So much free swag!
Yesterday, Jeff and I went to Houston to participate in a MINI Motoring Challenge, which was a free event where you could drive on closed courses and test out the speed and handling of a Mini Cooper without worrying about breaking the law. At first I didn't think I would go, because I didn't want to potentially crash my car on the track - but then I reread the details in the email they sent, and saw that they would provide the cars for the track, so I signed up. Of course, the other hindrance for me was getting to Houston - having lived in small-town Hooterville for the past 15 years has made me lose what little edge I had for driving in big-city traffic, and Houston is especially bad. I was a little nervous driving there, but we arrived in one piece, and got to park with the other Mini cars, which was pretty cool:
The Duchess and I - ready for an adventure!
We registered, got our special lanyards with a card that admitted you to each event, and randomly chose a course to start with - the Silverstone, which was a replica of an iconic British racetrack. It was a good one to start off on, as it had some long straightaways and easy curves:
In the car - they were pointing me to the silver Mini, but then a red one pulled up and I asked to drive it. Turns out it was a John Cooper Works model, which is a super souped-up performance car. Nice way to start! You get in the car, get situated with the seat position, drive up to the start line and get instructions - and then, it was go time! Really fun but over too fast.
After that, we stood in line to get "A Fair & Honest Appraisal of Your Appearance" by The Bumbys, which was interesting - it felt like a hipster thing to do:
They don't speak to you, and if you look at the picture, you'll see that their identities are hidden. The bottom right is when my Bumby was appraising me. Click the picture to read what she wrote - I appreciated the "hippie mama vibe" description. They give you a rating, and I scored a 9.5 while Jeff only scored a 9.0, hah!
Then I got my custom t-shirt - they had four different choices, and silk-screened whichever one you wanted right then:
Looks just like my car!
We took a late lunch break and hit up one of the food trucks - they gave us a coupon for a free meal at either of them, so we chose the Koagie, or Korean hogie. It was really delicious, but the wait after we placed our order was insane - close to an hour! That was the only rough part of the day, mainly because we were waiting in the hot sun. Eventually Jeff and I took turns in the shaded tent as we waited to hear my name called:
I made him pose for a picture, but we were both dying to dig in to that sandwich!
There were ice-cold bottles of water available everywhere you turned throughout the event, which was much appreciated. MINI did their best to combat Texas heat, I'll say that!
Once we ate, we did the last course - the Getaway:
I'm not saying you were supposed to drive it like you stole it, but hey - they said don't get caught, so that translated as "go really fast" to me!
Waiting for my car, and to get my card punched.
This one was the most challenging, and either I was more relaxed, or else I just wasn't paying enough attention, but all of a sudden I hit a U-Turn on the course at about 40 MPH and let's just say that I really got a feel for how quickly a Mini could slow down and make a sharp turn. I'm proud to report that I didn't take out any cones on this course (or the others, for that matter) - you didn't want to be the one to do that, because if that happened they didn't let any cars onto the course while a minivan (haha, of course) drove around and put the cones back in place.
The last thing we did was test out the parking assistant feature - this is the deal where the car parallel parks for you. They didn't let us drive this one; rather, we were passengers while a MINI employee demonstrated how it worked - which was pretty fascinating, I have to say. Plus the A/C was on full blast, so it was nice to cool down for a few minutes, too.
Doing something like this was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I had a great time, met a lot of friendly people (MINI owners are quick to whip out their phones and show you pictures of their cars!), and hey - I got to channel my inner Ricky Bobby and pretend I was a race car driver for an afternoon!