I spent most of Thursday at Barber Motorsports Park with Porsche - doing laps in new Boxsters and Caymans.

Barber is an amazing place - and the first thing to mention about it is the founder, George Barber, is not in any way shape or form related to Skip Barber. Many people hear "Barber" and automatically put "Skip" in front of it. This Barber made his bones elsewhere... in the dairy business, actually.

Another thing to know about George Barber is that he has a motorcycle collection so amazing it can make you forget about the 2.4 mile road race course you're about to sample. The collection - part of it - is housed in a modern, five-level, 80,000 sq. ft. building adjacent to the track. It contains.... everything. Literally. From the very beginnings to the current state of the art; from the obscure and one off (Morbidelli V-8; "suitcase" scooter) to examples the bikes that shook the world and changed motorcycling forever (Honda CB750) to the racing legends of Dyatona and elsewhere - plus more memorabilia than anyone one person could ever remember. It is a temple - and not to be missed. Here's a link to the museum:


As for the track ... here's a link to that:


The course is very technical - with multiple elevation changes and 16 turns - including one very challenging corkscrew that begins with a fairly gentle lefthander that feeds you into an abrupt downgrade and vicious "snap" right hander that will task any driver (or rider) as well as whatever they happen to be driving (or riding).

The main straight along the paddock comes up just after the exit to pit lane; on bikes, 170 mph speeds before the braking point for the first sweeping and steeply banked right turn are possible. In the Cayman S, we were running 120 or so before the brake point. It's helpful if you can heel and toe - but if you're a Sasquatch foot like me, that is hopeless; at least, in a small German sports car. (On the upside, the Cayman - and the Boxster - are blessed with highly adjustable seats that let even very tall drivers cinch themselves down enough to avoid their head/helmet knocking on the roof. Thank the Motor Gods the Germans are big people.... ).

Driving any track is, of course, very different than riding - both technique wise as well as experientially. I've been to Barber before - but this was my first time there on four wheels rather than two. Since cars don't lean (hopefully, anyhow) its all about getting that intuitive yin-yang of steering and braking (the latter of which you can hit much harder in a car - especially one with both ABS and stability control - than you can on a bike without either) to gell in your brian, so that reactions become fluid and automatic instead of thought - and usually, a bit too late or bit too much.

The other thing that took much getting used to was the handling feel of the mid-engined Boxsters and Caymans, which have extremely high levels of grip but take a while to trust fully since the sense of the "let-go" point is very different (as are the understeer/oversteer issues) in these cars than you might be used to if you mostly drive a FWD or RWD car with a front-mounted engine/transaxle.

I personally much preferred the Cayman. It felt lighter on its feet - but also tighter, no doubt because of the fixed roof. (The Cayman also has more power than the base Boxster - and comes with a tighter six speed transmission vs. the 5-speed. Mostly, it's a third and fourth gear track - or at least, it was for me.)

Both of these mid-engined Porsches, however, are kind of like those "can you eat that thing?" 64 oz. steaks... it's gonna take you awhile to get a handle on it all.

As you explore the capability of these machines,you come face to face with your own limits as a driver. It's an epiphany of imperfection; a realization of mortality, sort of like waking up one day and finding that first gray hair.

For most of us - even if we're pretty good - the match-up is as unequal as a Kimbo Slice vs. Matt Lauer cage fight. The cars are so much better. They push you - not the other way around. I am definitely getting old because I can remember when street cars were not so hard to get the full measure of - if you were a half-awake shoe, anyhow. Their limits were like learning basic geometry; a notch above the pig-blind stupid, perhaps - but not exotic and near-inaccessible like, oh, quantum physics - which makes even the smartest of us feel at least a touch inadequate. In fact, more so if you're just smart enough to begin to understand it a little bit, to get a momentary mental glimpse of what it's all about.

These Porsches are a four-wheeled lesson in quantum physics - instantly revealing how great they art - and how not so great thou art. Give it a full day and you might get passably competent - worthy of the gentleman's C. But to get competitive in one of these things - like Porsche drivers Hurley Haywood or Mark Donohue, who were there to give us pointers and make us all feel very humble indeed - well, that's another bucket of oysters, friend.

But the good news is if you can make it around a race track in a car like the Boxster or the Cayman without making a total ass of yourself, you will discover that you have grown into a Big Fish out on the street. The car itself is enough to put away all but the most determined adversaries; when more is necessary, all one has to do is summon 5 or 10 percent of what Hurley or Mark can do in their sleep - and further exertions will not be required.

You are the king.