Where to start? It has been an awfully long day today, so I’ll try to type up all I can remember as my contacts are drying out from the desert and irritating the hell out of my eyes, and as I am becoming more drained. The adventure started on Tuesday, April 2. Three hours before I headed out to the airport, a mutual friend contacted me and told me that his buddy needed a roommate to split the costs of a hotel room. After calling back and forth with Josh Hurley from Miami, we finally settled on where we would meet, the hotel we would get, and a rental car. Talk about last minute…My flight had a layover at George Bush Int’l in Houston, TX coming from Baltimore (BWI). Josh and I landed at the same time in Houston, so we met up, had dinner, and talked about racing and the Jetta testing. Turns out Josh is an accomplished karter and was a data engineer for a Daytona Prototype team in Grand-Am. Working with Grand-Am teams and working at a karting shop, he has had run-ins with a list of who’s who of professional racing. After we ate, we caught our flight and flew out to Phoenix. After landing at Sky Harbor Int’l around 10pm, we had a ridiculous time at the rental car counter. Since we are both under 25, they charged us $20/day on top of whatever the car pricing was! After getting that debacle over with, we headed out in our super gay PT Cruiser and drove up and down I-10 a little while trying to find Josh’s hotel. When we finally found it around 11:25pm, this hotel had already closed it’s lobby at 11pm! WTF!? We ended up going down the street to another motel.
Wednesday, April 3: We both get up around 6am and leave extra early for Firebird Raceway. There is already a good number of people waiting near the parking lot. Even though 180 people were invited, only about 60-70 showed up. Of course, as a transport vehicle, Volkswagen showcases their products by hooking up a multi-person ‘tram’ to their Touareg V10 TDI. When we approach the VW hospitality tent…wow, it is stunning! Something you would expect to see at an American Le Mans event. The attention to detail and hospitality VW shows is very evident. We are surrounded the Dakar Rally Touareg 2 and a covered up Jetta TDI race car.
After signing up for registration, we get our helmets checked for the SNELL sticker, get a VW testing shirt, and a lanyard with our names and that day’s itinerary. I end up seeing a familiar face from the DC area, Liam Kenney. I talk with him and his mom for a little bit. Later on, we both ended up in the same group. For the day, they split everyone into 5 groups. Liam and I were in the yellow group. All chosen by random. The first order of business is orientation. Next, we head over to the dragstrip section of the raceway to the tower box. For the yellow group, our first agenda is filling out a questionnaire about ourselves and then being interviewed. We each get interviewed by Volkswagen’s public relations group to see how presentable we are and how much of a ‘spokesman’ we will be in order to represent VW to the media.
My interview went very well and was relaxed. I noticed in my peripheral the guys in the background nodding in agreement with my answers, so I hope they liked it. 🙂 They asked us to tell a little about ourselves, what our biggest accomplishment in life was, etc. After the interviews was a written exam on racing flags and vehicle dynamics. Some tricky questions because they were worded weird, but nothing too difficult. After the exam, we checked out the rows of the Jetta race cars. Wow they look stunning in person. After oogling at them for awhile, we headed over to the Oakley booth to get our size fittings for race suits, gloves, shoes and nomex underwear.
Lunch time was next. VW had some fantastic catering. Fruit salad, pasta and club sandwiches. Since RedBull is a corporate sponsor of VW, there was unlimited supply! During lunch, I met up with a bimmerforums.com member who is a technician for the Jetta Cup series. We chatted for awhile and he had actually gone down to Mexico to help setup the race cars at the factory. Very cool stuff, especially as he used to work for Saleen. After lunch, we got a thorough overview of what the Jetta Cup is all about from VW’s Motorsport Manager, Clark Campbell. The president of SCCA Pro Racing sat in to watch the presentation. After that, we headed out to the autocross session. We got to tear up some brand new GTI’s! It was a lot of fun and interesting watching the road racers trying out autox for the first time. It was particularly interesting to always have a boom microphone above your head and a camera pointing at you, as VW will be using a lot of the footage from testing for their promotional video. Myself and one other guy were the only ones who had some autox experience. The other guy is a 3-time national Solo2 champion. Impressive. It was fun flogging around the GTI’s, making the tires squeal for mercy, and feeling that fun fun understeer. We each ran 4 laps: 2 practice, 2 timed. Dakar Rally/VW factory driver Ryan Arciero commented that I was “definitely quick”, but he did catch me on my cell phone. Whoops! Next up, we all went to the karting track. Since there were 12 in our group, they split us up in half. It was a blast sliding around in the karts and going full throttle around the curbing. It was also interesting, because with the little experience I have compared to the several years of kart racing others have in my group, I was easily catching up to them and passing. It was definitely confidence inspiring. After the day was done, we all went back to the hospitality tent. We had refreshments, including VW ‘stamped’ waffles, drinks, and other goods. The plan was to cut people today, but since so few had showed up compared to what VW was expecting, they let us all come back! No one got cut today, but definitely will on Friday. Tomorrow, we will do fitness training as well as more technical, in-depth autocross training. Should be more fun…this experience has been amazing so far (only day 1!) and I am confident I will be one of the 30 chosen.