A need for speed

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I’ll admit that I have never really been a NASCAR fan.  The one race Mary Lou and I ever attended, the Hardee’s 500, may have been the loudest place I have ever been for an extended period of time.

Our hosts had given us some headsets to listen to the pit crews.  Unfortunately, we had no idea what we were listening to.  The crowd seemed to stand in unison every minute or so, apparently cheering for the leader.  Actually, we were so clueless we were never sure why anyone cheered for anything at any given time.

The most memorable part of the day was being stuck on a bus in traffic for four and a half hours trying to get back to the hotel.  It was a bus with no bathroom which led to some interesting situations along the way.

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This past week I got to experience another type of racing when I was in St. Petersburg as the city was preparing for their annual Grand Prix race.  I must admit that I knew even less about Grand Prix racing than NASCAR.

Grand Prix racing got its start just before the turn of the 20th century as the earliest cars participated in organized races from town to town in France.  It didn’t take long for speeds of over 100 miles per hour to be registered.  While that speed is fast on a track, Grand Prix racing had the added attraction of having its course run along regular city streets.

Accidents were frequent in the early days, and even today many participants crash along the twists and turns of streets.  Barriers protect the most accident prone areas, but the crowds love being so close to the action.

Eventually Grand Prix racing evolved into Formula One racing.  For the uninitiated, Formula One cars are the fastest road racing cars in the world.  The cars are especially designed to take corners at high speeds.

Our hosts for this particular event had arranged for us to actually ride in a pace car the day before qualifying began.  A pace car is an ordinary looking car that limits the speeds during caution flags.  The racing cars are forbidden to pass a pace car, keeping the speed lower until the caution flag is lifted.

I should have known this wasn’t going to be an ordinary ride when I learned the person behind the wheel was a former NASCAR driver.  “Buckle up”, he said just before we roared out of the pit area. I have driven fast before, but I don’t think I have ever taken curves at 100 miles per hour.  The way my video from my phone bounced around was pretty accurate to the real experience.  I was in a knot after one lap, wondering how they did this for hours.

The driver had a big grin on his face as we pulled to a stop.  I am not sure if he just enjoyed driving, or if he enjoyed scaring the daylights out of people like me.  I’ll admit that I had a grin on my face too, but probably just because I had survived.

Riding in a pace car on a Grand Prix course wasn’t on my bucket list, but it probably should have been.  It is something that I’ll remember for a long time and certainly cured my need for speed for the foreseeable future.