Making Porsche Dreams Come True

Joe in Porshe Experience center, Carson, CA
Johnny Kanavas (left) and the author.

It’s grand prix week in Los Angeles. But rather than watching the Indy cars zoom around the street course along the Long Beach waterfront, I’m up the road in Carson, behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Carrera S hitting speeds approaching a hundred miles per hour. Not on the 405 freeway, mind you (although how I wish). But on the road track of the new Porsche Experience Center.

Riding shotgun is chief instructor and veteran Porsche driver Johnny Kanavas. “Break hard!” he shouts as I approach a series of S-bends at a speed that would surely get me ticketed on a public street. And before I’m even through the first bend he’s shouting. “Punch it! Hit the gas!” as we accelerate between the bends and out onto a straightaway.

Road Circuit and Drag Strip

Opened last November, the Porsche complex sprawls across what was once a golf course at the junction of the Harbor and San Diego freeways. One of only five similar centers scattered around the planet, the 53-acre site includes the aforementioned road circuit, a see-how-fast-you-can-go drag strip, hilly off-road course to test four-wheel drive capabilities, and three areas to learn and perfect safe driving on slick surfaces.

Away from the track, the center is also the new home to Porsche Motorsport North America, the place where Porsche’s technicians, engineers and mechanics prep vehicles for races like the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and the professional sports car events during Long Beach race week. Visitors can watch action in the garage through big picture windows on one side of the center’s atrium, which displays vintage race cars rotated in from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

Blue Porshe car

Track Side Croissants

And that’s not all. In order to make the center a full day experience, there’s also a gift shop with all sorts of Porsche gear, a tasty little track-side cafe (the chocolate croissants — flown in daily from Paris — are to die for) and an upstairs gourmet eatery called Restaurant 917 which features the modern California cuisine of executive chef Matt Lee, former food maestro at the Getty Center.

But it’s really about the driving, a chance to crawl behind the wheel of a 718 Boxster, Panamera GTS, Cayenne Turbo S, Cayman GT4 or one of the 19 Porsche models available on any given day. The on-track experience is either 90 minute or two hours and runs between $385 to $1,300.


Long Time Coming

My 8th grade artwork.

For me it’s been a long time coming. Recently digging through a box of elementary school mementos in my attic, I came across drawings I’d done of Porsche race-cars back in the day when Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were racing the German speedsters at Le Mans. And much to my delight, the car that had served as my model — a 240-mile-per hour Gulf Porsche 917K — was on display in the lobby. Instant nostalgia rush.

Like all of the instructors, Kanavas greets me at the front desk and we take a brief tour through the historic speedsters in the atrium before heading out to the track. “I’ve been a Porsche guy all my life,” says Kanavas, a San Clemente resident. “Driven them on the street and in races. But it still gives me a thrill drive one around this track.”


Learning How to Tokyo Drift

Not nearly as much of a thrill as I’m about to have. We start with the low friction circle, water-slick surface where Kanavas teaches me how to brake, accelerate and steer my way out an uncontrolled slide into a smooth sideways Tokyo drift. Then it’s on to a computer-controlled hydraulic plate that kicks your vehicle sideways — and into a spin — on a wet surface. The one that stumps me is the ice hill, a seven-percent slope around an almost hairpin turn which simulates driving on a super-dangerous icy or snowy roadway. But even so, it’s fun doing 360 spins in the 911.

Then its on to the handling circuit, designed not as a race course per se but an undulating country road where you can push the Porsche to its limits. But you’re not out there alone — the adrenalin factor shifts into overdrive when there are other drivers making their way around the track at the same time. But that’s what I actually like most about the driving experience.


Chasing Rabbits

“You love chasing those rabbits,” says Kanavas. And indeed I do, a chance to not only master the road course and my own Porsche, but to run down, come bumper-to-bumper and eventually pass other drivers trying to do the same.

It’s addictive . . . and I can hardly tear myself away as the 90 minutes are winding down. But I want to take one last shot at the acceleration track. Running right beside the 405 freeway, the three-quarter mile straightaway ends in the famous Carousel loop at the  Nürburgring racetrack in Germany.

Shifting the car into Sport mode, I use both feet to fully depress both gas and brake pedals at the same time. Releasing the brake, the Carrera takes off like a rocket, the G forces hurling me back into the seat. It takes just eight seconds to reach 105 miles per hour . . . right beside all of those folks stuck in stop-and-go traffic on the 405.



Porsche showroom
Historic cars on display in the lobby of the Porsche Experience Center. The 24 Hours of Le Mans veteran Gulf Porsche 917K is on the far left. Photo courtesy PEC.

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World’s Most Delicious Museum? LA’s Ode to Ice Cream

As much as I love ice cream, I was more than a little dubious when someone suggested that I book tickets — months in advance — for the Museum of Ice Cream (MoIC) in Los Angeles.

First of all, it’s a newfangled “pop up” museum rather than a permanent collection. The joint closes in December — although this is the fifth time its termination has been extended due to mass popularity.

As a lifelong connoisseur of museums, it also got me wondering what an ice cream museum could possibly be. Either below freezing or a place where the exhibits are melting.

But I gotta say it won me over from the moment I stepped through the front door (or rather than back door, because the entrance is actually via a graffiti-spangled alley behind the museum).

