I was six years old when I came up with a new request for my dad: please buy me a steering wheel so that I could drive a car. In a country where owning a car is a luxury that most families could not afford, my parents did buy a car when I was almost seven years old. It was a beautiful Lada 2103 (comes from the Fiat family). I thought it was one of the most elegant cars on the road. Of course, I was only a back seat passenger in that car until I turned 14, when my dad finally gave in to my nagging and let me drive the car around the garage park.
I remember the feeling of incredible joy when the car slowly moved forward with a gradual release of the clutch and a bit of gas. A ton of metal performed what I asked it to do: moved forward, stopped, moved again, and turned when I turned the wheel. A couple of years later I drove this car for the first time on a regular road, deep in the Russian countryside. Still under the legal driving age, I drove very conservatively on empty side roads for a couple of hours. I drove barefoot so that I could feel the pedals – really feel the car. After that I knew I would be a good driver.
I received my first drivers license a couple of months before turning 18, the legal age of driving, thanks to connections and a “fee” of six bottles of vodka. I got a USA license in 1998, but I still have my first one. Almost an antique now, this type of license will finally become invalid in 2014.
I am a very lucky person, because I meet great people in my life. Some of them have significant influence on my driving. For example, my ex’s stepfather, Leonid Novikov, encouraged me to drive every time we happened to be away from main roads. He always found very supportive words for me, explained my mistakes and finished every time with saying that we all do such things. Another person, Nikolay Begenar, was my colleague for a year and he drove me home a few times. He did not know that I was learning from him every second he drove his 5 Series BMW. I knew that my driving is mechanically right, but his driving had a spirit that I’ve never observed before. He and his car seemed to be one united being. I suddenly saw what driving can and should be. The BMW was a much more sophisticated car than the Fiat, but I’m confident he would drive any car with the same attitude.
In 1998 I moved to the states. We bought a brand new VW Passat and in the first month of owning the car I received a $600 ticket for speeding. I was not speeding; I was just having some fun in my great new car. Who knew it was an unmarked police car that I was tailgating and flashing to get out of my way? The policeman said that I would be handcuffed and sent to jail if this had happened in Virginia. It was very close to Virginia, but it was Maryland. In 2001 we moved to Massachusetts and Mike Stukalin helped us to settle in.
One day I drove with Mike to downtown Boston to meet there with my husband Max for dinner. Having fun, I took a ramp from the Mass Pike a bit too fast and braked in the middle of the turn to scrub extra speed. Mike waited until we cleared the tolls and then asked me if I knew what an apex was. I did not have a clue. He said that if I would like to learn how to drive, I should come to an autocross in Fort Devens, Ayer. This was a challenge. Up to that point, nobody told me that I did not know how to drive. And what was this “…” apex?!
I came to my first BMW event in early 2002. I drove my front wheel drive Passat, overdrove every corner, had my tires squealing like pigs, made my first instructor, John McDonald, laugh and dizzy, and left the event so happy. I did not know then that autocross would become a serous part in my life. In my first year I won class F in the BMW club. The next year, in addition to the BMW club, I started driving with Miata and Porsche clubs.
Late summer of 2002 we were looking for the second car in the family and faced an interesting challenge. The car had to be suitable for autocross in addition to being a good daily driver. Without lengthy considerations, we found and bought a used 1997 BMW 328i. At that moment, we envisioned that it would be Max’s car. However, a minor accident in Boston provided me with a reason to take this car from Max. We switched. My first BMW!
Year after year I was winning different local classes in it, but I could not get close to the alpha guys in the BMW club. I had a hard time finding instructors who could beat me or provide productive feedback. It was a painful plateau.
During that period I received a funny trophy from the Renegade Miata club. Still being new to the sport, but trying to be fast, I coned more than other people and they started to refer to me as the cone queen. By the end of the year, Rob MacAlpine gave me the appropriate trophy.
In early 2004, I was at one of those events when you get to the site and don’t stop asking yourself what on Earth made you come there to be cold and miserable. I was a starter that day; sitting at the start line wrapped in Max’s old jacket. Another car pulled up and the driver asked me if I still drove a green BMW. Who was this and why would anyone remember my car? I personally struggle to recognize people during events because everyone looks very different in and without a helmet.
We started talking. It was Hank Wallace, one of the alpha drivers in the BMW club. He agreed to instruct me in the afternoon. He found so many things I had to work on: hands, footwork and looking ahead. I felt as if the two previous years of driving were for nothing. I had to start over and relearn many of my habits. Since then I have never felt as if I was stuck and wasn’t learning something new and improving. Hank always showed me the next thing to work on. After fixing the large mistakes I came to smaller ones, to the ones that are significantly more challenging.
The list of wins is provided at the https://langmotorsport.com/awards/. However, the largest accomplishment has been to stick with the sport, overcome frustration and losses, rebuild confidence, work on improving, and win. My goal is to win in the open class at the SCCA Solo Nationals.
This sport represents an amazing combination of mechanical, physical and mental components. I’ve been with it for the last 10 years and I hope that I have some understanding of it. There is still so much to learn, improve and have fun with. The learning curve never ends.