Car Culture Shock

Of all the cultural differences between Belgium and the US, I was perhaps least prepared to experience the difference in car culture. From across the pond, I saw an incredible density of amazing racetracks in amongst the homelands of exotic and interesting brands like Donkervoort, Artega, Weismann, and Caterham (not to mention the more famous ones you’re thinking of). So naturally, I expected a car culture something like what I experienced in America, but with cooler cars and more track time. But that’s not really how it is.

Car culture in Europe, or at least Belgium, seems to be generally much more intentional and event-oriented, less casual than American car culture. If there’s a type of car event in America that you like, you can find it in Belgium taken 1 or 3 levels up. Cars & Coffee becomes a once-annual car show with parking spots reserved months in advance. Instead of doing autocross with your local sports-car club, you run hillclimb events with the Royal Automobile Club. A casual cruise to a winery with a few friends turns into a club convoy to a historic race at Spa. Instead of a few mates running a $500 rattletrap against other such heaps in ChumpCar, they run something a bit more expensive on track with Porsche GT3s in the national endurence championship. The local tracks host Formula 1 and WEC instead of NASCAR and IMSA.

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Track Days (Here and There)

Lots of people have travel blogs. I hoped to do something a little different, and make a motorsport-oriented travel blog, but that hasn’t quite come together like I wanted. Between the shipping delays and a couple of abortive attempts at track days last year, I’m about eight months behind on the track-touring experience I wanted to pursue. But finally I’ve had a mostly successful day driving at Zandvoort, so things are getting underway, and boy is it a different experience than going to tracks in the US.

 

Back in the States, I went to to 5 track days at 5 different tracks with 5 different organizations. So far in Europe I have done 4 track days at 3 tracks with 1 organization. And even though two of those have been largely unsuccessful, with one noise violation and one minor accident, it’s enough for me to be able to spout some more-informed-than-average nonsense about it on the internet.

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“Have Racecar” Part 2

This week my car is finally finished being imported. Yes, more than a year after the shipping company pickup in the US, and 8 entire months after her arrival in Roosendaal, the Belgian government has agreed that Elena is, in fact, a car, rather than some sort of cobbled-together rolling safety hazard, and seen fit to grant me local registration and plates. Here is the rest of that story.

If you thought all the hard work of importing a car had been covered in the previous post on this topic, oh how wrong you were. Getting on the road on a new continent was just step 1, I still had to go get Elena certified for extended use on Belgian roads. Think if it like the difference between a tourist visa and permanent resident visa. After a certain time, a foreigner (car or person) is not allowed to stay in country without satisfying additional bureaucrats. I’m not exactly sure how any authority would figure out my car has been here too long, or what they would do in such a case, but I didn’t want to find out.

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Road Trippin

Undoubtedly, America was built for road trips, and vice versa. I’ve enjoyed my share in my day, short, long, and multi-day. To be sure, they still have their place in Europe, but I have found that there are a number of factors which make them feel like more of an afterthought in the transportation network, a means to an end rather than something to enjoy in themselves.

Train travel is great. High-speed rail is a wonderful way to travel. Air travel here is ok too. Security is usually far less aggravating than anything involving the TSA, and higher gas prices make it easier to justify the cost of a plane ticket. But if your destination is far enough outside the main rail network, and not far enough away from your origin to want to deal with the temporal overhead of flying, then it’s time for a drive.

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French Review (2 out of 5 stars)

French is the fourth language I have made any attempt to learn, after Spanish, Russian, and of course English (it counts!). The options to fill my high school requirement for foreign language were French or Spanish, the two lanuages, which out of all the major languages in the world, were the two I least wanted to learn (figures). Out of those two, I didn’t care much for what I knew of the sound and mechanics of French, so I took Spanish. Now I’m learning French anyway, and it turns out…I was right.

I was initially surprised when I realized I’m learning a “fourth” language. It seemed like quite a high number for someone who “doesn’t enjoy” learning languages. But then, I wouldn’t say I “know” Spanish or Russian. (Although my brain sometimes pulls up Russian or Spanish words for things instead of French. I haven’t got everything straightened out yet.) I just learned more of them than I have Finnish or Esperanto. After almost a year of learning, I now know French better than my other two “second languages,” but I still wouldn’t say I “know” it.

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One Possible Future

I have now been in Belgium for six months. I very nearly have a normal life here now! Hopefully it never gets fully normal, because it seems like that would be a dreadful waste of being-in-Europe. At any rate, I’ve gotten into at least some kind of rhythm of life, trying to incorporate miscellaneous European adventures along the way.

Can you believe it’s nearly September? They say time is relative, and never is this more apparent than when reflecting on the past. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday I was totally psyched about buying tickets in March for this weekend’s Grand Prix, but there’ve been plenty of days and sleepless nights along the way that seemed to take fffoooorrreeeevvvvveeeerrr. The first month here was probably one of the longest months of my life (despite Februrary only having 29 days), yet now it seems so distant. In the last few weeks I have finally again gone mountain biking, cooked some stir-fry for friends, done some table-top gaming, and drove at a track day…Just about all I want out of life, really.
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Regarding Dreams

Achieving your dreams takes a lot of work. There’s paperwork to do, bureaucracies to overcome, packing, moving, travelling, shopping, planning, and of course the constant daily grind of maintaining a life and having a job. That’s not even going into all the foundational work of performing at work, interviewing, getting a degree, and everything before that, including deciding what your dreams are in the first palce. Amidst all of that it is easy to lose track of the fact that you have actually achieved your dreams.

Back in 2004 (high school days), at a car show in Corning, New York, I saw a Lotus Elise for the first time outside of Gran Turismo. (Wait, don’t go, I’m not writing out my life story, I promise!) It was somewhere around there (maybe a little before or after) that I got it in my head that I wanted to buy an Elise someday, and drive it on racetracks. Racetracks like the Nürburgring (which I also learned about through Gran Turismo).

Somewhere around 2008, I decided I’d like to try working and living in Europe sometime, because that’s where most of the cool racing happened, and there was just a lot I wanted to do over there here.

In 2016, I took this photo:

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