The First of Many Race Weekends

This weekend I made my first of hopefully very many trips to a local racetrack. Well, not technically the first; I had been to Zolder on my interview trip and had a fun time. In a way this was my triumphant return! But this was the first time I went to Zolder as a “local” track, complete with a Zolder Racing Club (season pass) membership and infield parking. I gotta say, it felt pretty good, even though this particular trip came with its share of challenges.

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The main reason I cite as motivation to move to Belgium is “because of the racetracks.” I am, you may have noticed, quite a big fan of motorsports (which, as usual, should be appended with “but not particularly NASCAR so much”), and my location (and work schedule) in Hampton made it somewhat difficult to engage in this hobby as much as I wanted to. The closest “decent” road course (i.e. one that hosted any professional events at all) was VIR, and that was almost four hours away. That distance made it pretty impractical to visit the track regularly for any race events.

For comparison, here are the “decent” road courses that are a shorter drive from where I live now than VIR was:

  • Circuit Mettet
  • Zolder
  • Spa
  • Zandvoort
  • Nurburgring
  • Assen
  • Hockenhiem
  • Lydden Hill

The first three are less than 90 minutes away. Plus there’s a ton of national-level rallies and hillclimbs not too far away. For the uninitiated, this is like loving live theater and moving from Harrisburg to New York City. Nothing against Harrisburg’s local theater scene, nor my formerly-local sports car clubs, I’m just saying it’s hard to beat the quality and quantity of racing at my fingertips right now.

So with the closest track far less than a half-day’s drive away, I of course bought a season pass. Trouble is, it’s only a 1-hour drive if you have a car to drive, which I still don’t. (The long story will come later, but the short version is that the paperwork was a bit snafu’d, so my Lotus is still sitting at the port in New Jersey while that gets fixed.) The public transit options to get to Zolder are 3 or more hours travel time, and I moved away from Virginia just so I didn’t have to do that for every little race.

I also was having trouble finding among the people I know someone interested and available to go with me for the day. It’s the “and available” that’s always the kicker. There were a few people that were interested (or at least willing to give it a shot), but they all had other obligations for the day. (Either way, I clearly need to meet more race fans.) Was I going to let this stop me from seeing some racecars this weekend? I decided not. So I rented a car.

This decision was dangerously close to “sunk cost fallacy” territory. The car was 75 EUR for the day, the Zolder Racing Club was 140. But I decided that rather than “Zolder Racing Club pass,” the sunk cost in question was actually “moving to Belgium.” This made it a lot easier to justify the rental. (Before you say “THAT IS NOT HOW SUNK COST FALLACIES WORK,” just know that you could also not say that and look at the pretty pictures.)

Part of what helped a rental car make sense, given that I could only get one out of Brussels on that day, is that I was invited by some of my new friends to a tea party (no, literally, an afternoon social gathering with tea & snacks) at their flat in the city. It was a lovely time getting to know people, and I nearly (“nearly”) got someone else to come with me to the track.

Race day! It’s so nice not having to wake up ridiculously early, and to be able to park on the infield. I always wanted to have this kind of track access. I definitely have to do this more often. Zolder is not the biggest and fanciest of facilities, nor does it host the highest-of-profile events, but that doesn’t stop it form being worth going (at least for a local). Sometimes that actually makes it better, because you get better access, better views, and less crowds for a cheaper ticket price. For example, this weekend was historic racing, and I nearly tripped over James Hunt’s McLaren in the garage while the Williams FW07 nearby was warming up its engine.

And there was a LeMans-winning Ford GT40 just sitting out.

And I could watch the racing from some nice, high vantage points

…or find a relatively uncrowded spot right next to the track for some great photos

To be honest, it took me a while to get in the swing of things. I was still feeling a little tired in the morning from all the business I’ve been attending to at home, and trying to remember how to properly spectate a race weekend (more complicated than it sounds). It had been a while since I’d done any shooting of cars (or even browsing photos on Flickr), racing or otherwise, so I was struggling a bit with technique and inspiration and missed a few photo-ops. But towards the end of the day it came together, plus it was awesome standing next to pit exit while all the classic F1 cars opened up their throttles on the way onto the track.

Overall I had a great time, and I will be going many more times to this track and others, not just to watch, but to drive as well. Maybe some of those times I’ll even have friends along. If I wanted to, I could easily find myself somewhere shooting motorsports literally every weekend from May to October. I mean I probably won’t, that sounds exhausting (so…much…walking…), but knowing it will only be my fault if I don’t get enough racing in my system makes me excited about the next year.

Here’s the full Flickr album from the race: Zolder Historics 2016. One thing’s for sure, I’m going to need a bigger hard drive soon.

Author: haveracecarwilltravel

Moved from America to Belgium in early 2016 (mostly for the racetracks) and brought my Lotus along for the ride. I also enjoy putting my D7000 to good use.

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