Kitschy, corny, campy

I expected a kitschy, corny, campy collection. And that’s exactly what the whole thing is. But that very cheesiness is what makes the Museum of Ice Cream so delicious.

Sort of like the first time you glide through “Small World” at Disneyland, you’re immediately sucked in by the bright colors, offbeat shapes and sizes, the retro sound track (60 pop and 70s funk), and the absolute joy on everyone’s face.

And did I mention ice cream?

True to its name, they ice cream at the Museum of Ice Cream. In cones and cups. And not only that, but Dove chocolates, genuine Gummy Bears, licorice and other sweets you can either eat on or with ice cream.

Chocolate, bananas, mint

Each room has a different theme — chocolate, bananas, mint and so on. While it’s all about fun and flavors, here and there the museum drops informative little tidbits. Did you know February 19th is National Chocolate Mint Day? Or that Oregon, Washington and Idaho are the nation’s top mint-producing states?

The museum’s crème de la crème (pun intended) is a swimming pool filled with sugary, multi-colored sprinkles. While diving may be discouraged, you can backstroke, butterfly or dog paddle through a sea of sprinkles. Which will be falling out of your socks and underwear for hours afterward.

MoIC is the brainchild of Laguna Beach native Maryellis Bunn — who New York magazine called the “Millennial Walt Disney” — and Wall Street veteran Manish Vora.

Chuffed with their creation

Without doubt, the founders are chuffed with their creation. A museum press release calls it an environment “where people can check their fears, anxieties and social norms at the door” and “create meaningful and impactful human connections with other guest and foster new friendships and memories.”

It may not be that vital to human existence. But since the first version opened in New York City last year, the collection has become a pop culture phenomenon.

Celebrities have flocked to the museum, many with their kids in tow. Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian. Drew Barrymore and Gwyneth Paltrow. Jay-Z and Beyoncé. On the day I visited — at the exact time — basketball superstar Steph Curry was taking his family through the Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco.

Melting towards Miami

The next reincarnation of MoIC is scheduled to open in Miami later this year. And the organizers promise that other cities will be soon be blessed with their own versions.

Given the attention the museum has garnered from press and public — and the amount of money they’re raking in — the Museum of Ice Cream no doubt heralds an age of numerous pop-up museums with different themes.

I may have been skeptical before getting my first taste of this 21st-century entertainment form. But I’m ready to savor all sundry of future flavors.


My new book Nemesis available for pre order!

“Nemesis” has arrived! Well, almost. Just got an advanced copy of my upcoming novel — a murder mystery set in 1880’s San Diego when it was a rough and tumble Wild West town on par with Deadwood or Dodge. The plot — based on true crimes that happened in southern California around that time — includes fictional characters and real-life people (like Wyatt Earp) who lived in San Diego during that era. “Nemesis” is being released by the Blank Slate imprint of Amphorae Publishing. Available now for preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Good Reads and bookstores.

Pantanal — The Movie

Pantanal Jaguar. Pantanal WetlandsBetter late than never . . . you can now view a short video version of my trip to Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands at this link — Pantanal – The Movie

On par with Africa as a wildlife destination — and far better than the Amazon — the Pantanal is one of the world’s largest and richest wetlands. Located in the Mato Grosso region of southwest Brazil, the Pantanal is the best place on the planet to see (and photograph) jaguars in the wild.

Read my CNN Travel article about the trip — and browse some of my photos of Pantanal residents and wildlife — at Brazil’s Other Wild Place – The Pantanal

“Pantanal — The Movie”
Produced and edited by Shannon Yogerst
Music: “Olhar adiante” by A Minha Embala (Aline Frazão e César Herranz)

Joe Yogerst Talks Lakes on NPR’s “Here & Now”

NPR Here and Now radio stationIf you didn’t catch my interview on NPR live on Monday (July 10th), here the link to the segment on the “Here & Now” website. 

Host Robin Young and myself talked about summer lake vacations and the impact that lakes have had on our respective lives. And I got a chance to plug my Nat Geo “50 States” book — a bestseller in the US and Canada for going on six months since its February publication.

Favorite Lake Vacations

During our chats before the interview, Robin asked me to compile a list of my favorite American lakes in several categories. And these were my thoughts:

Best Lake for Swimming: Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border. Love that warm water. And it’s the only lake I know where you can float on your back and gaze up at the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Most Beautiful Lake: Lake Tahoe in winter. Deep blue sky and even deeper blue lake separated by a mantel of fresh white powder.

Lake Powell as destination for lake vacation
Gary Ladd, National Park Service

Favorite Lake for History: Lake Champlain, which is shared between Vermont, New York and Quebec province. During both the American Revolution and the War of 1812, battles were fought on and around Champlain that determined the future course of the United States, and by extension, the entire world. It’s also got dessert history — the birthplace of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (Burlington VT).

Best Lake for Wildlife: A lot of places in Alaska would probably qualify. But my current favorite is Lake Martin in south-central Louisiana where I recently had very close encounters of the gator kind. As well as yellow-bellied slider turtles, feral cats and various waterfowl.

Best Wilderness Lake: Hands down it’s gotta be Lake Superior. Remote, wild, edgy, untamed and often dangerous. Great national parks in Isle Royale, Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks. And that haunting song by Gordon Lightfoot about the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Favorite Small Lakes: Treasure Lake in Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and the Trout Glen Pool in Missouri’s Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

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