Sunday, November 02, 2008

I have a NEED, a need for SPEED!

Do you have a "bucket list"? You know, a list of things you hope to do before you kick the bucket. There are many things I hope to, and intend to, experience if God leaves me on Earth long enough. Gradually, I am checking them off. This weekend another major item was checked off the list. I drove a NASCAR race car 7 laps around the Talladega Superspeedway and reached speeds just over 170 mph. Thanks to the Dale Jarrett racing adventure organization and their excellent staff I was able to live out a long-time dream. I should also thank my good friend Joel who generously gave me a "ride along" adventure that allows you to ride 3 laps with a professional driver. I was able to pay a little more to convert that to a "driving experience" that offered 6 laps of driving an actual race car that had been used at the highest levels of stock car racing. Being friendly and displaying enthusiam netted me an additional free lap. Thanks, also, to my sweet wife, LaWanna who made the trip with a bad back to cheer me on and take some great pictures. She has been very understanding and supportive and I am lucky to be married to her. Here are a few pictures;

The above picture was taken just before the shoehorn and grease was brought out to force me into the car. The space allowed is TIGHT. The seat wraps around your rib cage and is very snug on a thick guy. The hans device was developed after Dale Earnhardt died in a crash that did not look that bad. This device fits around your neck and fastens to the helmet so that you can not move your head but an inch or so either direction. These devices prevent a broken neck in a violent crash. But all those other times when you are still driving, they are very confining. Then, of course, there is the five-point harness that is like a seatbelt on steroids. If you ever watch a NASCAR race, the prerace activites include a team member leaning way into the car helping fasten the driver in and check all the connections. Let me tell you, by the time they tighten the straps on this harness you feel VERY, VERY confined and restricted. How am I supposed to drive? Why didn't you just take a nail gun and nail me to the seat? I made them loosen mine a little--or at least they pretended to.

This picture was taken after I am nailed in and before the net is affixed over the window opening. Please note that my visor is up on the helmet. That little detail became important in a couple of laps when I was straining my short legs to keep the accelerator on the floor and climbing from 160 mph toward 170 mph as the g-forces caused the visor to begin to slowly slide down. Across my line of sight. And I felt like I really had my hands full keeping that track-eating monster off the wall. May I also mention that the skid marks going up the track to the wall do not instill much confidence. I pushed the visor up and the next time is slipped down, I pulled it all the way down. That is easy to resist because it is soooo hot in the car with a fire-proof suit on and with the heat coming from the engine. And this was a relatively cool day. It is amazing that professional drivers do this door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper for four or more hours.

This final picture is when I am coming out of the tri-oval and in front of the grandstands. The stands at Talladega will seat 143,000 fans and thousands more roam more than 200 acres of infield. The superspeedway is 2.66 miles around and the turns are banked 33 degrees. If you did not take any more math than I did, then those number probably do not impress you much. Let me assure you that you could not walk up the banking in the turns without putting your hands on the pavement and bear crawling. They stand 4 stories tall and running toward the turn at 165-170 mph is a thrill ride unlike anything at any theme park.

Here are some observations I will be thinking about the next few days;

1) Men and women are different. Yes, I know that is profound and you probably never thought of it before. Here is how that played out at Talladega; there were 7 or 8 women driving out of about 80 drivers. I talked to one after we both had driven. By the way, she was driving because she had bought two driving packages for her husband and son, then her son was deployed to Iraq so she was driving and was more excited about it than her husband. I mentioned the extremely restrictive nature and was about to describe how uncomfortable that made me when she said "Yes, I really liked that. It made me feel much safer." She described the closing in process as being like having someone's arms around her and helped her relax. To me is was intrusive and seemed to take away much of my control. We agreed that the control issues were male and female perspectives.

2) Instincts can be helpful or harmful. If your instincts are based on incomplete information or faulty reasoning, they can do you harm. As a kid, my dad taught me to drive. Part of that education was about cornering and dad taught me to let off the gas when approaching a curve and gradually increase speed on exit from the curve. The driving instructors told us to keep the accelerator on the floor going into the turns and maintain the high line. I have thought about it about 24 hours now and I can not think of any time in my life that I had to fight any harder to overcome what seemed natural to me than when I approached the turns in this race car. Until you experience it yourself, I can not find the words to fully describe the natural urge to let off the gas when roaring into a turn at 170 mph in a car that you are unfamiliar with while driving in a straight-jacket. I continued to strain to push the accelerator to the floor with my toes, but it took a tremendous force of will to overcome what seemed to be the logical, safe thing to do. That is why I reached 170 mph and some only got up to 150 mph.

3) Most people do not do what they want to do. Did you know that? Sure, some people will say "I would love to do that" just to make you feel good about your adventure. But many really, really want to experience driving a race car. Yet they don't. Ever. For decades. And it is not just driving a race car. Lots of other dreams die on the vine because people are afraid or unwilling to do what needs to be done to accomplish them.

This experience is not for everybody. I don't want to talk anybody into it. But there is an experience that you dream about. What stands in your way? I am very, very glad that I got to enjoy driving a race car really fast before I got too old to enjoy it.


Kat said...

Money. Money stands in my way. ;)

I don't know if driving a race car would be for me anymore. Since becoming a mom I have turned into a real chicken. I used to want to jump out of airplanes and bungee jump and what ever else I could think of. Now those just sound like ways for me to die and leave my poor boys motherless.

I know. I have issues. ;)

Very cool for you though!
I love that first shot!

I have a friend who is a race car driver and I know how physical it is. People don't really think about it that way, but it sure is.

So glad you got to cross another off your bucket list. :)

Thats whats going on here said...

I would do that today if I could. I too, have a need,a need for speed!

Bonnie Anderson said...

I remember when the race track in Talladega wasn't there - it was just an idea some men were tossing around. I also remember some doubters who said it would never happen.
Always be willing to dream big - and then work to make those dreams come true. I'm glad you got your chance to drive the track!!!!

Supabloggasuprememama said...

i dont agree with bucket lists, but i do have a redneck lists, and this one is on it.

BabyJ20 said...

Reasons why MY dad ROCKS:

1. Coosa River Challenge
2. driving NASCAR

Love you, Daddy, and I'm glad you had fun!!

Lerra said...

I don't want to drive a racecar. :-)

But I'm glad you got to!

Jamey said...

I hyperventilated just reading about how confined the space was. I'm too claustrophobic...ahh!

JeanellNorvellPhotography said...

When I grow up I want the heart, humor and bravery present within your soul! :)