A ProFormance regular tackles Nürburgring, the legendary maze of curves that looms large in racing history.
At the end of this month Kirkland resident and ProFormance track driver Cindy Topinka will be heading to Germany to drive a track that tops every list for challenges. The ultimate gatekeeper for anyone seeking satisfaction at speed, Nürburgring is an intimidating 20-kilometer skein of treacherous corners, uneven road surfaces and confounding shifts in elevation. None of that is deterring Cindy, who is scheduled to spend two days hurtling through the fabled track in a Porsche Cayman GTS.
The car bug strikes young
While Cindy’s track history dates to her taking ProFormance’s One-Day High Performance Driving Experience less than two years ago, her involvement with cars is nothing new. “At five, if I wanted to see my dad, I had to go in the garage; he was constantly working on cars. My brother taught me to drive when I was twelve.” Growing up in Kent, Washington, she found herself at Pacific Raceways (then called Seattle International Raceway) often. She also watched sprint car races and demolition derbies. Seeing her dad race dirt bikes – “out in the middle of nowhere, no bathrooms, no water” – was a particularly vivid memory. “That accounted for a lot of my family vacations!”
A Passion for Porsche
“I like the throaty rumble of a Porsche,” says Cindy. “I like the feel and vibration of the engine, and the way it handles on the road. The Cayman especially, with its mid-body engine and great weight management, is a fantastic track car.”
Cindy’s love of Porsches might have started in childhood, when her grandfather took her for drives in his 356, “honking his horn at intersections just to make sure everybody knew he was coming.” “During one of the rides I said, ‘Grandpa, is this a Volkswagen bug?’ He turned to me and said, ‘NO, this is a Porsche.’ I’d highly insulted him.” The classic Mobil flying horse sticker on Cindy’s helmet honors her grandfather, who worked for Mobil Oil.
What drives Cindy Topinka
About one-and-a-half years ago Cindy took the HPDE at ProFormance, something she’d always wanted to do. Up to then raising kids and career came first. “I finally took the class, loved it, and kept going back.” Later that year she took ProFormance’s Two-Day Accredited Competition Race Licensing course, and polished her obvious talent over many track days.
“Track driving came to me during some difficult times I was having. I needed an outlet just for me, nobody else, but it ended up being much more than that. It’s really the best form of therapy for me.”
From ProFormance to Nürburgring
Cindy credits ProFormance’s uniquely supportive community for her chance to spread her wings in Europe. “I told Don [ProFormance Chief Instructor Don Kitch, Jr.] that I might not want to race competitively, but might like to be a recreational sport driver who goes around the world and experiences different tracks. Within a month I had a call inviting me to Nürburgring.”
The call came from Euro Track Adventures’ Tom Roberts, who is leading the trip along with Speed Secrets’ Ross Bentley. The first stop is Belgium, for a day of track driving at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, home of the Belgian Grand Prix. Then to Germany and two full days at Nürburgring. These won’t be come-one-come-all tourist laps; only experienced and professional drivers will be on the course, which suits Cindy fine.
Professional driver on closed course, do not attempt
With no less than 154 corners in a single lap – and most of those blind corners – the Ring generates adjectives like “scary” and “exhausting,” as well as a few even less kind. Parts of the track are bumpy enough to hurt. During a lap your elevation will change by almost a thousand feet, throwing your body to the mercy of g-forces you’ve never encountered on a track. And it’s worth noting that most of those corners lack spacious runoff areas.
Understandably, prep for a safe and meaningful driving experience is extensive. “We’ve been given homework every week” Cindy notes. “Tom and Ross have sent us corner analyses and videos, as well as textbooks to read, so we can know Nürburgring as best we can before we arrive. It’s such a technical track, with so many blind corners and compressions, so many really challenging camber changes, that knowing what is ahead is pretty important. You have to know what’s happening or it won’t be a good experience.”
The ProFormance welcome
A large part of Cindy’s enjoyment of track driving comes from the the welcome she received from ProFormance Racing School, right from the first course she took. “They really look out for every single student. First, they make sure everyone is safe, and then, that they’re having fun. The mantra is, ‘Are you having fun?’ From the moment you get to the school, all the instructors are pleased to see you, they call you by name, they really welcome you. And their interest in you, their passion – it’s genuine!”
Beyond friendliness is their commitment to nurturing drivers to higher achievements. “Don is very good at making sure that everyone is thinking about where they want to take their new-found hobby. He’s there to pave the way, or to get you in touch with someone who can.”
Focused on the road ahead
In Don Kitch Jr’s office is a photo of Steve McQueen which bears a quotation from the car-loving actor: “Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.” Cindy might not agree, having had a busy life so far with a career in commercial real estate and a family. But she’s clear that driving on the track is what she wants to do now. Like many skilled, serious drivers, Cindy finds in her sport a form of mental escape.
“It might seem odd that I feel most at peace going 140mph down a straight (don’t tell Don I said that), but I do. It’s very Zen, very peaceful in its own way, but it also takes 110 percent complete concentration. That’s why everything else disappears. When I’m on the track, nothing exists besides me, the car, and the road in front of me.“
Where that road will eventually lead isn’t known. But right now it’s taking her to a town in western Germany and a track that many consider the most daunting – and rewarding – in the world.