Nick was out of the game for a long time. Indeed, when he approached me to reenter the fray my concerns were expressed, with punctuation, I may add. Achieving 25 years of club membership is to pay homage when you consider the short attention span any club is capable of drawing to the table. It’s not “their” fault; it simply is the way of organizations such as ours. Nick Ventura has in every position contrived by Metro PCA over the course of time and as controversy can surround my opinion, members, considered antagonists, would enjoy our former chief instructor’s subtle yet capable “Bruce Wayne/Batman” demeanor. Fortunately, his personality has “rubbed off”, as my hubris was difficult to fit through a 12×12 commercial door, only recently to arrive at a comfort level in attitude helped through an emulation of his quiet charm.
With the last engine’s life span terminated due to piston failure at 45 hours and difficulty in procuring many vital parts, did I dare assume Nick may have strapped his helmet on for the last time? Inclusive to germination of this article lies with factual evidence of racing prowess. Skills which have delivered dozens of overall/class wins for Metro PCA and with a mere, Ahem, 914. As non-controversial as this metro driver has been, the “914” he pilots, has drawn a maelstrom where rules were put into place, especially so at National PCA levels. Many believe that this car, stylistically dubbed, The Batmobile, along with its 750 ponies arranged amidships, was the hybrid birthed in Club Hell. National rules were in a constant state of flux, in part based specifically on the Batmobile, finally insulting it through it’s installation in the prototype category; a group inclusive to the 962! Honestly, why would they put this “simple” 914 there? With every component unique and state of art, it was appropriate to leave the rear taillights as a reminder of what was once an “entry level” Porsche. I’ve no intention in rehashing his record as it truly speaks for itself, “Bruce Wayne” and his Batmobile began a legacy which spanned decades only to succumb to a lack of spares. It’s easy to understand his distaste in amassing another ride when nothing would approach performance figures in which this unique creature would put forth on qualifying sheets at Club races across the U.S. As to my satisfaction? It came in the creation of something NO ONE had ever seen before, or after.
Allowing two years for engine completion, this creature and its new power plant left our Gotham cave recently. I cautioned this quiet hunter as to how the competition has been recently, only to look into his eyes and realize caution never comes to Nick’s thought process of speed. I extolled the virtues of the new generation of track cars and factory examples of GT3’s based on the current 996. Graced with experience on the current crop of cars, along with much driving experience in Europe, my comments fell on deaf ears. Nick hears no evil, speaks no evil. Decades preceding, many club drivers opined of his driver prowess, “Nick was not just ahead of the curve, Nick was the curve!” The once famed Batmobile’s reintroduction in competition would prove agonizing to me though healing to its drivers dry spell, culminating in the ever familiar Nick-Brando-Godfather tone; “Build it, I’ll drive it, nothing else matters”.
Procuring Porsche 962 racing engine parts proved to take over two years, vital parts typified by the crankshaft and engine block, once common, would actually be recreated from scratch along with rods, valves, oil pump, and pistons. There were lessons to learn from this exasperating/time consuming project as vintage racing engines waste too much time in the details. My fortunes in racing originate in principle due to the people I hold close to me. Brought forth to this equation is one such person, Ed Pink, a famous/versatile race engine builder. Mr. Pink would prove crucial in the assemblage and testing of this, a most sophisticated and complex assemblage. His L.A. facility is a virtuoso of what true engine shops personify. In addition, Pink’s personality is so “Southern Californian Cool”. Akin to bronco riders on a ranch, we pulled a herd of ponies during our engine test sessions and properly broke in, “mapped”, crated, then shipped back one happy “blown hybrid” to NYC, along with a return promise in the form of “Marks famous artichoke sauce” for Pink’s table. Thank God the Pink man loves my sauce, as I love his shop!
With a pleasurable install/run process completed, the venerable Batmobile’s initial venture would take it to Watkins Glen PCA Club Race in June. The once common 17” tires were no longer available, as everyone of substance went to 18’s. “Batman” would run the week with old rubber and out of date brakes, feeling the pavement like Fred Flintstones feet! Again, veins thickened with ice, no tolerance towards discourse in lack of driving time, Mr. V “ponyed up” in muted volumes, “if the car’s up to it, so am I”.
Lap times, like the weather, changed radically. Rain times were impossible based on our rain tire situation, as in “none”! Dry weather/lap times spelled us on race day and went from paltry 2:18’s (two laps in two years) down to 2:03’s for qualifying position. Allowing for lack of real grip and a brake pedal that “came and went”, the oft soft spoken Metro driver was ecstatic, as was I; noting we were a mere 3 seconds of the pole! Mr. V’s goals were actually achieved in general reliability and a desire to obtain vital track time in honing his driver skills. When asked of his re-entry to competition and hiatus in driving, the mighty warrior of Gotham would again quip in a final indicative epithet, “the King isn’t dead yet”!
Indeed, this “King” would arise subsequent to a brake system correction as he assaulted the banking of Pocono for Metro’s driver ed. “long course” event. This would be a prelim to the next “real” race, with “real race rubber”. For a real sports car driver “life begins at 200”, and that time/space continuum would be gifted to us, along with the “full course” through Andy, Dorothy and Barry, members who ran the event. Those Metro Showman enlivened our show by obtaining permission to running a full, late afternoon session on the Tri-Oval! I, as well as, Nick had not been on the banks of the tri-oval in more than two decades, yet once there we lapped the field twice, as the Batmobile, and Batman would begin the process of being a “curve” for another millennium.
