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Fastest Dog of the Day

MANY OF YOU WILL KNOW ME from my occasional pieces in this magazine describing my adventures with ‘Martini’ my track Cayman. You may have noticed a certain empty spot in the paddock during 2017 where Martini and my trailer normally sit, we have indeed been missing. Doctor’s orders for the most part after a little surgery. But also my longtime companion animal, Ben the border collie became sick with cancer himself and I devoted my time to his welfare. A few weeks ago that resulted in what was for me a very impromptu decision, I would load everything into the minivan and head out on a road trip with Ben. No agenda, no itinerary, no time limit, just go. And that is exactly what we did for seven weeks. 

As we went I wrote a blog about our adventures. Randy, the editor of this magazine saw one of my posts about taking Ben on track at Mt Tremblant and suggested I do a short series for Provinz. This is the first. 

There are some of you I am certain will have read Garth Stein’s little masterpiece of a novel ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ – an absolute classic for dog lovers everywhere. And if you also happen to be one of those nut jobs like me that enjoys nothing more than tearing up the track in your car in search of the perfect lap it will resonate so deeply it can be profound. The story is told by Enzo, a dog belonging to Denny, an aspiring professional racecar driver. Enzo is highly intelligent having fed himself on a diet rich in TV documentaries, he is wise, insightful and full of little aphorisms. Denny has lost his wife to cancer at a very young age and now has to look after his young daughter and the ageing Enzo who has terrible hips. The novel is narrated by Enzo, as on the eve of his death he reflects at length on his life. One of the passages from the book I found extremely enjoyable was when Denny decided to take Enzo to work with him one day, strapped him into a race car and took him around the track, Enzo was in his element and found deep satisfaction in learning exactly what his master did for a living and revelled in the talent on display. 

Yesterday I took Ben to the track at Tremblant. It is a beautiful and very lush setting for a race circuit among the high hills [mountains would seem to be a bit of a stretch] and lakes of this very attractive little ski region. I had joined a group of very good friends that enjoy the same track activities as me and joined their encampment in the paddock. We like to think of ourselves as “Cayman Central” – Graham and Kevin Choquette, Erica Reddy and Chris Boudos – all from Toronto and Brandon Comella from Rochester, NY. Ben had met some of them before and just revelled in the attention lavished upon him, he was in great form and hammed up his ‘cute factor’ exponentially. A ‘parade lap’ event was scheduled for lunchtime, a chance for anyone to take their car on the track to experience the circuit at a sedate pace. I could not resist, Ben and I would take some laps and he could experience at first hand what I find so enthralling. Of course my track car was not to hand but I was given some very nice offers to take some interesting cars, probably best was Kevin’s offer of his 911 Turbo S convertible. He was serious but the sun was very strong, it was hot and I feared Ben would be uncomfortable in those conditions. And so it was that among the Porsches and Corvettes and other high-powered machinery at pit lane, Ben sat ready for the experience in a humble minivan, complete with all our bags, hanging clothes, cooler and other supplies. 

Back in the paddock Ben emerged from the van as a true hero, just another of the guys that likes a little speed. He seemed just ecstatic and thoroughly enjoyed the attention bestowed upon him by all and sundry. Without any doubt he had earned the title Fastest Dog of the Day. 

I had never driven Tremblant before and so the first lap was taken at a smooth and steady pace, Ben fascinated at what was going by the windows. Somehow it seemed that the ‘sedate’ part of this little adventure had missed the attention of the other drivers and our minivan soon had a long stretch of clear track ahead with no traffic. The most important aspect of driving a car quickly around a track is to be as smooth as possible, no jerky braking or steering inputs that would upset balance. Smooth beautiful empty track ahead, dry sunny day and I am only human. It was eye opening to see how quickly the humble minivan could be driven employing the techniques I have learned over the years. Ben hunkered down onto his bench seat and we made very surprising progress. Certainly surprising to the BMW M3 and the Corvette we found blocking our way!! 

Back in the paddock Ben emerged from the van as a true hero, just another of the guys that likes a little speed. He seemed just ecstatic and thoroughly enjoyed the attention bestowed upon him by all and sundry. Without any doubt he had earned the title Fastest Dog of the Day. 

POSTSCRIPT 

Sadly, once we returned from our trip Ben’s health deteriorated rapidly and on 18th September I had to say a final goodbye to my companion of 14 years. It had been a wonderful trip, a true-life example of the benefits that can come from following up on an impulse. In the weeks that followed the visit to Mt. Tremblant we travelled 6,000km, visited 5 provinces, 4 US states and shared enough adventures to provide a lifetime of memories. Ben experienced his first flights on a Cessna and a Bell Jet Ranger, took a trip on a lobster boat and a Vietnam War era amphibious vehicle, saw the tall ships in Halifax and sat with me watching some fabulous sunsets from the Nova Scotia shores. Carpe diem never felt so good. 

For the dog lovers or maybe just the idly curious among you the full blog can be seen at www.meandben.com </>

Story & Photos by Andrew Combes.

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