Jackie nips at the heels of the big dogs in Lewistown

By good friend of the Region and local radio personality, Jackie Bell

For my birthday, my husband paid for me to attend the Porsche Club driving school in Lewistown.  I have autocrossed with the Yellowstone Region for about 5 years, but this was my first opportunity to attend the event and I was excited. I decided to participate on both Saturday and Sunday.

I arrived in Lewistown on Friday afternoon, checked into my motel, and set out to locate the Lewistown D.R.I.V.E. facility to the west of the airport.  (I had downloaded a great map from Porsche website.)  After I found the course, I came across David Cooley, event coordinator, who was out on the track pulling a trailer full of cones.  I introduced myself and he put me to work.  I was glad to help.  Dave drove the truck and I rode on the trailer setting out cones at designated spots. 

When we were done, Dave told me to get in my car.  (When I autocrossed in the past, it was always in my 1972 Ford Gran Torino.  However, I recently purchased a ’99 Mitsubishi Eclipse and autocrossed it just once prior to Lewistown.)  Dave got behind the wheel of my car, I took the passenger seat, and he proceeded to gently take me through the course explaining the philosophy behind braking, turning, finding the “line”, etc.  We did three laps with Dave driving and then I drove.  I was not nearly as smooth!  However, I went back to the motel elated and couldn’t wait to get started on Saturday morning. 

I arrived about 7:30 and got to meet some great people with some cool cars!  The drivers’ meeting was around 9:30.  There were 12 new drivers and about 20 drivers who had taken the course before.  All new drivers were required to ride with an instructor until they were certified to run “solo.”  Instructions were given, group assignments made, and we were ready to roll.  The experienced racers ran in two groups with the rookies ran in two other groups.  Fred was my instructor.  On the first few laps, Fred drove my car and I rode.  Fred provided instruction as he drove.  I tried to listen, but I was so amazed at what he had my car doing that I had a hard time concentrating!  

Then it was my turn to drive.  I drove with Fred instructing me all day Saturday and on Sunday morning.  I was having some trouble with the “okay, you’re coming into a corner at high speed so you need to brake, clutch, downshift, turn, set yourself up for the next turn, watch the guy in front of you and behind you, be in the right gear and position as you exit the turn for maximum acceleration”……learning curve. 

Late Saturday afternoon, Fred decided that maybe I should ride with him while he drove his Porsche so I could watch his braking and shifting technique.  That was a good idea in theory, but while I watching his feet instead of the track, I started getting car sick.  I asked Fred (politely) to take me to the pits and let me out (although inside I’m screaming, “I’M GONNA PUKE!”).  He graciously complied.  I made it to grass adjacent to the pits and promptly “tossed my cookies.” So ended Saturday’s racing. 

On Sunday, I finally got the technique down pretty good and had some high-speed (110 mph) runs.  Fred was just about to let me go “solo,” when the clutch in my car quit clutching!  Bummer!  I had to pull off the track and be towed back to the pits.  It was the PITS!  Luckily, Scott Cranston and Jarod Staebler were at the event with Scott’s trailer. Scott graciously agree to drive his “Stang” back to Billings and put my car on his trailer for the return trip. 

“J-Rod” and I were tooling down the road when Scott’s pick-up started running rough.  Just outside of Lavina we decided to find a place to pull over.  As we rolled to a stop, the truck died.  It was not the best area for cellphone reception and we were forced to stand on the roof of the truck to make calls. 

We finally got through to my husband and he brought out another pick-up to retrieve the trailer.  In the meantime, J-Rod got the pickup started and he was able to drive it home. So after an extra couple hours on the side of the road, we all arrived home safe and sound! 

Oh yeah, I’m getting a new clutch put in my Mitsu…. and it’s not gonna be stock!  The weekend turned out to be a bit more expensive than Jeff originally intended!  Amazing fun though–and well worth it.  As Arnold says, “I’ll be back.”