My job and life are constantly conspiring to prevent me from attending many (but not all!) Porsche-related events. After missing the last three 944Fests, I decided that I wouldn’t repeat the same mistake again, and committed to prepping my car for a weekend of racing and recreation. My dad’s 944 Turbo was fresh from the shop and track ready – what better way to spend the Father’s Day weekend than driving up and racing our 944s together?
Things didn’t work out as planned. Between a few engine seals I know I need to replace and a sinking feeling that my master cylinder needs rebuilt, I decided that the car, while drivable, was a liability for a drive nine hours long, round trip. And so, with a heavy heart, I loaded up my Porsche support vehicle and set off to meet my father at 6:00PM. Together we left for our 4 ½ hour journey to the track at the modest hour of 9:30PM. After a few hours and a “sobriety stop” at 2:00AM (courtesy of road signs obscured by fog, a liberal interpretation of the phrase, “driving left of center,” and Garrettsville, Ohio’s overzealous-yet-courteous Police force), we were at the track!
What is the 944Fest
For the uninitiated, the 944Fest is at Nelson Ledges Road Course, due east from Cleveland, Ohio. The event is managed and promoted by Rennbay.com, a Porsche 924/928/944/968 parts supplier based out of Florida. Each year, the 944Fest brings fun to 944 owners with a car show, prizes, and of course, the HPDE [High Performance Driver's Education] held on location. While it’s no Nordschleife, Nelson Ledges Road Course is as easy to learn as it is difficult to master. The lack of elevation changes and the high volume of corners are a great equalizer, offering normally-aspirated cars several opportunities to best their turbo-charged counterparts.
Nelson Ledges is also the location Porsche chose to introduce the 944 Turbo to the United States back in the eighties, so for many the location holds a strong historical significance. Racing along the track in a 944, it is easy to see why Porsche chose this location; here, the Porsche 944 affords its driver opportunities in every turn.
In addition to the many online communities sponsoring this year’s event, local dealership Porsche of Beachwood was kind enough to give attendees a wonderful steak dinner Saturday night. Racing legend Fred “Fast Freddy” Baker is affiliated with the dealership and was on location for part of the day. While I was unable to find him, fellow 944Fest attendees allege that my father had better luck: the story goes that when my dad’s exhaust mount broke, he asked around for something to keep the muffler off the ground and unknowingly (as I’m told!) turned to Fred Baker, who was only too happy to oblige him with a spare coat hanger! If it’s true, this only reinforces how strong the Porsche community is for amateurs and professionals alike.
This year, I drove Nelson Ledges Road Course in a turbocharged 944 – my first turbo track excursion! Dad’s 951 pulled double-duty this weekend, running in both our HPDE classes. I’m happy to say the car suffered no ailments on or off the track, which is more than many can say of the weekend. One 928 blew an oil line Friday and a 944 Turbo blew an engine Saturday; together, both cars shut down the track for three hours for cleanup crews to mop up the oil and debris –thankfully, no one was injured!
HPDE. Just one of Many Reasons to Attend 944Fest
On a happier note, I met several 944 owners who were first-time 944Fest participants and first-time HPDE students! It is always fun to see more Porsche fanatics brought into the fold. When I think back to my first track experience (Nelson Ledges hosted my first HPDE!), I always wish I had photographs to commemorate the fun and educational high-speed experience. In the spirit of the camaraderie and brotherhood the 944Fest fosters within its participants, I took it upon myself to try and photograph the HPDE drivers as they navigated the track at speed. I even skipped a couple of my sessions so I could photograph folks in my run group. I’m passionate about racing and I really hope I was able to capture a few images to remind participants of their experience at the 2012 944Fest. With that in mind, this link will take you to the photo album section on the PorschePurist Facebook page. Click on any of the “2012 Porsche 944Fest (Part X)” albums to look through my shots from the weekend. Here is a small sample:
But PorschePurist brought more than a camera to the 944Fest! It is customary for 944Fest participants to enjoy a beer or two (once the track is closed and cars are shut down for the evening!) after a long day on the track. However, there was only enough beer from sponsors to cover Saturday night, leaving Friday night high and dry. As an enthusiastic homebrewer, I saw an opportunity to give the 944 community another reason to enjoy PorschePurist – by bringing eight gallons of brew with me for Friday evening!
With over 130 Porsche 944s (and, I assume, their drivers) registered for the Fest, it was no surprise to watch those 8 gallons quickly disappear (PorschePurist PSA #2: No one got sick or did anything foolish after consuming my beer). As it turned out, a number of fellow racing enthusiasts were present (including a Spec Miata racer) who also enjoyed home brewing. Gathered around a bonfire, the night was filled with Chinese lanterns and conversations about cars, tracks and beer.
Every year, there are always new and exciting people to meet at the 944Fest; I always drive home with more friends than I had when I arrived; I have made many friends through the years by attending 944Fests. One close friend from my first 944Fest was one of my groomsmen when I got married! Everyone attends to have a good time and everyone watches out for one another.
Case in point: my dad and I drove up in the dead of night as a caravan of two. When we left Saturday evening, we were two of five cars riding together, watching each other on the road and taking care to pull into rest stops to stretch as the night wore on. Actually, our first stop was on an on-ramp to a highway; one in our caravan forgot to adjust his camber plates from track to street driving conditions, so we performed a field-expedient adjustment right on the shoulder of the highway!
Really, it’s not a 944Fest unless someone gets into mechanical trouble somewhere in the weekend. The first year I brought my Porsche to a 944Fest, a road reflector bolt split one of my tires open ten minutes into the trip back. Luckily, the group I was driving with had a tire patch kit to keep me roadworthy. A couple years ago, a participant’s 944 Turbo suffered total alternator failure on the way home. Someone in his caravan had a race-prepped 944 on a trailer; the dead car and the racecar traded places, and everyone got home that night. Three years ago, a father and son drove from New York and their 944 Turbo’s head gasket failed (an expensive repair, usually billed with 12 hours of labor). A 944 Turbo head gasket door prize was immediately removed from the prize table and three enthusiasts worked around the clock to get that Porsche repaired in less than eight hours. Everyone who attends is incredibly generous; bad apples are rare in this group.
I got home from the 944Fest around 1:30AM, Sunday morning. I was exhausted, but as I unloaded the car, I stopped to look at my 944 sitting in the garage. Still leaking here and there from the cam box and the master cylinder, still wearing the seven-year old winter tires that have served me well, I set down my tool kit and found the Emory cloth I keep handy. Fumbling for my tools, I began cleaning the 944’s electrical grounds – a familiar ritual to many older car owners. As I moved about the car, half-asleep, I told myself that now is a great time to prepare my 944 ready for next year’s 944Fest. Autopilot disengaged as I cleaned the final ground location behind the taillights, and I went in to bed. Proper maintenance is important, but I must have been delirious; I have a year to prepare!
I hope to see you and your Porsche next year at the 2013 944Fest. If you have any questions about pictures I took from the event, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
This post is written by frequent contributor Andrew Granieri. Andrew is a Techncial Writer who lives with his lovely wife in Ohio. His Porsche 944 pulls double-duty as a summer track car as well as a venerable winter weather vehicle. Coincidentally, those are his two favorite driving conditions.