{September 2, 2012}   My Need for Speed

In April when I bought the Groupon deal for a 4-lap shotgun ride-along in a real NASCAR Sprint Cup car, it seemed like a good idea.  How often would I get the chance to travel in a car going more than 100 mph with no chance of a speeding ticket?

But come the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend when I was scheduled to take the ride, I had pre-race jitters. My stomach had butterflies and I was second-guessing my decision.

An hour-long, laugh-filled conversation with a dear friend in Colorado distracted me nicely. Soon, I was on my way to the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, home of the Milwaukee Mile, which proudly claims a heritage as the oldest operating major speedway in the world.

With my three men in tow, I signed in at the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience tent, got my number and headed to the track to wait my turn.

Among those gathered at the track were people like me who had registered for a 4-lap ride-along, and those who had opted for the “shoot-out racing experience” that allows them to drive 12 laps on their own. (My rationale in choosing the ride-along was that I could go faster if driven by a professional than if I drove myself.)

A handful of cars were dedicated to ride-alongs and several more for the brave souls who wanted to drive. Our 5-year-old, Jamie, wanted me to ride in the #18 M&M car, because, heck, it’s CANDY!

On the other hand, Dylan, 8, doesn’t believe any driver merits mention other than Dale Earnhardt Jr., so he hoped I’d get to ride in #88— the Diet Mountain Dew car we assume Dale Jr. once drove.

While we watched and waited, I chatted with a few people who had completed their ride-alongs. I learned that #88 was the fastest car that day and #18 was the slowest. Good to know. I also learned that as a rider, I didn’t get to wear a sleek driver’s suit like Danica Patrick (born in nearby Beloit, Wis.) Not so good. I had counted on fast cars and fireproof fashion! I felt so misled!

My disappointment was tossed aside like a shoe on the track in front of Danica’s car when my number was called and I was told I’d ride in #88—the fastest. Oh, yeah!

After carefully selecting a helmet from a huge selection of large and extra-large sizes, I hopped over the cement barrier (go with me on that) and headed to #88, pausing briefly for fans to take photos of me in front of the car (OK, just my husband and only because I insisted.)

A genuinely nice gentleman with a cool racing tattoo on his forearm helped me into the passenger seat through the window, buckled me in tightly and fastened the strap on my helmet while apologizing for pulling my hair in the process. Then he tapped the roof of the car and the fun began.

Roger, my driver, is a veteran with thousands of laps in a car. You might think I learned that when I struck up a conversation with him. But no, I read that on the RWRE website. I caught on pretty quickly that his earplugs and the engine noise (not selective hearing like I’m accustomed to) prevented him from hearing my questions and comments. (And since there was no dash camera being used at the time, I feel safe in telling you I didn’t scream like a girl, swear like a sailor or say anything else untoward during the exhilarating ride.)

Strapped in, I felt very secure in the passenger seat and had no safety concerns as we left the pit. Then Roger shifted, the car jerked, and we gained speed—fast! When he braked into turn 4, I was sure the car was going to flip over. That he kept it on the track around corners at such a high speed is a testament to his skill and experience.

On the second lap, he was going all out on the straightaways, and the engine noise was piercing. (I’d forgotten ear plugs and my ears hurt for a few hours after the ride.)

Getting a bit more comfortable with his braking and accelerating in the third and fourth laps as we zoomed past spectators, I could appreciate how much stamina a driver needs to complete a 500-mile race and how a split-second decision could affect a race’s outcome.

As we pulled into the pit, I said, “Awesome!” and asked Roger our top speed. He shook me off, signaling that he couldn’t hear me. Then when we stopped, he said, “We got it up to 135 mph, if that’s what you were asking.” Ah, a talented driver and mind reader.

We’d completed those four, fast, loud laps in about 3-1/2 minutes. Amazing!

Before we left, Dylan said, “Mom, the next time we come here, you have to drive the car yourself!”

Someone should probably warn Danica she may have competition. On second thought, maybe it’s better to wait until I learn how to drive a manual 4-speed transmission.

Want to learn more about my 47 and fearless project? Read my first post.


Sam Perroni says:

Now that is an experience I can relate to. I am impressed by your interest in it. Sam

Thanks, Sam! You’ve driven a racecar? I’d love to hear about it! Next time, I hope to be driving one! 🙂

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