- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Once you do, the results are very satisfying. The whole car resonates as the engine spins faster. You come up out of that mud-lumpy vibration you get at idle with a big racing V-8, the exhaust thumping so arrhythmically that you can't focus your eyes, and you begin to get that urgent, perfect frequency of everything spinning and oscillating and pounding in harmony. Your vision clears, and the exhaust rumble tightens into a growl into a whine into a scream.
The sound of a race engine is the biggest part of its appeal, I think, even more than the power it might actually deliver. There's excitement in that noise, of course, and brutality and the promise of bad fun, and for those who love cars and racing and speed, the sound of it is what grabs you first and it grabs you low in the belly and shakes you hard. A big V-8 sounds like America.
The ridiculous steering wheel is angled nearly straight up and down like a ship's wheel and almost brushes the top of my thighs. I am trying to figure out how to overcome this, and relentlessly revving the engine, and musing absently on the nature of chaos and internal combustion when that blond man sticks himself in the window and buckles my five-point harness.
Shoulders, hips and peevish man-tackle all have their own heavy, webbed belts to secure them. All the belts meet at a quick-release locking mechanism just below my navel, and when Blondie cinches them down, he's not kidding. I can barely breathe. He's also not kidding when he yells that reminder not to blow the car sky-high before I even get going. And, last of all,
"REMEMBER YOUR EXTINGUISHER! 'COURSE, IF THERE'S A FIRE, I SAY SCREW IT! DROP THE NET AND GET OUT FAST! HAVE FUN!"
And while I'm wondering if anyone's ever died doing this--if any Maximum Sansabelt Dad from Pleasant Valley, USA, has ever come here for a morning's fun and instead gotten loose at speed and lost the rear end and gone hard into the wall fully locked in a hopeless slide, bracing his feet against the firewall and watching the infield and the wall and the infield and the wall spinning past him, the tires screaming and sending up billows of yellowed white smoke, the Gs twisting him in the seat until the moment of absolute deceleration, instantaneous, 50 Gs in the opposite direction, and in the same second hearing the terrible noise of the impact and the utter quiet that follows it and people running and the car rolling slow and broken down the bank of the track--the instructor in front of me pulls away. Don't think and drive. I'm already behind.
Left foot hard to the floor, I slam the shifter all the way left and forward--Whatever you do, don't stall in front of the dentist, don't stall, don't stall!--right foot hard to the floor, left foot up to drop the clutch, light the tires, up through the gears out of the pits, I'm thrown back in the seat--lubdublubdublubdub--lift that right foot a quarter of an inch, left foot hard to the firewall on a clutch sprung like a squat rack, the shifter throw laughably, impossibly long, slam it a yard and a half back into second, right leg locked again, foot back to the floor, power shifting, the acceleration almost yanking my hands off the wheel, the noise fantastic, the carb gaping wide open and gulping fuel and air up front and the exhaust thundering unmuffled out of the headers down by my left hip, wind ripping through the netting now, out of the pits and onto the track apron, steering hard left with both hands because the car wants to go right, up the track into the wall (!), steer hard left with both hands--lubdublubdub--hard left foot for the clutch, feather the throttle, right hand off the wheel, yikes! grab the shifter, throw it right and up to the dash, slam it into third, back hard on the gas--stay on the gas--coming out of the second turn now, down off the bank, the car bouncing on the shocks and drifting right, floating out toward the wall, right foot to the floor, halfway up the backstretch and running at redline, grab the shifter and pull all the way back and right and at last I'm in fourth gear, and by the time I'm into the bottom of the third turn I'm running 90 miles an hour.
I've also caught the instructor. This would be a good time to lift my right foot, so I do, barely feathering the pedal so I don't rear-end him. You're supposed to stay close, but ramming your instructor--much less bumping him up the track out of your way and then slipping under him for the win, Rusty Wallace--style--is discouraged.
My instructor's name is Chad. Running down out of the fourth turn, I'm tucked up right behind him. A single car length off his bumper. I'm not scared, but I'm very busy. And ricocheting between sensory deprivation and input overload.
I don't have to worry about shifting anymore, but the steering wheel has every bit of my attention now. The principles of driving a stock car on an oval track really are as simple as you imagine. Gas on/gas off, and turn left. The physics of it, though, and the sensation of it--the stress and effort of it, the very things that make it so challenging--are the things for which you're utterly unprepared.