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.

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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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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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Le Mans 2016

For years I have wanted to attend the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I finally made it this year, and I don’t think I was ready for it. It was my first time camping at a racetrack, first time at a race longer than three hours, and first time spectating at a track longer than 4 miles. Not to mention my first road trip in Europe. All of this a mere two weeks after getting my car back. Altogether it added up to a pretty overwhelming experience, but I kind of think that’s the point of Le Mans.

For those that don’t know, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s greatest motor race. It is the only motorsport even on National Geographic’s list of the World’s Greatest Sporting Events, and it tops the list at #1. Teams enter the race by invitation, and push themselves as hard and fast as they can for 24 hours straight on a track that’s twice as long as most. It is a race of attrition as much as speed, as cars inevitably break down or crash, and limp back to the pits if they can, where team mechanics replace turbos, transmissions, or suspensions in as little as five or ten minutes.

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Recent Outings

As I mentioned previously, not having a car for the last four months was really cramping my style, and generally interfering with things I wanted to do. I didn’t let it stop me entirely though; I did manage to get myself out of town for a few day- or weekend trips in that time, and each one of them helped drive home why I moved here.

Ardennes

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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.

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

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Chambres avec Vues, Namur

You might have throught from my last post that I hadn’t done much photography around here until yesterday. That’s not entirely true! Two weeks ago I went to an art exhibition in Namur called “Chambres avec Vues.” It was part of a large event across Belgium, with hundreds of separate small venues where local artists would show their work. I was invited by someone I knew from work, and was eager to make the most of my existing social connections. It was a fun day, if a little long.

The most interesting exhibit was in the basement of a storage facility. It was very dimly lit, and we were handed pen lights to walk around with. We then wandered around opening assorted chests in various rooms, never knowing what to expect under the lid. Some were clever or neat, others were creepy or odd, but overall it was a unique and interesting form of art.

I didn’t take as many pictures as I could have, I was still running a bit low on energy at the time, but I am glad I had my camera with me and I did get some interesting photos.

Also, I saw a model shop that had a bunch of AutoArt diecasts in the window, so I’m gonna have to go back there.

Anyway, here’s a flickr album.

Normalization, And Some Photography

I have finally reached a point where I feel like I can take some time off. Not just from work-work, but life-work as well. Without any real plans or last-minute trips to Florida this weekend, I had the time to finish getting my apartment sorted out (stage 1 at least), relax a bit, and go out for some light photography. Slowly but surely, I am making a home here.

Up until now I have had mere fleeting moments of normality in my new home, such as throwing a frozen pizza in the oven and watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix. Moments like that when I could take my mind off all the work to do and relax for a little bit, going through a small part of a routine I used to have. But yesterday I emptied my queue of furniture to assemble, and finally got my apartment into a generally presentable state. What once looked like this

ASO_0974

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