I Have Found my Better-Than-Disneyland

By a miracle of biblical proportion, I found myself running the new Fiat 124 Spyder  around the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit. Wow!

The brochure about the circuit says, “What Disneyland is for children, our driving facility will be for people who love performance driving.”

And the people said, “Amen!”

During the day I learned a lot about driving, the car and, mostly, about myself.

After a brief session in the classroom, the first behind-the-wheel exercise was braking. The basic idea is when the instructor signals “Go!” put the pedal to the metal so that the car is travelling at least 50km/hr by the time you hit the marker. Once the front end of the car passes the marker, slam on the brakes to prevent crashing through the walls of cones less than half a crosswalk ahead.

First time I braked too soon.

The instructor leaned into the cockpit.

“You’re not going to bend that brake pedal,” he said. “Hit it! I want to hear that ABS chatter. Trust the car.” (This litany reoccurred throughout the day.)

Time to Let Go of Old Lessons

“Hmmm?” I wondered, circling back in line for another go. A lot of years of being cautious and living by one of my father’s maxims - “take care of your tools” - came into play.

The second time the turbocharger on the 1.4 litre engine was spooling and the 160 horses were all running. I was still accelerating when I hit the marker and the brakes. In response to this amazing spiritual breakthrough, the instructor said, “Good” and waved me on to the next drill.

My Point of Excellence

Avoidance driving. Here my years of experience as a church leader allowed me to excel. 

Same basic layout as the braking drill except this time no brakes! Accelerate down the course, hit the marker and then instead of braking, turn sharply left, accelerate immediately right, then hit the brakes so the car stops in a straight line without “killing” any of the cones.

Applause from the instructor!

A few more exercises, a great lunch and then it was time for the track. The promo material describes it this way.

“(T)he road course layout combinations would definitely be rated extra difficult and demanding both on the driver and the car. (the course combines) 19 corners and incredible elevation changes with a constant change of corner banking…

Basic translation - one, maybe two, short straightaways, everything else is dipping, diving, and cornering.

We ran in groups of 5 or 6 cars. For whatever reason, in all my runs I slotted in behind the pace car.

The first couple of turns I ran to the outside, found the line through the peak of the turn, accelerated out of the corner. Smooth.

And then … double hairpins, other configurations whose names I forget, all combined with those advertised elevation changes.

In the classroom, one of the points underscored was only do one thing and do it 100%. In other words, don’t brake and turn the wheel at the same time. The classroom is one thing, in real life turns, and dips are another.

I was extraordinarily fortunate - another miracle - to have a staff member riding shotgun. After the first circuit, my mistakes were consistent. I was too slow into the corners and wanted to come out of complex turns in a gentle manner.

Trust - Everywhere I Go the Same Message!

Basic message - Trust the car.

In my mind, I could see us airborne.

“You’ll be making the condolence call to my wife if this goes wrong!” I thought.

A string of encouraging words followed: “Just touch the brake,” “yank it hard NOW," “accelerate,”  “we still have almost a foot before we hit a cone, plenty of room!”

And throughout the circuit, “Trust the car. It won’t let you down.”

As we were zipping around the track I was afraid he was going to ask me what kind of work I did. I determined that I wouldn’t answer, “I’m in the faith business.”

I realized, again, how easy it is to say "Have faith" as long as I get to keep my hands on the wheel, and brake and accelerate only when I feel comfortable.

It is easy to "have faith" as long as I get to keep my hands on the wheel, brake and accelerate only when I feel comfortable.

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By the end of the day, I was going around the circuit fast enough to activate motion sickness.  I had to sit out the final round.

Gratitude for the Coach

Offering thanks for the day I said to the sponsor, ”I wouldn’t have appreciated the car or what I could do as a driver without the coach.” I was lucky to have him because I know, without him, I would have settled into being just 'better than ordinary' and having a safe, comfortable run.


  1. Well that sounds like total fun. Back when Hector (and I) was a pup, I had a boyfriend that raced at Westwood track in Vancouver. I got to take a few turns “after” all was over and when he was practicing. Loved it!! Never have got over the love of going fast in a great car.

    Probably like you there are some life reflections in there!

  2. Wow! That must have been fun! Where is this Fiat School? Do you have to buy the car to participate?

    1. just follow the link in the blog and it gives the details. Short answer: just north of Duncan toward Cowichan. Very impressive facility but not open to the general public.

  3. So, wow Keith thank you. First of all, wish I had shared the experience … you know how I like to drive. Your comments and observations are timely as I wonder about playing it safe right now. Trust … do one thing 100% … get a good coach … almost hitting the wall means you risked and didn’t die trying.

    Time to challenge myself again.


    1. As I said I found the experience interesting on so many levels. Have to figure out a way to get us up there.

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