OFF-ROAD AND OFF THE RECORD

A first drive around a private F1 track  

That ain't workin', that's the way you do it Money for nothin' and your chicks for free

~Dire Straits ( Money for Nothing)


Formula 1 track designer Hermann Tilke surpassed his job of merely designing a race course of thrilling corkscrew twists of asphalt, and straight-away slingshots of pavement to excite driver and spectator alike.  No, this isn't a regular track (though are any of his tracks just regular?) rather he has gone into CERN territory, with this 2.17 mile circuit of 820 feet of rise and fall being more akin to the offspring between the unholy union of a jet coaster and atom smasher which has successfully fused particles of private luxury resort living with the thrill of high speed driving. The name of this child, this new particle of pleasure, The Magarigawa Driving Club.

My Japanese listening skills aren't the best  so forgive me if I heard this wrong but as I understand it, the Eureka moment for this private driving club was conceived or inspired after attending a conference held by UC Berkeley’s seismology department in which a computer simulation revealed how in a million years, tectonic shifts of various seismic plates would eventually collide together creating a new gilded playground for the rich. The hot springs of Esalen Institute would merge and flank the resort at Pebble Beach from the South while Laguna Seca would merge and intersect from the Northeast.  There was no earthquake that day to seismically bring any of these entities one inch closer to another but there was a great seismic shift in thought which arose, " We can do this all in Japan without the help of plate tectonics."          



Untitled photo

I am an hour East outside of Tokyo on the opposite side of the bay in the hills of Chiba’s Boso peninsula, along with 50 or so potential members wealthy enough to fork out the $230,000 membership dues. We are gathered here to pepper our imaginations with the potential for what the completed track will be when completed. In order to get a feeling of the track we need cars, but at this stage bringing out a Ferrari would be ill advised. The asphalt has yet to be laid, but the track has already been sketched out of the valley and hills by graders, dozers and back hoes. Gathered at the track is a menagerie of SUVs that few outside any OPEC nation would dare see sans-pavement.

A yellow Lamborghini Urus follows the course from down a hill, carrying the lead foreman for the project . As the yellow Lamborghini snakes its way past a saluting row of parked backhoes, I hear the static of snickering from all the wealthy men who seem to be nodding in agreement with something. Unlike any of our guests here, I had a cup of noodles for dinner last night springing for the large size Nissin Seafood noodles, ¥150 it cost me, so I beg pardon that I am an outsider and don’t quite understand the inside jokes of wealthy men. However, as it was later explained to me, and again apologies that I don't always understand Japanese properly, bit apparently some wealthy men buy yellow Lamborghinis to be surrounded by hoes. I have very eclectic tastes in things with wheels or tracks, but whatever interests in had hoes died when I stopped playing with Tonka toys last year.                

The foreman gathers the crowd and begins a long speech to which my ADD afflicted brain shuts down function to my ears while my body goes on auto-pilot climbing a hill to get shots with my 85mm tilt shift lens. It seems appropriate for me to visually illustrate that saying that the difference between the men and the boys is the price of their toys and there sure are some expensive toys for us to play with today. Obviously, I am not here to buy a membership, and you can guess by the context of the webpage you landed on, that you know why I am here. However, let me explain more in detail. I am the official photographer for the brains or rather money behind this operation, Cornes. Cornes is an independent importer of exotic and luxury cars whose customer support and service is on a higher plane than what official distributors and manufacturers like Ferrari or Lamborghini can provide even here in Japan. Cornes is where you go because great customer support and care isn’t enough and you are just certain there is an 11 on this dial, or that there is a ludicrous mode for customer support.  I vicariously experienced their customer support and care myself when I went with my doctor friend to buy not just one but two brand new Lamborghinis a cost which combined exceeded a bit over $1million. You may be saying of course that I received such treatment as a sort of member of their team, but they had no clue who I was, in fact I told them to their delight I was the guy behind many of the photos including the cover of their last in-house magazine.               

Where I am today, this is my Disneyland and I’ve got a ticket book of E passes that I am not about to waste. Every single car whose door opens to me its doors to me, I get inside circumambulating the 2.17 mile course in a Porsche Cayenne, Rolls Royce Cullinan, Bentley Bentayga, AMG G-Wagen, Land Rover Defender, Jeep Wrangler. I am sure I already have the key shot I need when I am in the backseat of the Rolls Royce going up a hill while the sun sets in the distance, but who knows, maybe there is a better shot, and I want to ride in everything that is offered. I would like to drive myself, but the racetrack in the rough sketched out in dirt is a bit sketchy in places. How will this be different when I come back to photograph it when it is complete? The track is narrow and stretches my imagination as to how passing will be possible. Additionally the steep ascents up the hills where little but the sky is visible in front of you makes for some hair raising driving even at lower speed hoping to hell there isn’t a stalled or parked car once we plateau. As it is now, this tracks provides little margin for error and as I experience it now, and if your aren’t a seasoned racer. getting competitive on this track on a Sunday would surely mean being back at a Cornes dealer on Monday buying a new replacement Ferrari or Lamborghini for the following weekend. This sport aspect of this resort is the furthest thing from golf that I can imagine and I admire the courage of anyone willing to go all out at top speed on this track. Thankfully though, you can heal your shattered nerves from the track to any number of relaxing activities at the club, from a massage to a dip in the hot spring.

Untitled photo

For years I have taken the backseat of  luxury, quite literally at times, often in the back of a Rolls Royce, Bentley or Maybach watching TV and eating gourmet burgers while getting a massage, or in someones mansion larger than the hotel I stayed in last night.  Though parasitic, I enjoy an opulent lifestyle so that few people who live on a cup-o-noodle budget will ever get to experience outside of watching an episode of the Kardashians(something I refuse to do but have heard a lot about.) I am not just the official photographer today but officially poorest guy here. Poor? I am a bit of a Schrödinger's cat of socioeconomic status being simultaneously rich and poor.  My experiences are for the most part rich, at least when I am photographing: going to luxury hotels, eating 3 star Michelin dinners that cost more than my rent, photographing celebrities, driving cars that I would have to live three lifetimes to afford, etc...the photography I do, the clients I have, put me in the back pocket of a luxury lifestyle I never thought I would have growing up in the rough part of Sacramento where seeing the back of a police car or an ambulance was a normal part of life. My parents did their best to shelter me from going down this route, they were both well educated, my mom and executive secretary for the superintendent of public schools, my father a well respected biochemist.  The neighborhood I grew up in was very much a working class neighborhood though, and for me, enjoying the work I do often makes me feel guilty.  The story I grew up with is that work should be difficult, something you hate, you look forward to retirement.  However, the fear I have as I sit in the back of this Rolls Royce Cullinan is knowing this ride will eventually come to an end, there will be a day when I can't climb that hill and that even riding up it in the backseat of a car may be a challenge.  That day will come, but it won't come today, so I sink into my seat, marinating in the perfume of leathery wealth, the sun going down, the stars in the headliner starting to sparkle.  I queue up Dire Straights song, "Money For Nothing." My  Japanese chauffeur in his construction helmet looks in the rearview mirror, perhaps wondering the stupid grin on my face or maybe a silent not to one Dire Straight fan to another.  As I sing along to the song thinking of advice to all the poor kids in my old neighborhood surrounded by prostitutes and drug dealers, unsure of about tomorrow, but sure that they don't want that kind of life...kids, if you don't have an ear for music, maybe you have an eye for photography, go buy yrself a camera.             

photographs for this article originally appeared in Cornes magazine and Goethe magazine.  My doggerel appears nowhere except here, but for my other stories about photography check out  Medium Format magazine.      

                       


Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In