Track and Feel
If you’re going to treat yourself to an Audi RS 4, you might as well learn to drive the thing properly — and at 100-plus mph.
So figured Mike Ray, the CFO at California Casualty Management, after he bought one of the high-performing vehicles and attended a social event at the Northern California Audi Club.
In the five years since then, Ray has participated in about 50 driving-education events at venues like Sonoma Raceway. “You’re out on the track with 20 to 25 cars,” he says. “As you get more experienced, you move up into the advanced levels where you’re passing cars at speed. There could be two or three cars side by side at a turn, while you’re traveling at more than 100 miles per hour.”
(Ray and Blubaugh, like other CFOs interviewed for this article, entered a contest on the website of CBIZ, an accounting and professional services firm, for which they submitted a photo and description of their hobby.)
Ray used to be a runner and is well familiar with the zone of euphoria one enters 10 or so miles into the jaunt. He insists he experiences something similar during the driving events. “You’re on the track, listening to the engine, and you’re down-shifting and rev-matching properly before a turn, and you’re smelling the heat from the engine and the rubber from the tires. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
A couple years ago, the Audi club asked Ray to become an instructor during the events, a volunteer position he’s filled on about 20 occasions now. A reporter asks: How well do you know this person, whom you will accompany while he zooms around the track at high speeds, before you get into the car with him?
“Not very well,” he says. “And there are different skill levels, and you’ve certainly got to trust that the driver is going to listen to you.”
Sometimes, that proves to be wishful thinking. “The Audi club, compared to other clubs, is a more conservative group — we’re not attracting a yahoo that just wants to drive fast. They’re generally interested in protecting themselves and their cars. Still, people can get competitive out there, and drive over their limit or think they should be a better or faster driver. You have to dial them back a bit.”
Has he been involved in or witnessed any accidents? “I actually feel safer on the track than in my daily commute, because at the track most people are fairly competent drivers who watch the mirrors and things like that,” he says. “But yes, I’ve seen a couple of accidents. I myself have spun off the track at 100 mph and almost hit a wall. Just last August I did $8,000 worth of damage to my car when I lost focus for just a brief second. It was a pretty scary situation.”