I’ve always had a big melon. Little league baseball caps never fit, basketball headbands were stretched beyond belief and beanies were hopeless purchases. It’s like the good Lord decided to get a chuckle by putting a watermelon atop my shoulders.
So, when the Richard Petty Driving Experience instructor at Las Vegas Motor Speedway tells me we have time for me to join our media guests in piloting an actual NASCAR racecar around the 1.5 mile track, I’m not concerned about the speed or safety of the vehicle. I’m worried they won’t be able to find a helmet to fit my big ass head.
“Let’s see, you look like a medium helmet to me,” one of the employees mercifully lies as I stand in line to receive my helmet and oh-so-sweet fire suit they swear will protect me from fire, collision and a slew of other ways to die that I agree to with disturbing ease upon signing their waiver.
Two embarrassing helmet trials later (Do I look like a medium, dude?) I’m convinced I look like an awesome combination of Cole Trickle and Speed Racer. See below. (Yes, I’m well aware in real life I just looked like an awkward guy with a big head. No, the comment section isn’t for killing dreams. Be nice.).
After a flurry of instructional courses, reminders and rules, I squeeze myself through the window of the car into the cockpit of a rocket ship race car sporting thousands of horse power. I try to play it cool on the outside as nine of my most important media contacts are kind enough to cheer me on, but my heart is pounding faster than a jackhammer and my hands are sweatier than an introvert wearing wool gloves at a speed dating convention.
“Dear Lord,” I begin as they instruct me to rev then engine to 4,000 RPM and the amazing machine beneath me roars to life. “Please keep me safe, don’t let me look like an idiot and if I could manage the fastest time of our group that would be awesome. Thank you. Amen.”
I ease off the clutch and begin to pilot the car down pit lane and onto the insane banking of the track – the feeling of impending speed combined with the slant of the track is more insane than Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan combined (and multiplied twice; to the second power; plus nine.). Nearing the first corner, I swallow hard and push the accelerator to the floor. The beast beneath me responds with incredible power as I pass 100 mph. The speed, combined with an uncanny sense of control follows me as I hit the back straightaway and figure what the hell – let’s do this.
The car I’m following (driven by a professional) flashes a green light indicating I can go faster if I’m comfortable. I’m not comfortable, but I am motivated and experiencing the most incredible adrenaline rush ever as my eyes flicker with excitement and my hands tremble on the cold, hard wheel.
I accept his verde challenge and punch it – reaching a max speed of 137 mph (top speed for the session if anyone asked) several laps later and forcing the pro to flash the “get off my ass” yellow to the point that I’m satisfied with my manhood and NASCAR experience. Pulling back into the garage, I exit the car awkwardly (see melon commentary above) and put both feet on the ground before I realize my knees are literally still shaking. Absolutely. Positively. Exhilarating.
Think NASCAR is boring? That it’s all left turns? That it requires no skill or sense of teamwork? Climb behind the wheel, put the pedal to the metal and try taking a drive in someone else’s ride!