February 14, 2009
The big knock on NASCAR is always, "what's the big deal? I can drive a car. How hard could it be?" Uh-huh. Saying that you can drive on a race track because you can drive on a street is like saying you can walk on hot coals because you once ran across warm sand on the beach.
On Saturday morning, NASCAR set me up with a ride in a pace car, a Mustang Shelby GT 500, with Brett Bodine behind the wheel. Brett's run 29 races at Daytona, so he's the guy to take you through the grooves and up the banks.
You know about the banking in the turns. You know that it's supposed to be steep. And then you get right up next to it, and you can't even imagine climbing up that hill, much less driving along it. And then, one lap later, there you are, sucking down into the seat and wondering why the sky's all tilted.
Bodine is smooth; he's driven more than 4400 laps here -- hell, the guy was at the first Daytona 500 as an infant -- so he's half a step away from hanging an arm out the window and driving with one hand on the wheel as we get up to 145 miles per hour. Me, I'm not yet terrified -- the Shelby is like a mother's warm embrace -- but I'm not exactly kicking back either.
Each turn is different at Daytona, each one demanding a different approach and a different technique. Check out the video; here we are heading into the far turns. The bump as we come out of turn 3 was unbelievable, as you can see; bear in mind that the suspension on Sprint cars isn't anywhere near as good as that on the Shelby. You bump through that, and you can feel the car getting yanked up toward the wall:
And then you've got to drop down to 55 coming into pit road, which is a whole different kind of stomach-churn. And then you're out of the car, rubber-legged after just two laps. And for me, just one thought was going through my head:
Next time, I'm driving the damn thing.
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