By on October 20, 2014

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The writer has an obligation to put the reader in his shoes, to vividly describe his reality in a way that is descriptive enough to allow the reader to vicariously share his experiences. It is likely, dear reader, that I shall fail you today in my attempt to share my experience from this past weekend, but let me attempt by starting with this:

Watkins Glen is perilously wondrous.

If the top of the Pyramid of Speed is represented by wheel-to-wheel racing, then racing at the Glen represents the final brick at the summit, cemented by years and years of tireless labor. This is no country club track, with acres of runoff space. If you make a mistake at Watkins Glen, you will hit something, and you will hit it with remarkable velocity.

We started the first of two seven and a half hour American Endurance Racing contests with thirty-three cars. Fewer than twenty would finish the second such contest on Sunday. Unfortunately, our entry was not one of the survivors—a spinning and sliding E30 collected us in the boot in our twenty-sixth lap, sending TTAC’s tame racing driver into the Armco barrier at speeds severe enough to crumple our fender and irreparably damage our suspension. The blue paint that now adorns Matt Johnston’s remarkable FC RX-7 is worn as badge of honor, a tattoo that has been inked onto many of the world’s most daring chariots.

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Although I was extremely disappointed that we were taken out of Sunday’s race only an hour or so into it, somewhere in a deep recess of my heart, I was relieved. Why? Because it meant that I wouldn’t have to face the beast that is the Glen for a second day.

The Glen is a relic of older times. No SAFER barriers exist, just steel walls that bear the marks of racers who were unable to escape its clutches. The climbing esses out of Turn Two require courage above and beyond that which most men outside of a combat zone will ever have to display. Each of the over thirty times I ascended them, I said a silent prayer to myself and firmly planted the accelerator to the floor. The lateral G force was tremendous, forcing me to brace myself against the fortuitous cage of the Mazda. Our Yokohamas never failed me here, but they couldn’t quite handle the rain later in the day with Jack at the helm, sending the car backwards off track at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour in the rain directly and miraculously into the safety vehicle area.

Others would not be so lucky. Full-course caution was the rule, not the exception, as I saw several cars that were unable to walk the finest of lines between speed and danger tumble off the asphalt. The other RX-7 that entered the field on Saturday plunged nose first into the tire wall off on Turn Six. An E30 was on its side, its roof crushed against the Armco. Another BMW only completed one lap before it smashed backward against the barrier. Each car the Glen defeated served as a reminder that no mistakes would be tolerated.

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Thank God that my mistake was. The consistently wet and cold conditions we faced all weekend caused some condensation to form on the pedals. Heading up the hill into Turn Nine, my foot slipped off the brake, and tapped the accelerator, launching me up and over the hill into what I knew would be a certain high impact incident. In that moment, I pictured the nose of the Mazda exploding all around me, the shower of plastic and metal creating a sort of snow angel around the silhouette of the car. How hard was I going to hit? How much would it hurt? Would the HANS device do its job, or would my family be attending a service in my honor on Monday?

The hit never came. Serendipity was my mistress, as I had made my mistake in the only turn on track where I could have done so and gotten away with it. The Sprint Cup cars don’t run the boot, and as such there is a runoff area in Six where the Cup cars have a straightaway. I collected the car, made a u-turn, and re-entered the racing line. I lost about four seconds that lap, but they were easily the longest four seconds of my life.

Time and time again, I would enter turns at mind-boggling speed right next to fellow ascenders of the Pyramid. Time and time again, the mutual trust and respect we showed each other as colleagues allowed us to exit unscathed. One such instance occurred in Turn One as the green flag waved following yet another full course caution. I had timed the restart well and had considerable momentum on the cars directly ahead of me. In a split second, I had a decision to make—would I stay in line and ensure a safe exit of the turn, or would I dive bomb into the corner and execute a pass? I chose the latter, taking an inside line and braking one, two, three counts later than every fiber in my being wanted to. I cranked hard to the right and put the power down, letting the low-end torque of the mighty GM V6 slide me out of the corner in front of my peers. That pass gained me three positions on track, a position I would maintain until I entered the pits.

Why do I use the words “colleagues” and “peers” to describe my competitors? Because that’s what they were at the Glen. Yes, I was trying to beat them, but I also knew that I wanted them to survive the race, and that they felt them same way about me. Seven and a half hours is a long time to battle the Glen and come out whole. Nobody wants to see flashing lights on track. Grievously, we did, and on more than one occasion. Sometimes they were of the yellow variety. Much too often, they were of the red variety.

If this post seems somewhat stream of consciousness, forgive me. The pure emotion I have as I sit in the Elmira/Corning airport, writing this on a Monday morning, is nearly overwhelming. To have raced on the same track as my heroes—not just driven, but raced—and to have come away unharmed is a powerful feeling.

All wheel-to-wheel racing is special. All tracks have their own charm. But when I went to trackdecals.com and ordered my Watkins Glen International sticker from the safety of my hotel room last night, I felt something different. I felt pride. I felt awe. I felt humility. Thank you, Watkins Glen. I’ll be back next year to test my personal mettle again.

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7 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Fear, Trust, and Character Are All Revealed By the Glen...”


  • avatar
    319583076

    Great post, Bark!

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Getting that little vinyl outline for the rear window after surviving a weekend at a new track is a ceremonial thing now for me.

    Good to hear you and Jack survived; I’ll be there in two weeks.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Have you driven Road America? The Kink is one of those awesome experiences. The retaining wall is concrete, and it wears a parti-color paint job, each brush stroke being made by a different errant race car.

  • avatar

    Not yet! It’s on my “to-do” list.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      For most of the cars that club racers drive, it’s a flat out turn, I think you’d have to get to something with a V8 to need to brake for it. I’ve driven there in a Mk I Scirocco prepared to SCCA Improved Touring spec and a Van Diemen Formula Ford. In the Scirocco, it was kind of a nonevent, but in the FF the turn was taken flat out, but needed the correct line taken. Things could become exciting if the driver in front of you chickened out and lifted for it, since tapping the brakes in the middle of the kink might put you off.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      “New England, Ontario, we died in the dirt
      Those walls from mid-Ohio to Toronto, they hurt
      So we came to Road America where we burned up at the lake
      But at the speedway at Nazareth I made no mistake”

      [Awesome guitar solo]

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Pretty good write up, Bark.

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