By on October 28, 2016

flatout

“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.

HPDE_f7_460_large

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]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

37 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: The ‘Flat Out’ Guy Is Real and Living Near Our Nation’s Capital...”


  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    This scene sounds like it’s populated with Hillary’s “basket of deplorables”.

  • avatar
    WalterRohrl

    I don’t disagree with you but you can potentially make a difference. You instruct at some of these days, right? And some of your fellow instructors probably feel as you do. Why can’t you go to the owners/organizers and inform them that you will no longer be offering your paid or unpaid services unless they get tough on these clowns?

    Even if you don’t instruct, you and your family still attend. Vote with your dollars but make it clear to the organizer as to WHY you won’t be back. Eight regular people that go to one event a year has the same financial impact as one clown attending all eight events.

    Sure it won’t fix it immediately but it could over time. If clown A is banned from organizer X’s trackdays, he’ll start attending Organizer Y’s days. If he’s banned or castigated there he might get a clue.

    By nobody seemingly standing up and saying something and actually taking a stand this will continue until someone does get hurt. Then it’ll be game over for someone (or everyone) anyway.

    The above article will probably/possibly dissuade at least one (maybe ten? or a hundred?) person who was on the fence about trackdays already. But nobody will ever know about that which is a shame.

    • 0 avatar
      DrSandman

      I’m one of those NoVA/Metro DC types. I will admit that I have given it a 2nd thought, and my family comes first. No track days for me; risk/reward is not +(ExpectedValue).

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    I’ve done 10+ “PDX” (Professional Driver eXperience) events with the Chicago-region SCCA in my RX-8 and have been lucky enough not to meet Mr. Flatout. I do sometimes get a bit of the red mist myself but I’ve learned the warning signs and back off 10% when I feel it coming on.

    The Chicago SCCA PDX events aren’t as rigidly structured as the NASA HPDE program is but they are very strict about the rules they have. If you behaved like Mr. Flatout did at one of their events, the very least that would happen is getting booted for the rest of the event.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “This track … is too complicated! Too many corners!”

    That’s funny; I didn’t think Calabogie was anywhere near DC.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Calabogie is just outside our nation’s capital

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      Allow me to pause and pray to 27 different gods and saints that flatout guy thinks I495 has “too many corners” for proper driving. Can’t imagine that I95, I270, or I66 could qualify.

      Never mind something like River Road (which probably has bicyclists this time of year).

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Here’s the great untold secret of the EVERYTHING: it depends on terrible people.”

    FIFY.

  • avatar
    nsk

    Wow, Jack, this piece makes you sound like a jerk. I thought your whole racecar driver thing was a shtick, but this terrible-people-do-track-days / real-drivers-move-on-to-racing thing is inaccurate.

    Guys like your Mr. Flatout get bored of track days in a couple years, park their “track cars,” and then go buy boats. I don’t think they’re really the problem. Guys like this can be passed and might ruin a clean lap or two, but not a whole session.

    Allow me to add veracity to the hearsay story you describe in your last paragraph. I was driving in the advanced group at a Chin track day at Road Atlanta in 2012 or 2013 when a guy in a yellow Corvette went off somewhere around the esses. The track was black flagged and everyone came off. The driver was walking around immediately after the collision. He left the track alive. As the story goes, the guy died had a preexisting neurological condition and died of a brain bleed or something. What did you expect the other drivers to do? Hold a candlelight vigil as the ambulance drove away? Avert their eyes as the flatbed removed the damaged car from the track? Sit out the last session in honor of a guy who, um, hit the wall in a one-car incident?

    In all seriousness, how many multi-car collisions have you seen at track days? In 16 years and probably a hundred days at a dozen tracks, I’ve seen exactly one. It was a guy who t-boned a spinning car just after T3, also at Road Atlanta. One was in a yellow Boxster, the other in a Miata. Neither were injured. In the paddock, the Miata guy offered to pay for the damage he caused. The Boxster guy declined, commenting that it was just a hazard of the activity. That’s the kind of behavior I see, in real life, at track days.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      This is what interests me:

      There are a few fatalities every year at trackdays, but when I describe the situation you immediately thought of Chin at RA. Why was that?

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Your comment is fascinating because, after reading it, I’m not entirely certain we read the same blog post.

      Jack was talking about a driver exhibiting clearly anti-social behaviors.

      You’re talking about an on-track medical incident. I think. Actually, the details on your anecdote weren’t terribly clear and I can’t tell for certain.

