I regard Nascar in the same way that lunatics consider Free Masonry: It’s everywhere. It generates millions of dollars and seems to hold a considerable sway over half the country’s hearts and minds. And yet, I hardly see it anywhere.
I don’t know anybody who cares about Nascar. I’m only reminded that it exists by promotional mugs, lighters and cheap t-shirts sold at the odd Central Floridian gas station. Sometimes, I doubt that it exists at all. How can thousands of people get juiced up about a swarm of cars buzzing along on a circular track?
Thanks to the good people at Ford racing, I was able to confirm that Nascar, indeed, exists. And guess what? Some big Nascar thing (the Ford Championship Weekend) is going down this weekend, right down in Homestead. It’s like the end of the season race, or something.
Ford Racing, in an effort to raise Nascar awareness, invited me and six other journalists out to the Speedway to drive a stock car. Only myself and an excitable writer from Montreal showed up.
After some cookie eating and complimentary drinks, we were given brief and succinct instructions, which I promplty forgot.
I explained to Wayne, my copilot/instructor/gear-shifter/hand-signaler, that I didn’t know how to drive a manual transmission. He explained that that would be fine.
For those of you who don’t know, driving a stock car involves putting on a flame retardant suit and a helmet and strapping yourself into a car with no doors so. You can’t move or see anything. It’s very hot and you think a lot about dying.
You go very fast (if you’re not me) in a circle that makes you feel like you’re riding a rocket ship to nowhere. When Wayne and I stopped to take a break between laps, he noted that I was steering “all crazy” and “mashing the pedals for no reason.”
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I took his criticism with a dip of my helmet visor and ground the doubtlessly expensive gears all the way out of the pit.
For those of you who know nothing of Nascar, I would suggest riding in a stock car. Wayne and company explained to me that this was pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The man from Montreal –hopped up on excitement— shook his head. In all his years of covering the sport this was his only chance to actually drive a stock car. It was a rich man’s sport, he explained. Sometimes Daddy has enough money to take a talentless driver all the way to the big leagues. Sometimes a talented driver has to give up on the whole thing because Daddy runs out of money. --Calvin Godfrey