#MAMA15: A "Professional Obligation" at Road America – Pt. 2

Setting up[ for the Autocross - All Photos by Randy Stern
Setting up for the Autocross – All Photos by Randy Stern

Professional obligations have a way to yield some surprises. At the 2015 Midwest Automobile Media Association Spring Rally, it was cold mornings and cold tracks.

Yet, it was also about reconnecting with industry people and fellow journalists. The networking opportunities are awesome, but the follow-up could be challenging. It was a chance to solidify friendships – with fellow writers Thomas Bey, Chad Kirchner, Harvey Briggs, and Jimmy Dinsmore – and reconnect with people I see on rarer occasions.

Granted, I came in real stressed out and not so friendly. I apologize to those that I was not my usual positive self to. I realize that an event like this will help relieve the stress of the daily grind and that some tensions would be eased through the experience of being in and around Road America. It is a great venue – along with our host hotel, the Osthoff Resort – that was designed for maximum relaxation while working away at my tasks.

What loosened the grip on my stress on Day One translated into a better, but abbreviated Day Two.
I took the Motorplex karting track for some autocrossing. Having never karted there, we did a familiarization lap to see how to manage this short, challenging and exhilarating piece of track. To a racing kart, it is absolutely perfect. To a car…well, that depends on the car.

The field of cars available to us for autocrossing ranged from machines that were simply too powerful for this course – namely the 2015 Lexus RC F. I started off in the least powerful car of the field – a 2015 Chevrolet Sonic RS 5-door hatchback. I drove this the day before and the folks from General Motors suggested I try this in the autocross. I did.

Granted, there were plenty of formidable weapons to attack the Motorplex track. There were two BMW 2-Series models, three Volkswagens, a 5-door MINI Cooper S…and so on. The Sonic seemed logical for someone of my lack of track skill. Two laps later, I turned in the worst times among my group – probably worst overall. And, I was completely fine with it.

My third and final lap was done with an old familiar warhorse – a 2015 Buick Regal GS AWD. Whenever I needed a bit of Popeye's spinach in my automotive work, Buick's sporty sedan would be there to regain my confidence. I felt I did a better lap with the Regal. It was much faster, easier to drive and it shook off some cobwebs from the two laps in the Sonic. Instead of being a competitor, I simply had fun. Leave it to a Buick to remind me of that. Forget times and not being able to master the Motorplex course – I had an opportunity to take out some frustrations and let myself go. It was great medicine that autocross track!

2015 Chevrolet Trax LTZ

My final task for the Spring Rally was to do some evaluations for the MAMA Family Car of The Year. Having reviewed a good chunk of the preliminary field, I had time for a couple of drives. One was in the 2015 Chevrolet Trax. Considering I was driving home in one of its competitors – the 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport – it gave me a chance to see whether this is a viable alternative to it. It is, though I do have some reservations. I was hoping for more engagement from the 1.4liter turbocharged engine, combined with the six-speed automatic. Yet, I felt comfortable with a low cowl and decent support. I simply wanted more from the Trax, but for what it will do for consumers – it should be fine.

The final vehicle I drove at the Spring Rally is a true curiosity – the 2016 Fiat 500X. Though Fiat has sold four-wheel drive subcompacts elsewhere on this planet – namely the Panda 4X4 – this would be their first global crossover. It certainly had North America in mind, with a choice of engines that fit our market. Still, Fiat contends that almost everything we see in the 500X will be available worldwide. With that in mind, I like practically everything on the 500X, though I wished the lower gears on the nine-speed automatic would sort themselves out. Once it clears the lower gears, it runs just fine. There is a lot going on in the 500X, but it all works out to the advantage to everyone on board. It seems like a fun crossover to drive and worth further examination later this year.

As I mentioned before, the Spring Rally ended earlier than scheduled for me. There were a few things to work on once I got home, but I wanted a jump on these things sooner. Just after 11:00AM, I jumped in the Outlander Sport and headed westbound towards the Twin Cities. Another MAMA Rally was in the books.

At every event, there are things I need to take in consideration. My professional position is growing in my home market. Local readers, car groups, and industry people are seeing the value of having a media person in their area that covers a wider angle on this subject matter. What I need to do is to transition from being a humble servant to a professional promoting the work overall. It was good advice I got from a colleague.

The last two years, I came to Elkhart Lake trying to feel my way through the experience, while building relationships with colleagues and solidify contacts. I am by no means a veteran of this event, but I continue to refine current and establish new relationships with the people I need for this work to shine. There are a lot of things I need to work on – staying positive about the work and the industry, keep connected with those who can positively assist in this work or could open up new opportunities for me, thicken up the skin to rise above the negativity and talk up the work in places where I could benefit professionally.

Another MAMA Spring Rally is now in the books – a very good one, at that for the organization and personally. My drive home was a happy one indeed. My professional obligation to further this craft is complete – for now.

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