When I was a young lad in college, I spent many hours playing Gran Turismo (yeah, the first one. yeah, I’m old) and running lap after lap on Laguna Seca.
I’ve dreamed about doing it in real life too many times to count.
Finally. Here I am.
And this almost didn’t happen.
Track time went on sale when I was driving to California earlier this year to visit the Mazda R&D Basement. I pulled into a McDonalds parking lot in the middle of Rat’s Ass AZ only to login 15 minutes too late to get a session
So I registered as an attendee and got a banquet spot and called it good.
Fast forward a few months. I was chatting with Keith Tanner of FM fame (and lots of other Miata-centric fame) and MRLS came up. I mentioned that I wanted to get track time but had not been able to get a session.
Unbeknownst to me, Keith then asked the organizers if I they could squeeze me in.
Since I was attending, I made plans with Garage Star to hang out. They wanted to have Sharka in their garage. I mentioned to them that I wasn’t able to drive on the track.
Then Garage Star asked the organizers if they could find track time for me.
Then Rick Weldon, master of the event, sent me a terse note and told me to stop trying to get around the system and wait in line for track time like everyone else.
After a brief email exchange, I got things smoothed out with Rick and assured him that it was just friends trying to help me out. Bygones left the room and everything was fine. I was not banned from MRLS.
Before I go further, I need to say that Rick is a hell of a nice guy. One of the nicest folks I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the Miata world, and that is saying a lot.
And later that same day where I thought I might be banned from MRLS for life, Rick emailed again saying that there was an opening for track time in D group on Saturday.
I paid within 3.5 microseconds and did not sleep for the rest of the week.
I was gonna get to drive Laguna Seca!!! How could I be expected to sleep?
And then even more magic happened.
Garage Star could not make the event. They had issues getting parts made and were not going to be able to make a good showing. Cars were also being painted and prepped, but they would not be done in time either.
So they gave me their garage. Just like that.
Sharka and Bucky would have a garage of their own at Laguna Seca.
I actually had full vendor rights for the event. I could have come with a truck load of gauges and other stuff… and I would have likely sold a ton and made a decent profit.
But I didn’t wanna do that. Not one bit.
This was my first time at MRLS. My first time driving Laguna Seca. I didn’t want to worry about selling parts. I didn’t want to force Corey to mind the store while I drove track sessions and then hurried back. Nope.
I just wanted to drive Laguna. To go down the corkscrew. To live the dream.
And I did.
What can I say that wouldn’t be incoherent fanboy babbling?
I drove Laguna Seca.
I took Sharka.
Neither of us broke.
It was magic.
The track itself was SO very different from the video games. Just… night and day. They got the direction of each turn right in the games. That’s about it.
There’s a huge amount of elevation change that doesn’t come across on a flat screen. For example, the front straight has an incredible drop past the start/finish. And it’s NARROW! Oh man. That start/finish is extremely narrow. In the games you could have 8 cars going through door-to-door. But in real life, a couple cars are a tight fit.
MRLS is also extremely technical when driven in actual real life. In the games, it feels… I don’t want to say “easy” but it kinda feels easy. It’s far from easy to drive in real life. And yet, it’s not difficult to get your head around.
It’s Laguna Seca. It’s legendary for a reason.
The Corkscrew – it really feels like a corkscrew when going down it. The extreme downhill and multiple S turns that make it up – games don’t do it justice. It’s incredibly thrilling. But the rest of the track is no slouch.
The Corkscrew is just one movement in the symphony that makes up Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Sorry to keep comparing it to games, but I’ve had half a lifetime of driving this track via a TV. I would guess that most folks out there are also more familiar with it via controllers and pixels.
It took me a very long time to finally put Laguna Seca under my tires. And it was worth the wait.
But back to the garage.
As insanely great as actually driving the track was, having my own garage for the weekend was nearly the equal. And I’ll tell you why if I can manage to explain it.
Seriously. I’m struggling to find the words. I feel like Jack trying to describe Christmas Town. How to put these feelings into words…
I was a VERY busy guy all weekend. I wandered and talked and shook hands with shop owners and enthusiasts I’d never met in person. I got to ride in a V8 NA (Thanks again Zandr!!) I think I ate once or twice. I had a visor signed by Tom Matano.
Every time I came back to the garage, there was another friend car (or two or five) parked in front. Even now, writing this, I’m just beaming like an idiot from the absolute joy of this.
Dustin’s Cappuccino. Brian and Jazz. So many of the KINOD group. Whether they were cars I’d never seen or ones I’d seen just 10 minutes earlier, it was SO awesome to have so many come and hang out between sessions.
Thanks for sharing Club RevLimiter with me all weekend. You are all my family.
Sunday morning was spent driving around Pebble Beach. That’s another blog post. We’re gonna skip that and re-join at MRLS Sunday after lunch.
While driving around Pebble Beach, Sharka’s odometer was inching closer and closer to a milestone.
Sharka rolled into the garage with 59,983 miles on the clock.
And I had not purchased lapping time for Sunday.
I told this to Corey (who drove Bucky out for the event). And he got this look in his eye. “I’ll be right back,” he says.
( Side note: When Corey gets an idea in his mind, he makes it happen. It’s an amazing skill. I have a Koenigsegg Hot Wheels on my wall signed by Christian von Koenigsegg as proof. Getting Sharka onto the track on Sunday was small potatoes for this man. )
A few minute later, Corey appeared back in the garage with Rick and Lisa in tow. The two folks running the event, just casually hanging out in the garage next to Sharka.
Lisa had some Sunday stickers for Sharka’s windshield.
Rick gave me a huge hug and told me to go roll those numbers over.
Magic. That’s all there is to it.
Disneyland has nothing on MRLS.
I’m kinda big on odometer mile stone photos. I took one in Sharka-the-97 when that chassis rolled over 100k miles…. at 100 miles per hour. That was years before they’d invented blogs.
I took the same pic in Bucky when he hit 100k. I did a blog post. It wasn’t that long ago.
But to hit 60k while actually driving Laguna Seca? There’s no comparison. A backroads 100mph sprint is not even in the same league.
Bucket List Item – Hit 60,000 at Laguna Seca
Bucket List? To be honest, I’d never dreamed this could ever be a possibility. How do you time something like this? It couldn’t possibly be planned.
But SURE! I’ll take it.
Sharka got to cross 60,000 miles at Laguna Seca. It happened just past the corkscrew. About 1/10 of a mile later, I was in the pit road with my phone documenting it.
How the hell do I sum up this post and my experience of driving my beloved automotive alter-ego at the one track I’ve most dreamed of driving?
I’d just be gushing. I’d be struggling for more adjectives that would fail to describe.
I’ll use those two words again to describe it – pure joy.
Thank you everyone. Everyone who hung out. Everyone who came by and said kind things about my stripey cars. Everyone who made the weekend so magical.
(have I mentioned my undying love for my FM turbo? OMG)
These two were shot by Pete. Thank you!!!
Thank you MRLS.
-Adam and Sharka