. Ever look at the the (American) Yahoo News comments? It’s like that, only worse.


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