For the Nordschleifes’s 20.8 klicks, my “SPECIAL” 911 should have, at most, an eight minute plus lap. A piece of road unlike any other, on planet Hollywood. An addictive and rushing affair filled with Dips, swoops and the traps of Bathurst, from Klostertal to Arenberg, AKA, the Forest’s Elbow. Multiply that cute little strip of road by 10. I keep coming back in the vain attempt to execute placement, fluency and self confidence, as they are the only shortcuts to fast lap times.
If it doesn’t flow and/or you rush it too fast, go back to your room, for you WILL crash.
As Castles loom and workday traffic scuttles underneath it’s bridges, one can only imagine what it was like behind the wheel of an early Formula One car, ...In the blinding rain and fog. Replete with Balloon tires, jockey cap, drum brakes and a pack of lucky’s in your breast pocket. A time for real drivers.
I’ve run out of options, I’m going in too deep and way too fast. I’m somewhere near the Flugplatz and I’ve forgotten the sequence. Under the bridge then the sweepers. Fast downhill left then right. Almost a straight line if your placement is good. Mine is not. A touch of the brakes, flick the wheel, prepare to thread the needle.
The picture beyond my windshield is of brilliant green forest; layers of battered Armco and rusty chain link fence. In a blink of an eye's it’s gone, but the image remains forever crystal. Funny, how your mind works, slowing things down, enriching the senses. Careful, watch the edge now and fear the grass. Listen, let the engine’s song caress in its chorus.
Feel the oversteer? It’s breakaway progressive, forgiving, every moment so incredibly linear. There are no sharp edges, no surprises. Tip toeing and a deep breath; adjust the attitude with a lift and a flick of the wrist. Wait! Wait for the apex..And PLANT the right foot! Rubber squirms eternally, then BITES. Inevitably, my 911 succombs to the buzzing of the flat honeycomb curbing. Caressing the borders between black and green, the silver bullet ruffles the long summer grass with a rush of wind and heat. We are through. Lungs fill for the first time in perhaps 20 seconds as the throttle is rolled off. I must NOT forget my training at the Elf school, the regular cadence in breath must be maintained as it helps in creating a physical and mental structure for piloting a racecar. The 993 slows on the short straight and I come to terms with it. “That, was too close. Idiot”! Remember the flow. Why Didn’t I recognize the approach? How many years does it take to come to grip with this place?
157 corners around the north circuit. Apart from the few you can safely measure, they loom into view way too soon. I vaguely recognize a dozen others; ones which appear over blind brows or corkscrews out of sight cut through a carpet of fir trees. Paths of light glimmer when novitiates, all too lost, must look up to reposition themselves, thereby losing precious time.
Since 1927, this green, often misty valley, high in the Eifel Mountains has been the altar of motor racing, the Nurburgring. The Ring. From Hatzenbach past the Schwendenkreuz up to Adenau. Then it’s Bergwerk and on to the Karussell. Portraits of Jackie Stewart jumping the Matra high above the spray at “the flying place” in 1968; Bernd Rosemeyer clipping the apex at Hocheichen, his 1936 Auto Union in a delicately controlled slide; Fangio imperious, head straight, arms coiled, gunning his “silberpfiel” through the banked Karussell; then Nicki; poor bastard, trapped at Bergwerk, his Ferrari a fireball. Steamer trunks crammed with ghosts, coal trains of stories laden with glory.
I offer myself to Europe every now and then, excusing it to visit old friends and an auto show. Simply a postscrip to a quarter century love affair. She never lets me know all her secrets. A little international negotiation and I idle by the gatehouse in my “rental” 911. All shiny and glinting in the midday sun. It doesn’t rate a second glance. Gatekeepers, cherub faced and stuffed with wurst have noticed more exhaust heat then a naval flag officer has during his affixation to afterburners lighting a late 60’s night sky as they stream off the carriers deck somewhere in the South China Sea.
Even at eight tenths, eyes WIDE open and the brain in gear, it is unbalanced, ungainly. After a few laps on a normal track confidence begins to flow. At the “real” Ring, you’re still driving it like a blind tarmac rally stage. So much of it lies beyond the line of sight that you’re constantly reacting rather than anticipating. It might be rough but it can be very revealing. If the car isn’t forgiving, you’re unlikely to drive it away. Not enough time to write a book, however the impressions are strong, of car, driver, and circuit.
The faster you go the more to learn. In two places your leave terra firma. In another you get squished into the ground by G-forces strong enough to steal your breath. Every bump is a new challenge, the banked Karroussel, a frightening exercise in precision. It throws cars off into the trees if the driver peels of the wall too early.
There are corners like Wehseifen that literally spit the car across the roads.and Klostertal, where even real men hold their breath. There are more bad cambers than an alignment shop full of NY cabs. Intertwined with the rapid-fire directional changes and the rise and fall is this backdrop of blurred green tranquility.
Please God, let me retire and get the ring around every day of the rest of my life.
PS. I wrote the original story 15 years ago and it still “rings” true.
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