Day 2: The big mystery
Breakfast on day 2 concluded with a comment from one of the rally organizers who told us to enjoy the day and that we would love the big mystery. Mystery? What mystery? That set Peter and I scrambling to find something in our daily route book that resembled a mystery challenge that we had somehow missed. We scoured the good book, but couldn’t find any answers so we headed out onto the wet route to continue our adventure.
The wonderfully smooth and twisty roads continued for a while before turning to the kind of mud that delights dirt track racers, with a tiny bit of gravel tossed on top to keep passing cars from squirting off into the woods. As we carved our way from one holler to the next, it was easy to imagine that we were enjoying the same roads that moonshine runner turned NASCAR star Junior Johnson used to make his now infamous shine runs through the North Carolina woods in the Fifties.
The slick roads soon gave way to silky pavement about the same time the clouds parted and allowed the sun to peek out, making us seem a bit less odd for driving with the top down. It was tough to believe that our day was somehow bereft of any real challenges out on the roads. All we had to do was carve our way past rustic homesteads and navigate past the inexplicable number of un-tethered pooches that were determined to chase our wee Mazda away from their domains. As Peter steered the MX-5 around a sweeping bend, I noticed that we were passing the high walls surrounding a race track. It seemed too good to be true, but sure enough, just moments later we turned into the recently opened Atlanta Motorsports Park.
Our mystery challenge turned out to be a sort of extreme autocross challenge, where we were each allowed just three laps around a course that we were not allowed to see beforehand. AMP is a motorsports country club which features a 3.2 km road course and a 1.36 km kart track where we would be competing. Despite its relatively short length, the track boasts a surreal 14 metre elevation change, meaning that the lack of a ‘track walk’ could have led more timid drivers towards a coronary event on their first lap. From the start line, the approach from the starting line to turn one is a steep climb, but the exit of one is terrifying, as the ground drops away drastically and all my eyes could see were big puffy clouds.
Once the nose of the car drops, we are already into our steep, downhill braking point for turn two, a tight hairpin that leads to an equally steep climb to another blind turn. The lack of sight-lines continues for the next fifteen turns, guaranteeing a crazy ride that theme park designers would be proud of. On my third lap, I was lucky to crack off a quick lap that would stand as the fast time of the day until very near the end when an experienced drift competitor demoted me to second spot. That fast lap, along with Peter’s solid lap would serve us well in the day’s scoring.
Because we hadn’t already had enough fun, we departed the track to follow another route that led us along more stunning roads, where the Miata (sorry Mazda, it is still a Miata to me) continued to shine. Our silver steed carried us past more ramshackle farms and faded trailer park residences, many with front yards that resembled a permanent junk sale. We couldn’t help but stop at a roadside stand populated with lawn jockeys that were nothing short of shocking to see in today’s world, before heading back to the hotel for a much needed nosh and an early bed time.
Our friends and competitors, Marie-Laurence Paquin and Ronnie Fung, from Autoblog Canada, were out to have some serious fun, even running multiple passes on some of the gravel roads. That fun loving attitude was not to be mistaken for slow however, as they proved to be wickedly fast on the track section. They also shot some video along the way.
Originally published in Toronto Star Wheels