When you see a Volkswagen Passat on a racetrack, it doesn’t make sense at first. When you learn that the driver, Jason Fitzpatrick, is a quality engineer at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., then you understand why.
The Passat Fitzpatrick races was the first one he evaluated as part of his job. It’s one of the first 2,500 cars built at the Chattanooga plant, and likely the only Passat in all of NASA. The Chattanooga facility has built more than 500,000 cars that have been shipped around the world to countries such as South Korea, Dubai, Mexico and Canada. Fitzpatrick said he wanted to prove the plant where he works builds reliable cars. Racing is a form “accelerated durability testing,” as he calls it.
“I put 8,400 miles on it and turned it back in,” Fitzpatrick said. “And about every month, I’d get antsy and ask what happened to that car. It was just assigned to me randomly. Sure enough, about two years later it came up for sale. They were going to put it up for auction, and I said, ‘Hey, that’s my car,’ I want to buy it, and I started working with Volkswagen credit. I paid Kelley Blue Book for it.”
The car has a few modifications and is a little outgunned in PTD in its current trim. Fitzpatrick said it has struts and springs, a rear sway bar, a cold air intake, free-flowing exhaust and an ECU tune. The car uses Volkswagen’s DSG transmission, which is essentially a manual transmission shifted by a computer. When it upshifts, it sounds as crisp and immediate as an automatic. When it downshifts, the rpm rise to match the ratio of the next lower gear.
“It’s programmed so it only shifts when I tell it to, but it’s faster than I could ever shift it,” he said. “Then I can left-foot brake. The last two cars I had before this were formula cars. I got really used to left-foot braking, and driving karts with my kids and what not, so it just felt natural.”
Brakes also are stock, which Fitzpatrick said is a bit of a challenge. After the Championships race, which Fitzpatrick won, the front rotors were scored and heavily blued from wear and heat. A brake upgrade will be one of his winter projects this offseason. When he returns next season, he’ll have a new braking system, a few other modifications and a car set up specifically for racing in NASA.
“Last August I went to Road Atlanta to race with Southeast and I made more friends in one NASA weekend than I did in 10 years with the other club,” he said. “I met the right guys at the right time.”