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Mind racer

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The grassy hillside in rural Wisconsin was dotted with about 250 Porsches, so I was careful not to sound like a dull study. I pronounced the name with two syllables—"porsh-uh." I learned the numbers: The big Porsche is the 944 and is of a design and size meant to compete for sales with the Corvette. The small one, so wide as to be almost square, is the model 914.

Size doesn't matter for the 914, apparently. They're quite small, and thoughts of racing in one at 100-and-crazy MPH made me reach for the pride of Chippewa Falls, a Leinenkugel beer. Beauty, elegance and style? Again, not the 914's concern: Although engineered by Porsche, the body aesthetics—such as they are—were provided by the same company that gave us the long-lived Beetle design. Production of the 914 lasted seven years.

Between the 914 and the 944 in size, but not in numerical sequence, is the 911, the raison d'etre of Zuffenhausen, the sine qua non of Stuttgart. It's the Porsche you most likely see whenever you see a Porsche. The hillside was covered with 911s, and I noticed that they all seemed to sport the same name—Carrera, incongruously from the Romance languages—on the rear deck lid. Suspecting overkill from Porsche's branding department, I asked my brother-in-law if all 911s are Carreras. Neil carefully leaned back against his car—a red Porsche 911 Carrera GT3, mind you—and looked off at the Wisconsin horizon. He began a carefully structured explanation, as attorneys often do, of this segment of Porsche nomenclature.

I listened to most of what he said. He began with an affirmation, I think, that the number and the name, 911 Carrera, always go together. But he skipped over the question of whether a car needs a manufacturer's name, followed by a number, succeeded by another name. Neil had moved on, explaining the numbering on later models, all seemingly three digits long and all in the 900 series. Are these high-number Porsches also Carreras? I think he said they were, but by now I couldn't tell. I suppose the numerical half of my brain—left brain? right brain? I can't remember that, either—drifted off. I began to contemplate the name of the model instead of its numbers.

Neil was patient enough to explain the 900s to me, informed enough to know that 1989 was the last year for Porsche air-cooled engines, and talented enough to change his GT3's brake fluid and calipers between races. But I felt someone with these attributes would not entertain a question from me about that name, Carrera. Indeed, Neil stopped his explanation midsentence to listen to an announcement from the loudspeakers that rang up and down the hillside. "My group!" he shouted. "Wish me luck!" He pulled on a pair of Porsche-emblazoned racing gloves, jumped in the car and drove off.

Later, I found my dictionary: "Span., fem. n., race." Who knew?

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