They shut it down. Like a high school keg party, the cops showed up and shut down Bertil Roos Racing School, for the last three hours of the day.
Lead instructor, owner and Bertil Roos confidant Dennis Macchio is the kind of guy you want to teach you how to race. Besides his ridiculously long driving résumé, he’s honest, he smokes like a chimney, he's anything but politically correct. Old-school. He’d make the "South Park" guys blush. "You should be shitting your pants the same amount through the entire turn." He doesn’t pretend that racing isn’t life and death business — because it is. He’ll throw out a few shock quotes when needed. “Arrogant drivers die.” When the students got a little overanxious — seven spins in one session, none of them from your author — he got serious, dressing down the entire group with an expletive-laden safety speech. But he didn’t single out any one driver for his (lack of) skills. He’s a coach, he’s not heartless.
Sometimes, though, you don’t want that guy. Macchio has, we’ll politely say, an adversarial relationship with track security. They don’t like that he smokes wherever he wants; they don’t like that he takes over track management when school’s in session. He’s been at New Jersey Motorsports Park almost 10 years now, and that should get you some leeway. But at about 2 p.m. on day three of the five-day program, a New Jersey State Police cruiser pulled up in a blacked-out Chevy Caprice. When students got back from lunch, the track was quiet. Apparently, the seatbelts of the Formula cars weren’t certified in the proper, New Jersey way. Each individual seatbelt needs to be serenaded by Bruce Springsteen or something.
Like helmets, seatbelts need to be certified and/or replaced every few years. If you want to be really bored, you can read about it in this 12-pager and this 41-page PDF about Motor Vehicle Race Track Rules for the state of New Jersey. These weren’t up to snuff, and the five-oh wouldn’t budge. There’s no confirmation, but the scuttlebutt around the race trailer was that the security team might have dropped a dime. Twenty minutes later, Macchio was on the phone and new seatbelts were on the way. The mechanics, staring down an all-nighter, did not look pleased.
Despite his adversarial nature, or maybe because of it, Macchio is the guy you want in your corner, on the track or off. During the three-day school graduation speech, he made it clear that if any of the students needed racing advice, be it cars, tracks or series, give him a call. He also may have used the term “straight dope” at one point, which I hadn’t heard in a while. When the cop at the track wouldn’t budge, he called the sergeant. When the sergeant wouldn’t budge, he called the lieutenant, to no avail.
Day four, or day one of the two-day advanced racing school will go on Thursday as planned, as far as we know. Come back tomorrow for the rundown. Macchio and the other instructors will get out on the track with the students for the first time — fools — presumably to put us back in our place after three days of thinking we’re fast. We’re also scheduled for passing and defending exercises before Friday’s double-header race. Can’t wait.
Check out part one and part two of our racing school report here and here.