Ferrari only built 499 F430 Scuderia Spyder 16Ms and they cost just over a quarter of a million dollars these days. And one just passed me in my $1,500 VW Baja Bug.
I was a guest of the Signature Car Collection’s Track Experience held at Pocono Raceway a few weekends back. SCC is an exotic car rental agency (here is SCC’s website and info on their track experience is right here), and they’ve recently started having track events where you can run laps in Ferraris, Maseratis, or Lamborghinis.
It’s a surprisingly well-organized event with a competitive price and a great atmosphere. How great of an atmosphere? They let me take my slightly rusty, once-rolled, offroad-spec 1973 Volkswagen Baja Bug on the track.
(Full Disclosure: Signature Car Club wanted me to review their Track Experience so much, they let me take my crapcan of a Volkswagen to their $500 track experience at Pocono Raceway. Everyone there couldn’t have been nicer, from their photographer to their instructors to their event coordinators to the other drivers to the owners to the...you get the idea.)
My Baja Bug differs in several ways from a regular Beetle: the suspension is raised (not good for the track) and softened (also not good for the track), it has a less aerodynamic body that gets unstable at high speed (you’re starting to see a trend here), and it runs on truck tires (track-ready they are not). On the plus side, the engine is more powerful than standard. I would guess it has all of 60 horsepower.
This would be the first time that I’d ever driven on a racetrack, and I would be doing it in a car built for sand dunes, not late-apex sweepers. To say that I was nervous doesn’t begin to cut it. I was convinced the car wouldn’t pass tech inspection, I was sure I would forget which way the track went, and I was sure I would careen off course, dig a wheel into the dirt, and roll at speed. I hardly slept the night before and I was sweating bullets as I lined up behind an M5, an M3, a GT-R, and Integra Type R.
What was it like? Awful. Spectacularly, amazingly awful.
A good track car is all about maximizing traction. My car wouldn’t even keep all of its tires on the ground. I could feel the front left wheel hanging in the air on the fast left-handers and the guys behind me saw me bounce onto just two wheels in the bumpiest corner.
I managed to get one of SCC’s driving instructors (the surprisingly fearless Chris Keller) to give me some advice. We agreed he’d drive a few laps, then we’d switch seats and he’d give me pointers on my racing line. I figured I’d time his lap, and precisely 29 seconds after I hit the stopwatch he went for the brakes at the end of the back straight going into a hairpin to find that the pedal was resting on the floor. No brakes.
I still have no idea how we stayed on the road. I remember bounding over a bunch of curbs, a lot of tire squeal, a lot of sliding through the hairpin, and coasting back to the pits.
If that wasn’t enough to convince me that Chris was by far the greatest driver I’d ever seen (clearly beating some young German who drive me around New Jersey one time), Chris actually agreed to get back in the car after that no-brakes incident, this time with me driving.
He didn’t even flinch when I nearly drove the Bug straight off the track halfway through third gear. I got a little greedy with one of the curbs leading into a flat-out left, and the whole front end started to judder. We had no grip. How the car managed to fling itself in the general direction of the turn is beyond me.
Of course, the car wasn’t helped by my terrible driving. In the slowest turn, a second-gear sharp left leading onto the pit straight, I kept braking with my left foot after turning into the corner. Track rats specifically advise against left foot braking and every time I did it, the back end of the Baja totally swung out, oversteering all the way to the apex. This is no way to record a fast lap.
Every time I hit a straight, I was pointing someone by. That Integra? Shot past. The Lime Rock M3? Disappeared in a V8 roar. The GT-R? Gone before I knew it.
I finally called it a day after a good hour and a half of track time. When I walked back to the pits, SCC’s wonderful organizer cheerfully told me that while I was running laps, everyone had stopped what they were doing and just watched the Baja through the fast turns, waiting for the car to flip off the track.
So if you want to rip through some trackdays and teach yourself to be the fastest motherfucker in your neighborhood, do not get a Baja Bug. If you want to dissect a road course like a sushi chef slices up fugu, do not get a Baja Bug. If you want to go toe-to-toe with supercars for a reasonable budget, do not get a Baja Bug.
But if you do want to run a trackday, SCC holds a nice one. And if you are a mad, raving lunatic who likes the screeching wail of squealing tires, the urgency of lift-off oversteer, and the knowledge that you are by far the dumbest guy at any automotive gathering, get a Baja Bug.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove and Jules Rha/SCC Track Experience (pictures of me and of the Baja on track)