Columbia Star

Love of the fast lane



Good fortune placed me in Nashville with fast friends, Phil and Noree Wicks for the 7th annual Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation Mini Challenge in conjunction with The Phil Wicks Driving Academy September 8, 2011. The proceeds from these events have provided tens of thousands of dollars to help cancer fighters cope with the disease. The Wicks, sensing my need for speed, invited me to join the management team.

The first order of business upon arriving was to accompany Phil, Bryan Howle, and Chrys Zouras, all of Columbia, to pick up four of six shiny new Mini S and Countryman models from Mini Cooper of Nashville for some “ride and drive “ track time.

Phil led the way through rush hour traffic with Chris, Bryan, and me trying to keep up in our Minis. I imagined myself chasing Phil driving the lead Mini in The Italian Job movie.

The following morning, we arrived at Nashville Super Speedway as the sun burned the dew from the concrete mile and 1/3 tri oval. The banked speedway has a hairpin and carousel turn complete with a modern covered paddock.

Automotive Engineers Bryan Howle and Chrys Zouras of Columbia and Rick Brown of Beaufort.

Automotive Engineers Bryan Howle and Chrys Zouras of Columbia and Rick Brown of Beaufort.

The place was already abuzz with anxious racers and enthusiasts prepping for some track time in everything from Austin Mini Coopers to Z 06 Corvettes. The predominate vehicles besides Mini Coopers old and new were black Porsches. The drivers varied from mechanics to MDs, 16 to 70 year olds (feeling like 16 year olds).

One of the first new friends I met was Rick Brown of Beaufort, S. C. Rick is a retired California firefighter who had battled some historical fires including the Malibu wildfires. Rick’s truck caught my eye: a black GM Dually, lowered with nice custom wheels, red pin striping, and a matching trailer. In the trailer was a vintage ’61 Austin Mini racer with 10 inch wheels.

I asked, “How do you get in?”

“ Very carefully” he replied.

The car is a tribute to fallen 911 firefighters numbered 343, the total who gave the ultimate sacrifice. He explained to us that 68 of those killed were off duty and rushed to help their brothers anyway. “It’s what firefighters do,” he said.

Chuck Gerald

Chuck Gerald

Plans included track time for groups from first time novices accompanied by instructors to professional racers. There was team building with executives from InfoSystems, accident avoidance training for young drivers, a demonstration race for newer and vintage cars, and a one and a half mile autocross.

The event finished with the first annual “Bill Pryor Memorial Race” for vintage cars sponsored by Rick Hendrick’s Mini of Charleston, S.C., where the perpetual trophy is displayed. First winner was Carl George in a British Racing Green MGA just like I had in high school.

A favorite moment was while doing a ride along with a beauty from Atlanta who asked if her “six-inch stilettos qualified for racing.” I told her that they looked pretty racy to me. She enjoyed carving corners over the rumble strips with the Mini so much she said she was going to buy one as soon as she got home.

I even ran some hot laps in a Nissan. One of life’s great rewards is smoking the tires off a rental car. I can hardly wait until next year.

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