Because I’m an ardent NASCAR fan — and look unquestionably adorable in a firesuit — I was recently invited to participate in the Stock Car Racing Media Challenge at Pocono Raceway. It meant that I’d get to drive a real race car like the big boys do on Sundays, at top speeds and all by myself.
Being somewhat fearful of speed, having little driving experience (I live in Manhattan, after all) and absolutely no manual transmission experience, I obviously said yes.
Now, before you go getting all jealous, anyone can do this. Check out the ride-along and drive experiences at Pocono by visiting their website. But you should know the requirements. They’re sufficiently scary-sounding:
“All participants must be able to enter and exit the car on their own through a window opening 15” high x 30” wide and 36” off the ground, and be in good health. Size limitations may apply. Maximum height 6’4”/weight 300lbs. There will be no refund due to a student’s inability to fit in a race car.”
Luckily, I had prepared by cutting down on my bacon intake a couple days prior. When I arrived, I was placed in the capable hands of general manager Steve Fox, who gave me a “crash” course in shifting (where the primary objective was in fact not to crash), and laid out enough instructions, rules, and warnings to scare the bejesus out of me. You don’t know nervous until someone tells you what to do in case of an engine fire.
And when Steve moved on to safe wreck procedures, I admit, I was ready to bounce. And my parents, who I had dragged along in case I needed someone to identify my body, were trying just to stay conscious. But Steve told us that the program had never had an injury on the track — and assured me I could handle it. So I kissed my parents goodbye, stepped into my suit, strapped on my helmet, and climbed into the green 29 car. (But not before taking some adorable photos!)
Before I tell you if I survived or not, allow me to paint a picture.
Pocono is a 2.5 mile tri-oval super speedway dubbed “the tricky triangle” with three very distinct turns modeled after famous tracks: Turn One (14 degree banking) was modeled after Trenton Speedway; Turn Two (9 degree banking) after Indianapolis Motor Speedway; and Turn Three (6 degree banking) after The Milwaukee Mile.
If this doesn’t mean anything to you, well let me put it this way: taking any of the three turns at a minimum of 5,000 RPMs and around 100 miles per hour is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, unless you’ve ever tried to evade the police. On the Autobahn.
With only thoughts of living and Tony Stewart in my rearview, I drove eight laps around the 2.5-mile track. Which means I drove 20 miles in about 8 minutes, hitting speeds of up to140 mph on the straight-aways.
Defying death feels really, really good. And if you’re a speed junky, I’m not sure you can beat the experience at Pocono. Just be sure to ask for Steve. And a priest.
Watch as I come off the track here!