Now, I take some pride in knowing how to set up a tent, I was a Boy Scout, an Eagle Scout in fact. Mark and I pitched our tents on high, flat ground, the luck of the draw with the camp sites I guess, but we had good ones. I staked my tent properly, I pulled each corner tightly, I knew I’d stay perfectly dry. I tried to get back to sleep, but it’s kind of hard to sleep with the noise of the wind and the rain and the thunder and lightning. It was a crazy storm. We got up early again and as we emerged from our tents we could see that some people didn’t fair as well as we did. We saw several 10 x 10 canopies tents that were completely collapsed and mangled… in some cases, the fabric canopies were gone entirely, and a crumpled pile of steel and fiberglass poles remained. People had left food and clothes out on folding tables, all that stuff was soaked or strewn about. The Carousel camp ground was a bit of a mess. Our tents were fine and we were dry. We wiped the white car off and drove into town again for breakfast.
After breakfast, it still wasn’t even 7:00am, we went back to the campsite to pick up Ruby and we went out in search of a good place to park the cars. We headed up into the Paddock area near turn 5 and came across the perfect parking spot… it was like it was made for two Porsche 356s.
There is a small concrete pad right above the spectator area at turn 5, right as you come up the hill from the entrance of the track into the paddock. It’s a place where just about every person who enters the place must pass, whether on foot or in a car. For the past few years there had been a little concession stand there, a trailer set up to sell popcorn and drinks I think, but it wasn’t there, it was just a bare concrete pad. So we didn’t have to park in the wet grass, there was no mud for us to deal with, we drove right onto this concrete pad and strategically parked the two cars. We put the For Sale sign in Ruby and put some flyers on the windshield. For the rest of the day the cars acted as our home based. They were centrally located so we could come back to them to get something out of our coolers, it was perfect. Everyone who walked by cocked their head to read the paper with the car details on it Mark had made, a lot of people took flyers.
We bumped into Twin Cities car guy Dick Matthews while waiting in line for lunch. Once we all got our food we sat together. He’s such a fun guy to talk to about old cars, and he’s got some neat ones. He drove his Porsche 356 Roadster down from Minneapolis to Elkhart Lake, the same 8 hours we drove. He told stories of racing his AC Bristol at Met stadium and the time a Ferrari 250 passed him in the Kink at Road America “I didn’t mind that the guy passed me, but did he have to pass me there?!” The kink is a famously tricky, and potentially very dangerous, turn at Road America. It was fun visiting with Dick over lunch.
After lunch Sunday is always a bittersweet time, some of the best on track action is Sunday afternoon, but even by that time, you start seeing race trailers being packed up and driven out as each race group has their final session of the weekend.
As later afternoon came around Mark and I said our goodbyes to those around us and hopped into the 356s, leaving the track behind. Instead of trying to make it all the way home after an almost full day at the track, we opted to drive a few hours to Buckhorn State Park, on Castle Rock Lake, not far from I94 and Mauston, WI. It’s funny, when you sit down with a map of Wisconsin and Minnesota with Mark and start talking about places to camp and back roads to drive, he has the base of knowledge that’s huge. I feel like we’re looking at remote areas on the map, certainly places I’ve never been, and he’s like “This is a pretty good place, I’ve camped there before” as he points to a random state park. Then maybe he’ll point to a little lake or something and say “There’s a private campground here that’s okay, good view of that little lake, no flush toilets though” sometimes I wonder if he was a hobo at some point, a vagabond wandering from place to place, camping along the way… but in a Porsche, not a rail car. Or maybe that’s what he is now?
The few hours of great back roads Sunday evening as the sun set were some of the best of the weekend. I savored every moment driving Mark’s Ruby Red 356. Anyone who has ever made fun of a 356 for being ‘a Volkswagen’ has clearly never driven one. They are such utterly capable cars, fast, fun to drive, great handling, I didn’t want to stop. They’re real sports cars and an absolute blast. I’ve had a lot of windshield time in Mercedes Pagoda SLs, my 230SL and 250SL, both are cars that are no longer in my life. I can guarantee you that I will never own another Pagoda SL until I have a 356… yes, the former president of the local section of the Mercedes-Benz Club just put that on paper (former, being the operative word there I guess). It was even more fun driving in convoy with Mark, watching the curves of his white car ahead of me dice through the turns of the nearly deserted back roads. These cars have what, 95, maybe 100 HP? Well, they just prove the old saying, “It’s fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.” They aren’t even that slow, at one point I passed a Saturn doing 10 under the speed limit at about 90 MPH, in third gear! I backed off as soon as I got around the lady, but I like to be decisive in those oncoming lane passing situations. What fun!
We woke up Monday morning knowing we’d be home soon. We stopped in a small town for breakfast, I can’t even remember the name of the place. A table full of about 10 local guys, mostly farmers from the looks of their hats and clothes, all turned to look as we entered. One of them that came late, after us, walked over to our table to ask if those were Porsches we were driving. “I thought they were Karmann Ghias then I thought, ‘no, I think those are Porsches’”. Porsches, he was right. See, people love them.
We got back in the cars for the last leg home, a good 5 hours of driving after breakfast, it just never got old. All weekend, I knew in the back of my mind, that this might be my last July vintage race weekend at Road America for a while, as my wife and I recently bought a house in New York and sold our house here in St. Louis Park. We’re moving to New York at the end of September.
I hope to make it back to Minneapolis a couple of times next year, maybe for the Spring Kick Off and the vintage races, but then the next year, I’ll probably only come back once, then the next year, I probably won’t come back at all as life gets geared up in a new place. We’re really looking forward to our new adventure. We bought 30 acres just outside Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University. The really good news… what’s just a short 20 minute or so drive down the road? Watkins Glen! Of course, I’m really excited to be so close to such a great race track and I am officially all out of excuses, those excuses I keep giving Rich Stadther when he says, “Come on Dave, get an MG or a Triumph or something like that to race, you’ll love it, you just have to get started” for not having a cool little car for the track. At the same time… if I’m so close to the track, there will be no more 8 hour road trips with a good friend, over the back roads in cool cars, where getting there is just as fun as being there.
Over the past few years Mark and I have driven to Road America a bunch of times… he’s always in a 356. The color changes, but the model stays the same, Champagne Yellow, Ruby Red, Ivory White… I’ve always been in a Mercedes 230 SL or my 250 SL… until this year and this year was a very good year that I’ll remember, well, forever. Thanks Mark. (More photos from the weekend below.)