The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Look Ma! I'm Racin'!

It’s funny. I just finish talking about experiences when my lovely wife surprises me with one of my dream experiences. No. Not that. As an early birthday present (mine is November 1st) she, along with her mother and father, bought me a half day of instruction and racing at the Bertil Roos racing school. I’ve always dreamed of turning laps in a race car, barreling unfettered down a straightaway without the threat of cops or wayward animals.

This is a bare bones (in a good way) racing experience. The cars are little more than four wheels, a steering wheel, and an engine. The frame is designed to hold the engine in the back with a person jammed into the nose along with a jumble of pedals and some body panels. You sit in the car, inclined with your helmeted head peaking out above the fuselage.

When the engine finally roars to life, it is a deep throaty sound that takes you back to childhood dreams of racing in the Indy 500. The exhaust notes of the cars sound exactly as you imagine they would. Everything is perfect until you actually start to move. It is at that moment that it finally hits you your inner Andretti: “Crap. I’m drinvin’ a freakin’ race car.”

Now, looking at the spec sheet, the cars don’t seem fierce. Four cylinders, 150HP, with an 80 or 90 mph top speed on this particular course. I know you’re thinking “Big Whoop. I do that in my car on the way to Grandma’s house.” I know it all seems pedestrian, but let me reassure you its not. You sit a foot off the ground, exposed to the elements. The closer you are to the ground, the faster it feels. This meager race car was all I could handle. Allow me share some of the details of a typical lap.

At the approach of every turn you need to do a couple of things, drop your speed to the maximum velocity needed to correctly turn into the apex of the turn so that you may accelerate through the turn without flying off of the track. During this time you will likely have to downshift, while judging the exact moment to turn in, remaining straight and true before jamming the wheel toward the inside. If done correctly you will feel as if you will certainly run off of the track before turning in.

Ideally, you take every turn at the very limit of the car’s ability. This means pointing the nose at the apex of the curve and mashing on the gas. If you are correct you can stay on the gas through the turn and your outside tire will hit the edge of the pavement just as you leave the turn. While accelerating, you can feel the forces pushing you out, and you feel as if the car will leave the track. You fight the urge to let up the gas even as you approach the outside of the turn where it appears you will end up in the grass.

Cornering is a fun/maddening exercise that is a perfectionists wet dream. Finding that line is pure heaven … I think. I’ve seen the line. I’ve been close to the line. I’ve ground my gears to a nub in search of the line, but I’ve yet to actually travel the line. Should I ever find it, I will leave a trail of gear shavings and burnt rubber for other hapless drivers to follow.

That is all well and good, but speed is the real deal. Ripping out of that final corner and plowing onto the straightaway is a wonderful feeling. The surge of power. The ascending roar of the engine as you shift from second to third and from third to fourth is among the more pleasing things in this world. As your speed climbs the wind rushes past your head. You fight to keep the line at the bottom of a sweeping banked turn, and you can’t help but scream with joy as you rip around at 90 miles per hour before braking down for turn one and begin the whole process anew.

The half day of racing consists of instruction both in class and on the course and two twenty minute racing sessions. Although I wanted to continue, I felt that the twenty minute limit was appropriate. If you cherish driving a race car more than food money, I say go Top Ramen and buy yourself some track time. You’ll thank me for it.


  • At 11:30 AM, Blogger L.R. Williams said…

    It's interesting that you mention racing. Within the last cuople of years, I've taken an interest in racing myself, but I've leaned more in the direction of NASCAR. Call me a "black-neck", but I have learned a lot about it in a short period of time & I enjoy the competitive nature week in & week out. From what I understand, there is a group of tracks south of my location where you can do a short, intermediate or long race. Should you get the opportunity to come up to my neck of the woods, we'll try it out.

  • At 1:13 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said…

    I don't really care about the different types of racing. NASCAR has its interesting points, but I guess I'd prefer driving courses rather than driving in a circle. Either way I don't follow racing. I find watching it tedious. Actually driving is another story.

  • At 12:07 AM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said…

    Hey, it can't be Malibu!


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