      A course is black flagged for a serious safety issue and continuing to drive around on it shows a blatant disregard for everybody’s safety. Additionally, joking about taking some hot laps while a black flag condition is present shows a disregard for safety. We put safety mechanisms into place for very good reasons and scorning or joking about them seriously erodes their effectiveness.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Wasn’t me! :-)

  • avatar
    5280thinair

    C’mon, Jack, all events (driving schools, open lapping days, and racing) are subject to the occasional idiot. What matters is how the organizers respond to it. The group I used to run with would have sat this guy down for a long talk, and if he wasn’t getting the message wouldn’t have let him back on track. And it’s not like all SCCA and NASA events immediately lower the boom on idiots.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I assume this is Summit Point since VIR might as well be on another planet for most NoVa-ers.
    I’ve long wanted to go to Summit on open days since it’s only about an hour away from me. I would love to get some legit HPD Instructions but shame has kept me from actually doing it since my cars are all automatic. I dread the initial conversation with classmates having to admit that. I have no delusions of grandeur about my driving ability and would love some help correcting bad habits.

    • 0 avatar
      fendertweed

      From the description of flag stations it sounds like Summit Point. I’ve flagged, worked the start/finish, and driven there at various times.

      The point of PCA DE and HPDE, IMO, is to learn how to drive your car safely at the limit. That it’s an auto shouldn’t matter IMO and what others think shouldn’t bother you.

      I’ve driven a 911 Sportomatic (precursor to Tiptronic, a semi-auto tranny with no clutch but you must shift gears (a la VW Automatic Stick Shift), look it up) at DEs at Summit Point, Watkins Glen, & Mid-Ohio. The snark-mavens snicker and pooh-pooh it til they get on the track with it, or even better, take some laps with me and see how it works. ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I’ve actually wanted to do an instruction day at Mid Ohio. I know a few local people that regularly do them, but when they all mention that there is far too little power in my FR-S (mind you, most haven’t driven one), I feel like I’m probably not the right fit with the other people that are going to be on the track. IMO, the car should be of little consequence. They seem to be focused on setting the fastest track times with the most power they can put under themselves. They are always comparing their track times with very different cars and upgrading to cars with more and more power. I just want to be a better driver.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        That’s utterly ridiculous.

        Mrs. Baruth runs the Boxster and the Fiesta ST out there on the evening track nights.

        You want me to drop you a line and set something up?

        • 0 avatar
          Quentin

          Jack – thanks for the offer. I probably won’t do anything until late spring at the earliest. I might try to get in touch sometime for some advice of when I should go or what event I should do. This is the course that I’ve been eyeing…

          http://www.midohio.com/mid-ohio-courses/60-school/406-acurahighperformance

      • 0 avatar
        fendertweed

        I’ve driven 3 days at Mid-Ohio, you will love it, just ignore the big-balls (imagined), legend-in-their-own mind crowd who pooh-pooh your car.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        Yeah, that’s crazy talk. I did a weekend at Mid O in a 1987 GTi which had maybe 110 hp, had a blast. Your FR-S should be great fun there.

        How fast you ultimately go is only important in a competition event.

  • avatar

    It seems that almost regardless of venue, there are some real jerks out there, often bathed in the ignorance of their own failure to see others as having the same motivations. I’ve run into turkeys like this guy at car and motorcycle track days, on a mountain bike, even in day to day business, yet they are fortunately anomalous and often self-regulating as their egos power mistakes. I will say that the HPDE events I’ve attended would not have allowed this bozo back on the track after ignoring black flags, so their attendance is typically short-lived.

  • avatar
    DirtRoads

    I dunno — every group of people is peppered with assholes. My daily drive to and from work has a buttload of them. Some days are better than others, and I come home not in a crappy mood. Other days, I get mad as soon as I leave the office and all the way till I reach the garage at home. And the wife wants to know how was my day…. lol it was fine, until I had to come home!

    That line always makes her a little defensive. I have to explain it…

    I’ve worked in the aviation business damn near my whole career, over 35 years, and the most arrogant people (pilots) are just who they are. But some mechanics are the same way. All groups of people have ’em…

  • avatar
    mikey

    Yes indeed …I call in the “1 in 20 rule. Take a group 20 people , any gender, any ethnic origin, or socio economic background . …My life experience tells me , that at least one , maybe two , will be first class ” A$$ —-h—s.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Yes, I think Jack is making way too much out of this one A-hole. The track days I’ve done all struck me as being safer than the drive on the public roads to the track. But yeah, there is the risk of encountering a major douche-bag.

      That pretty much applies to any gatherings of humans, though. I remember playing in a recreational co-ed softball league at work many years ago. We had talked a young receptionist into playing, convincing her that it was just a fun league and there was nothing to worry about. Well, one play she was catching the ball for a force out at second when some douche decided he was going to take her out at the knees to break up a (non-existent) double play chance. We nearly got in a brawl over it.

