Trackday Diaries: The 'Flat Out' Guy Is Real and Living Near Our Nation's Capital

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

“Corvette in the tire wall outside Turn 2.” Maybe over the tire wall was more like it; the front tires were six feet in the air, the back bumper had dragged the muddy ground behind it smooth of grass like a knife across cake frosting, and the driver looked like he was going to have a very hard time getting out of the thing. In under thirty seconds, there were black flags out all the way around the course. Two minutes later, most of the other cars in the group, including the 2004 Boxster S driven by Danger Girl with yours truly sitting in the right seat, were filing back into the paddock.

One man continued alone, still out there on the track, still driving flat out. He blew by the thirty cars lined up for pit entrance, oblivious or uncaring as to why they were all pulling off at the same time. Ignored every black flag that waved at him, first nonchalantly and then with increasing urgency, as he flew past the long corner into the back straight. And his Cayman GTS was at the eleventh tenth of grip as he came screaming around Turn One and found himself faced with two emergency vehicles, a forklift, and several people standing on or near the track surface. He panic-braked. Realized there had been a major incident on-track, perhaps three minutes after it had happened, and nearly two minutes since he’d passed Turn 2 in his previous lap, somehow without seeing the Corvette up in the air some thirty feet from the track’s exit curb. Came to a sheepish halt. Made the drive of shame, two miles to pit out, with dozens of people pointing at him and wondering what his major malfunction was.

Naturally, none of this was his fault.

The Cayman driver — we’ll call him “Mr. Flatout” — had come to my wife’s attention earlier in the day when stood up during the intermediate-group classroom session and humble-whined that people weren’t giving him the point-by signal promptly enough. This is a common complaint at track days, and when people gripe to me about it my answer is always the same: move up to the next group, tough guy. After all, nearly every track-day organization in this country has at least one group where there is no point-by procedure. You just pass the car ahead of you when you can, in rough accordance with the passing rules of the various race sanctions, and with the understanding that — unlike in club racing — the car ahead may not block a pass.

Most of the time, however, the complainants aren’t really interested in going to a faster group. They just want to point out that they are “winning” an intermediate-level, mixed-hardware open-lapping day. They want some recognition.

You can laugh at this all you want, but the fact is a lot of pretty decent road racers started out by taking open-lapping days a bit too seriously. I will, unfortunately, include myself in that group — I’m in possession of an actual DVD I made back in 2003 or thereabouts featuring live footage of various track-day “kills” I’d made in my 330i Sport. It’s not really that surprising that unjustified competitiveness is part and parcel of the scene. After all, perfectly adjusted and totally normal people tend to not think it’s a good idea to take their personal vehicles on a racetrack so they can try to pass other people who are doing the same thing.

This HPDE Champion-in-training, therefore, appeared at first glance to be a fairly common breed of not-terribly-experienced driver, not worthy of extraordinary scorn or concern. I could even forgive him for what he did after the aforementioned classroom session was over, which was to walk up to Danger Girl and very paternally congratulate her for letting his 340-horse Cayman GTS PDK pass her 262-horse Boxster S on the back straight.

“You barely held me up at all, little lady!” he said, shaking her hand.

When she related this to me, my first impulse was to fill in for her in the next session, drive up to this mook’s back bumper, and spend 20 or so minutes repeatedly late-braking him into the grass until his Cayman caught on fire or I got hungry for lunch, whichever came first. But as fate would have it, lunch came before the next session, which totally distracted me from my mission of righteous vengeance.

Danger Girl and I didn’t see him out there after lunch; we’d started at the back of the pack, at her request, while he’d started at the front. Apparently he never came all the way around to lap us. But in the next classroom meeting, Mr. Flatout held court on how he was just too quick to be in this group. But he didn’t want to go into the next group, because it was chock-full of Mustangs and you couldn’t trust those people. Or something like that.

In the third run of the day, we once again started at the back. Slightly over halfway into the session, a nice older fellow in a Corvette straight-lined off a turn, hit the wet grass, and jumped the tire wall. Black flags were thrown. Everybody got off the track, and the emergency services people went to help the fellow out. As fate would have it, the ‘Vette, a brand-new C7 Z51, wasn’t that badly damaged. But to keep it from being damaged any more during its extrication from the tire wall, quite a bit of time and manpower had to be expended.

