(Full Disclosure: The rusty Wallace driving experience wanted me to drive their cars so badly they offered a Groupon for it around Christmas and my sister bought it)
So yesterday was a motorheads christmas, first was Monaco which I felt was pretty exciting right up until I fell asleep around lap 40 (it was early so sue me. Actually don't I'm way to poor for that). Then the Indy 500 and Coca Cola 600 which were more my speed due to the fact I'd be awake for them.
But yesterday was different for my family because for Christmas we had bought my dad a chance to go to the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience for Christmas and yesterday was the day my sister set it up for. So around 9 we piled in to my parents minivan and headed to Chicagoland Speedway.
At the track my dad signed in and bought an additional package to do a three lap ride along since we just got him 6 laps of drive time. He also got a sweet hat and insurance just in case he pulled a Danica Patrick and hit the wall for no good reason.
He went to driving school while my sister mom and I watched the earlier sessions. There was a good mix of people there and this one old man who almost rear ended a car in pit lane because he couldn't find the brake. Everyone working the event was really cool and down to earth. They answered everyone's questions and would joke around with the drivers as they were getting buckled in.
After the driving school my dad suited up and headed over to the ride along area. The ride along cars were first gen COT cars although they had the splitter outfitted rather than that goofy rear wing.
The turning point though was that my dad as he was getting buckled in had an anxiety attack and got super closterphobic. He's not a small guy mind you about 6'2 and 260 lb and normally doesn't suffer from this sort of stuff but between the heat and the small confines he just couldn't go through with it.
That's where I come in. Talking with the guy that was running the ride along portion he said that if my parents wanted to we'd just have to talk to the event coordinator and it should be possible to switch my dad out and have me sit in his place. I was essentially Reagan Smith except I actually got to drive yesterday. (See Jeff Gordon back problems)
So we talk to the girl at the registration tent and she has me fill out the liability forms and sign the insurance papers and tells me that everything would be fine after I went through driving school.
Sitting in probably the same seat that Tony stewert has almost broken with his girth I sat in driving school. The instructor gave us two very Ricky Bobby-esque tasks: Go fast and Don't crash. He went over safety, how to unbuckled your harness and window net in the event of an emergency. Also passing procedures that would be directed by our spotters, and where the racing groove was and not to stray too high as that was where the professional drivers were running for the ride alongs. Then it was class dismissed and bathroom break before putting our racing suits on.
For the ride along I was in an old Jimmy Johnson car with obviously an extra seat. I climbed in and sat down and started chatting with the pro driver who turns out went to highschool with me. After getting all buckled in and window net up he flicked the ignition switch and the 800 Horsepower beast roared to life. He threw it into first and we were off down pit road. We go around turn 1 and 2 on the apron and by turn 2 exit he's in 4th screaming up next to the wall. For those who have never been or seen Chicagoland it's a mile and a half "D" with 18 degree banking in the corners and 11 degrees on the front stretch and 5 on the back. Going into turn 3 my driver let's of the gas and let's the banking do its magic. The car was planted right in the middle groove and coming out of turn 4 he punches it and by the time he lifts we must have been doing around 160. We had another two laps of that getting up to about 170 and what felt like 4 inches from the wall. Fast enough for me to have to catch my breath after the turns due to the G forces.
After pulling into the pits and getting out I couldn't stop smiling. And I had yet to even get into the drivers seat. Hell I almost skipped my alarm this morning cause I didn't want to drive the 45 minutes to my parents house at 6 am but already I'm thankful I dragged my ass out of bed.
Next up was my driving session. I walked up next to my car, climbed halfway in, took a dorky photo that my mom had turned into a plaque and slipped right into the drivers seat. It was super cozy in there and hot. My buckler strapped me in and started teasing me about my size cause he had to grab the "ghetto cushion" aka a balled up fire suit to put behind my lower back so the belts would fit tight. I had the last laugh though cause he hit his head on the roll cage.
I went though the radio check and then my spotter gave me the go ahead to fire it up. Fan, ignition, and then flip the start switch and it brought the thing to life. Now being in the passenger seat for it was cool but it's a whole different experience. At this point was when my spotter decided to ask if I could drive stick. I told him that it's been awhile so he told me the pattern and I depressed the clutch. I managed to get it rolling only in the wrong direction. I guess I had come ttoo far towards me and had it in reverse which caused my spotter and dad to bust out laughing. Finally in first I nursed it out of the pitstall and shifted to second. Passing the end of pit road I dropped it into third and coming out of two put It into 4th and punched it.
The noise was incredible and I was ecstatic that I didn't need a push start to get me going like so many others. I pulled into the racing line and before I knew it I had to lift for 3. I gave it some gas coming out of 4 and streaked access the start line only to be told to pick up the pace a little. So coming out of turn 2 I just went for it. I gave it everything I could until I passed the lift cone. Before entering turn 3 I must have hit around 130 and it was amazing. The next 4 laps I just focused on my line and made sure to not screw up in front of anyone.
Taking the checkered flag was one of the greatest feelings in the world. I just drove a stock car at speeds of 130 plus and didn't hit anything. I got down pit road and when my buckler asked how it was I just looked at him with a stupid grin and he just laughed and said "yep I thought so".
For anyone interested in doing it I sat go for it. Whether NASCAR is your flavor or open wheel I recommend you do this once in your life. RWRE is a great beginner point as they offer a wide range of packages at a lower cost than say Andretti or Petty. The cars aren't the prettiest, mine was pretty beat up but you will have the time of your life.
TL; DR 5 stars would do again if my wallet ever allow it
Edit for fact check