      Unfortunately you run into idiots in everything you do. I’ve generally found track days to be fun and safe.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes to Mikey. I don’t know if it’s 1 in 20, or what. But there are good people and bad people in any group. And that includes political groups. I hear a lot of my fellow libs saying that GOPers, or Trump supporters in particular, are all bad people. That’s BS.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    If the track is “too complicated” he should take up drag racing.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    That is incredibly sad and I’m surprised he wasn’t banned or named and shamed.

    During the test and tune before my first race, the course got black flagged and I missed the entrance to the pit. That long, slow lap around the course by myself (knowing full well there was a black flag situation) felt like an eternity and I was mortified to be the only car out there for a solid 2 minutes. Shame is an excellent teacher.

  • avatar

    I have yet to meet Mr. Flat Out in my years (a long time ago) learning under the local PCA chapter. I have met plenty of people road racing who are menaces to themselves and those around them (but I guess you’re not a successful road racer if you care about anybody’s life, including your own).

    I did meet a lot of gym class heroes who never raced, but they’re nice guys, they compete with each other a bit, but not a danger and they know they’re one rung beneath real racers (we are sociopaths for sure).

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    It’s perhaps not too shocking that Mr. Flatout lives in the DC metro area. Seems like about 90% of the motorists around here drive like him on public roads, so the prospect of turning his ilk loose on a track is also terrifying.

    I once spent a good hour chatting with a flag man and corner worker at Summit Point who was lamenting the frequency with which people ignore the safety workers at that track. While we were chatting, several people blatantly ignored flag men trying to warn them of an oil slick dumped mid-track by a grenading Miata motor. How several cars didn’t slide off the track, through the fence, over the grass, and out the front gate I will never know.

  • avatar
    CarAddict

    Not sure why installing safety equipment in a track car and/or towing your weekend car to the track deserves condemnation?

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    This guy lives in all of us. Keeping that part under control can be a damn SOB.
    Mine got out last weekend and almost killed me. I ride 3 wheelers mostly and got cocky with a YZ250f in chase. It sent me ahole over elbows off a 20′ levee wall. I got hurt, my bike got hurt, my ego.. It may recover..
    Hopefully your “flat out” guy learned a lesson.
    Keep it in check.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    After doing a few skippy schools and a season of Skippy racing life events like work kids etc intervened. That led to De events.

    My observations are that various organizers have various degrees of oversight. Fundemetaly though they live on income, and tend to not boot people. 7/10 drivers have way to much car for their skill level. Ever seen a newbie in z06. Frankly even a cayman on track is too much car for most.

    I am of the opinion that unless you have taken a formal racing school there is no way you should be let into the advanced groups. Better yet without a formal 3 day school maybe you shouldnt be in DE, but then its a buisness and not every racer went to school.

    There are some pretty talented people who never learned some basics.

    There are also some exceptionaly good drivers who are all too happy to share the knowledge. You can learn more following a well driven miata or mini throught he bends.

    Yeah there tends to be a lot of ego, because some are really impressed with their cars and themselves, they are dangerous.

    In my experince the worst offenders are new vette drivers, some few vette drivers are also really good drivers. But how often is a vette all over your windsheild slowing you down immune to letting you pass, only to use his 505 or 650 hp to blast down the straight. They are apprently blind to the hamburger flag.

    What to do, well you could go for a pass, but then you risk your and their car, because these people are unpredictable and we are here to have fun not race. Or you can pit in let the traffic go by and go back out, speak with the orgainzers afterwards. I even had one tated bald headed idiot brake check me.

    Or you can join a private track, its got its fair share of poseurs in really expensive cars who really cant drive, but the track is empty, people are polite(pointbys)and there are some really exceptional drivers.

    Whats funny is that a great driver is always happy to advise and usualy afraid to offer because there is so much ego. One thing about the track, unless you are senna there is always someone to learn from, and Ill bet even senna picked up on others good habbits.

    Fact is if youre not racing then its DE events or private track club. There be ways to manage, but there are more idiots at DE events out there every year, and its a buisness.

  • avatar
    acehunter

    “…quiet in conscience, calm in his right, confident his ways were best.”

    Nicely played, sir.

  • avatar
    JMII

    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.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • SPPPP: Well, if the car lost traction and was skidding, the pedal should not have gone soft. It should have kicked...
  • Vae Victis: The airflow chassis was good enough for Cecil Turtle in Tortoise Wins by a Hare:...
  • Lou_BC: “Tesla got a score of 176 PP100, which would place Tesla 31st out of 34 brands covered in the 2021...
  • Lie2me: The Airflow was quite advanced for it’s day, but like you say the radical styling was too much too fast...
  • N8iveVA: @ToolGuy “The California Globe, founded by an associate of Trump’s son-in-law Jared...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber