Never mind what the calendar says, or the color of the leaves, or fools eating Affy Tapple and wearing UGG boots—as far as I’m concerned, fall started this past Sunday. October 20th marked the date because that’s when Gingerman Raceway held its final track day of the year.
I see it like this: spring starts early in April, when Gingerman opens, and fall starts late in October, when Gingerman battens down before snow starts flying. What better way is there to mark the changing of the seasons? Solstices? Come on. A racetrack’s first and last track days clearly establish the first day of spring and the final day of summer.
To mark the occasion,I drove out to Gingerman Raceway with my girlfriend, Kimmy, in a bright red Scion FR-S. Gingerman had two open track days, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. I’d only signed up for Sunday’s session, but we headed out west a day early for pig and beer. Josh Marko, who manages the day-to-day activities at the track, had promised us lots of slow-roasted pork and craft beer at Gingerman’s end-of-the-year party on Saturday night. Kimmy and I arrived at Gingerman well after sunset and got our fill of succulent pork, but the same can’t be said for the kegs of Crooked Tree IPA or Two-Hearted. Packs of track rats ravaged those before we could get to them. We had to settle for Miller Lite.
At least we had a good drinking buddy in GingerMan owner Dan Schnitta. The only thing more interesting than Dan Schnitta is drinking with Dan Schnitta. He talked about his homeless years in France, about why he’d named the track’s main office after Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, and, of course, about cars. Just before the last keg started to sputter, Kimmy and I went to a nearby Holiday Inn Express to get a good night’s rest.
We decided not to set an alarm. You don’t need one when your hotel’s parking lot is full of race-prepped cars. Sometime around 8 a.m., a dozen or so Porsches and Mazdas fired up. That roused us. We checked out, got back into the Scion, and headed back to Gingerman. By the time we arrived, the Advanced driver’s group had started. That meant Intermediate, the group I’d signed up for, was next. Staring at the line of cars that had already amassed in pit line, it looked as if Intermediate would be a crowded class. Right then, I ran into Maribeth Jordan. She takes care of catering for the track and had heard that almost no one signed up for Novice, so I switched into that class, feeling pretty slick.
I grabbed a coffee, watched the crowded Intermediate class trickle onto the track, then went to set tire pressures on the FR-S. Twenty minutes later, Chrissy Glassburn, who heads up race control at Gingerman Raceway, came over the loudspeaker and called for the Novice group. I strapped Kimmy’s helmet for her, put on my helmet, fired up the Scion, and pulled into pit lane. Maribeth was right—there were far fewer cars in the Novice group. Almost immediately, Chrissy started sending cars onto the track. And almost immediately, I regretted joining the Novice class.
I thought Novice meant “only made it to the track a few times this year.” Nope. Just about no one knew where they were going. After a few laps, a more experienced driver in a 240SX and I managed to get out front and open our throttles a bit. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it a full lap before bunching up behind Subies and Bimmers trying to figure out how to take turn six. After a few frustrating laps, I noticed Kimmy’s right hand white-knuckling her door’s grip. I asked if she felt all right. She nodded, so I kept going.
Soon after, the checkered flag came out. I did one cool-down lap then headed back into the pits. Kimmy still hadn’t said a word. I helped her out of her helmet. She looked pale as could be. I couldn’t blame her. I can’t be a passenger on a road course either. I figured she’d had her fill of road racing for the day, so I told her we could leave. She told me to stay, to do a few more laps, but I insisted. I’d gotten what I wanted: to lap Gingerman Raceway one last time before fall officially started.