The NASCAR Experience Part Two - What Does it Feel Like to go 175 MPH?
Sunday morning arrived and my stomach was in knots as I nibbled down a very light breakfast thinking about the day ahead. Today, I would be doing a ride-along with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Sam Hornish Jr. in the Team Penske Racing Mobil 1 #77 car at 175 MPH at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. The speedway is considered the home base of NASCAR, with 90% of NASCAR teams being based within 50 miles. I was feeling excited, anxious, nervous, elated and determined to NOT show any fear whatsoever in front of "the guys"! After all, I am a car girl and a BIG NASCAR fan and former sponsor of female NASCAR driver Deborah Renshaw...I will NOT be afraid, eeek, and this will be an experience of a lifetime...one off the bucket list of sorts.
Now about Sam Hornish Jr. ....can I trust his experience and driving skill, he seems so young at 28??? Actually he is one of the most successful drivers in the recent history of open-wheel racing and has entered a new chapter of his storied career in 2008. In 2007, Hornish Jr. earned a race victory for his seventh consecutive season as he finished fifth in the Indy Car Series standings.
Following the conclusion of his eighth season in the
series, Hornish Jr. remained the only repeat champion in Indy Car
Series history. He has stood on the podium 47 times and produced 62 top-five finishes in 116 starts. At
28 years old, Hornish Jr. is the series’ all-time leader in wins (19)
and laps led (3,428). Known for his late race passes, Hornish Jr. has been involved
in four of the top-10 closest finishes in Indy Car Series history,
winning three of them. At the conclusion of the 2007 season, Sam
Hornish Jr. made the difficult decision to walk away from his very
productive Indy Car Series career driving for Team Penske.
After reaching the highest levels of achievement in open-wheel competition, he announced his full-time commitment to stock car racing in November 2007, focusing on the new challenge of competing in NASCAR’s premier series beginning in 2008 as a rookie driver in the #77 Team Penske Mobil 1 Sprint Cup car.
Okay he has experience and is the proud Daddy of the cutest little girl Addison...check out the Daddy/Daughter matching fire
suits!.....whew....I arrived around 1:30 with a
grumbly funny stomach at Lowe's Motor Speedway which is the track
considered to be the home base of NASCAR,. With 90% of NASCAR teams being based
within 50 miles. It features a 1.5-mile-long quad-oval track that
seats 167,000 people, with room for 50,000 more spectators in the infield.
The track was completely and eerily empty except for a few other people
there for ride-along.
I signed the waivers in triplicate: "To insure the utmost quality and safety, Richard Petty Driving Experience’s fleet of cars rotate in a quality assurance program as well as daily inspections prior to runs. In the event of an incident Richard Petty Driving Experience is responsible for any equipment damage and the participant covers any personal damage (per participant’s signed liability waiver)."
I don my newly acquired Penske Racing cap, a race fire suit from the Richard Petty Driving Experience, who was hosting the event, and tucked in my ruffled blouse, zipped myself up and prepared myself mentally to get into a NASCAR Sprint Cup car to go three laps on Charlotte Motor Speedway with banking corners and everything at 175 MPH. I took a long deep breath and asked myself this question: What if I crash out there? At the race the night before it happened several times...geeez...
Oh right... I will be wearing a Hans Device and I just toured the NASCAR
R & D Center yesterday and learned all about how SAFE these cars are and all..yeah BUT. The debate continued in my head as I smiled and nodded at everyone... my mouth getting drier by the minute...until...they announced I would be taking a ride-along in a street-ready Dodge Challenger with no Hans Device at 140 MPH on the track BEFORE the BIG one...I got in and buckled a regular standard seat belt system on, which felt kind of wimpy to me at this point, and tried to relax as Andy my driver took off like a bat out of hell from pit lane out onto the track.
The ride in the Dodge Challenger once up to track speed of 140 MPH, meaning VERY fast, was surprisingly smooth and very tight on the corners. Actually felt really smooth like butter, pretty quiet, little to know vibration and a testament to Dodge engineering, the Challenger is a muscle car and built for speeds like this. The feeling of the increasing down force, the force which pushes the car downward allowing the vehicle to grip the track surface, was incredible and the G Force, the way drivers are pushed backwards when accelerating and pushed to the left of the car when turning right and the other way around was a bit unnerving but by lap two I was relaxing a bit.
The track has wide banking corners and those look scary coming at you at 140 MPH until I just thought about this is what it is like on the Play Station NASCAR game I have at home. It looks just like that visually -- only this was real life, LOL. Keeping my eyes on the horizon line and pretending to drive myself really relaxed me and made me giggle to myself too! I got back all in one piece and just a little bit sweaty.
After quite a bit of standing around waiting while the Mobil 1 Team and other members of the press in our group took their turns and feeling more confident about going with Sam Hornish Jr. in the real Sprint Cup car after surviving the Dodge Challenger on the track I felt ready and almost impatient to take my turn!
When my turn finally came, woo hoo! I donned the helmet, Hans device and climbed through the passenger window into the cramped passenger space and was promptly buckled tightly into a 5-point harness. No turning back now! I fidgeted nervously to get comfortable, then turned to Sam Hornish Jr. my driver and said, "I am the mother of three kids and six grand kids so just get me back here all in one piece, okay?' Sam smiled at me turned and reached over and just flipped the switch to turn on the engine.
GRMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMBRRRRRBrmmmmmmmmmmmm BRMMMMMMMMMMMM bum bum bum BBBBBRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRbumBUM BUM BUM..... and off we went onto the track full speed ahead.
I just got the video DVD of my ride today with Sam Hornish Jr at 175 MPH and all I can say is my adrenaline is pumped to the max all over again from watching and re-feeling the experience. Woo Hoo! I can take that off my bucket list now of things to do!