And that’s how Mr. Flatout came to find himself within a couple dozen feet of killing a member of the track-day EMS crew. This sort of thing — ignoring flags because you have your eyes on the nose of your car and your head up your ass — is as serious a mistake as you can make out there, and it’s very far from being limited to track-rat wanna-be douchebags; just this past weekend, I called in no fewer than five passes under a standing yellow flag during a 96-minute race stint. But most of us have the decency to be embarrassed when we do it.

Not our man from Caymanville. When it was time for the final classroom session, and the chief instructor had the temerity to suggest that drivers occasionally cast their eyes in the direction of the flag station to prevent the possibility of multiple fatalities, Mr. Flatout stood up to once again give his fellow drivers a piece of his mind. “This track … is too complicated! Too many corners! And how are you supposed to see these flag stations? They’re just stained wood gazebos against a wooded backdrop. It’s ridiculous, if you ask me.” And he went home to his highly compensated job in the Metro DC area, quiet in conscience, calm in his right, confident his ways were best.

Here’s the great untold secret of the track-day business: it depends on terrible people. It lives and breathes on the cash-green lifeblood pumped into it by the insecure, the incompetent, the unteachable, the despicable. The guy who does five or six open-lapping events and then disappears into club racing doesn’t pay the bills. It’s the others, the ones who put fixed-back Sparcos and a half-cage into their track cars then proceed to set “track records,” the mark-ass douchebags who trailer their street-legal GT500s on all-season tires to the event, the HPDE champions who drive eight intermediate-group weekends every summer and pay full price. Those are the real customers. It makes me nervous.

I thank G-d that my son will never be caught up in this idiocy. He’s already an actual racer with three wins in four 50 cc cadet kart starts to his credit and a full season of 206 cc juniors planned for next year. By the time he’s sixteen, he’ll be an old hand behind the wheel. He’ll never need to worry about having Mr. Flatout blow a waving yellow and center-punch his car. Danger Girl, too, is very nearly past the track-day phase, with two enduros under her Nomex belt and an SCCA regional season ahead. I don’t want them around these people. It’s okay for me. I’m effectively immortal in a singularly rickety and imperfect fashion. Not for them.

I heard a story a while ago. The story went like this. There was a track day. A driver died at this track day. And at the same time they were loading the driver into the ambulance, the owner of the track-day organization was down in the paddock yucking it up with a few Corvette-driving HPDE champions, encouraging them to go out there and shave another half-second off in the last session. I don’t want to believe the story. But I kind of do. Because that’s the kind of person who does this thing. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of great drivers and great human beings in the open-lapping community. There are also a lot of people like Mr. Flatout. And if we think he’s the exception to the rule, well that is a joke.

[Image: Porsche]

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Acehunter Acehunter on Oct 31, 2016

    "...quiet in conscience, calm in his right, confident his ways were best." Nicely played, sir.

  • JMII JMII on Nov 01, 2016

    I've been passed by a Focus but I have also passed a Ferrari. Track days offer a wide range of skills... or lack there of. I've often wished the run groups were divided on time since a slow car with a really skilled driver passes everyone in the turns yet gets eaten alive on the straights. All this extra passing (with or without point bys) just increases the risk of an incident. As others mentioned its really up to the organizers to get all the drivers to play by the same rules. So in this case please send Mr. Flatout home, even if that means giving him a refund. However I honestly feel safer on track then I do on the highway. On track everyone is at least trying to go in the same direction and not on their phone. When I instruct the #1 item I check is ego, if they have it in spades (like Mr. Flatout) I am not going to be their co-pilot for the day. When people telling me they know what they are doing that is a clear sign that they do not.

  • Redapple2 Automatic hi beam - low bean is a bad thing. Not a benefit. Steering following headlights are not helpful. Their delayed - then fast catch up - style ? action make me seasick. I turn mine off at night. I do like XM. So,........ BMW- cram it sideways. I dont like being bent over the table. I will not participate in your drama and will proceed to the Lexus dealer.
  • ChristianWimmer Yes, but with a carbureted 500cid V8. None of that fuel-injection silliness. 😇
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