Howling down the frontstretch now, for example, I'm trying to inventory what I can actually see. It isn't much. I can see the hood of my car, sort of, the short blur of track between my car and the one in front of me, the rear window of Chad's car and the back of Chad's car seat. I can just see the top of his helmet. I have a general idea that somewhere in front of him is more race track, and the horizon, but I'm not actually seeing it so much as remembering that it's out there. My eyes have got their hands full. The faster you run, the more your field of vision narrows and the shorter it becomes, until everything in the world telescopes down to the 40 or 50 feet in front of your car in an arc about 10 feet wide. That the shatterproof windshield is etched with scratches and smeared with oil and explodes with glare every time the sun hits it doesn't make the driving any easier.
Seeing things inside the car is even harder. Everything is vibrating like mad and my head's vibrating like mad and banging from side to side as centrifugal force is pulling me and all my soft tissue up, up, up to the right at a couple of times the force of gravity, and where the dashboard and the gauges used to be is only a colorful Impressionist painting of a set of instruments. By tightening my jaw muscles and stiffening my neck and concentrating on the immense tachometer, I can just make out the orange needle pointing to about the nine o'clock position. In the time it takes me to see it, though, I've run 100 yards down the track at well over 100 miles per hour with no idea of what was in front of me. I could be picking shards of instructor out of my grill. So. No more looking at the gauges.
I can hear the exhaust noise and that's all. The pitch changes a little when I move my right foot. I can feel the lubdubbing in my ears, but I can't actually hear it. As we come up on the end of my first lap, I'm lubdubbing like Krupa drumming the first eight bars of Sing, Sing, Sing.
The front straight of a tri-oval track isn't strictly straight but in fact has a very gentle dogleg in it. At the apex of that dogleg, at least here at the Disney track, is the start/finish line. You don't turn hard, but you do aim your car for the inside of the track so as to make the shortest route possible from the exit of Turn 4 back to the first turn. By the time Chad and I run across that line nose-to-tail, we're probably running 110 mph or so. There's no speedometer, of course, and I couldn't read one if there were.
Going hard into the first turn now, I catch a glimpse of the orange cones at the base of the wall. Chad's car slows slightly in front of me. I lift my right foot a quarter of an inch. Gas off. Sort of. My hands and arms are cranked full left on the wheel to make the turn. Oops.
Still going straight. Lubdub. Heading for the wall. Lubdub. If I don't hit Chad first. Lubdub. I take my foot off the gas altogether and the car dives left, back to the bottom of the turn, but I've lost some momentum so I stomp the pedal back to the floor. By now I'm halfway through the second turn. This is where the rear end of my car starts to ease loose. Lubdublubdublubdub.
"Gas on/gas off" is more complicated than it first appears. Having gone into the turn too hot and stabbing the gas to catch Chad while my arms and hands are still locked over to the left means that I'm now powering the rear end of my car out from under myself.
I can feel it in the seat of my pants and in my stomach, and down there it feels just like the first time I spun my dad's VW Squareback in a snowy parking lot or dropped a motorcycle on a rain-slick sidestreet. Sick and exhilarating. The parallel ends there. This time I'm crossing up at 100 mph with 3,400 pounds of car sliding around under me.
I correct by spinning the wheel back to the right, steering into the imminent skid and pulling my idiot foot off the throttle. Now I'm headed for the wall, so I wrestle back left into that impending slide. Where any of this is coming from I have no idea. Kinesthetic instinct roused by panic, perhaps. Latent genius. Dumb luck. But it's just like in the driver's-ed film! Except for the part where I hammer the gas again as hard as I can as soon as the car straightens up. By the time we're down the backstretch, I've reeled Chad in and started breathing again. That Chad is being paid to let me reel him in seems unimportant.
Into Turn 3. Smooth this time. Gas off. Muscle the wheel left.