The most fun you can have in Alabama without a 12-gauge
The most attractive aspect of Porsche's new four-door Panamera, which we plugged in our Fall Trend Reports, may well be a feature that debuted in the Carrera last fall: the seven-speed marvel of modern engineering called the PDK. A recent opportunity to try out the PDK on a track (though not, sadly, in a Panamera) left me mighty impressed. Thanks to its race-derived double clutch—which basically ensures that the next gear is always spooled up and ready to kick in—shifting was lightning-fast, yet butter-smooth. Also remarkable: the transmission's ability to adapt to your driving habits—say, delaying upshifts when you let off the throttle once it's determined you're a bit of a lead foot.
Intrigued, but still a few bucks short of the 100 grand a Panamera will run you? Head to Birmingham, Ala., for a weekend at the Porsche Sport Driving School, which is based next to the hairpin-heavy track where I put the PDK to the test. With luck, you'll have head instructor Cass Whitehead riding shotgun. Along with 20 years' experience racing cars for a living, the guy's got the patience of a kindergarten teacher and constitution of an astronaut. Despite my giving him ample opportunity to put both traits to good use, Whitehead's calm, authoritative instruction definitely helped make me a better driver, both on the track and—I'd like to think—in the real world (although it bears noting that I'm defining a good driver as someone who's able to execute a proper exit ramp turn-in while doing 60 in an SUV).
But wait, there's more. While in 'Bama, be sure to set aside some time to tour the jaw-droppingly cool motorcycle collection that George Barber, who owns the motor sports park, has on display in a gargantuan museum nestled right next to the track. Built in 2003, the cavernous industrial-modern space is pretty much bursting at the seams with lust-worthy bikes. While most collectors tend to focus on a certain era, or maybe a favorite make, Barber's acquisitional philosophy seems to follow a slightly looser set of dictates—namely, if it's got two wheels, he'll take it. I'm told the collection now numbers around 1,500, although fewer than 500 motorcycles are on display at any given time (alongside a world-class Lotus collection and a bizarrely awesome assortment of vintage outboard motors). If you don't walk out of here dead-set on picking up your own vintage Triumph (or maybe a Moto Guzzi—I haven't yet decided), you may want to have your head checked. Whatever make you settle upon, take Whitehead's advice and stick to the Porsches while you're on the track. At least they've got air bags.