Well we just got back from Alabama last week where we visited Merry’s family. I have to say the highlight of the trip for me was to be able to actually drive in a real live stock car race.
Merry’s dad Tim has been saying for months now that next time we’re down that I’d have to get in his race car and give it a go. Now when he said give it a go I pictured myself out on the track, by myself, cautiously inching around the oval being sure not to wreck anything. I had absolutely no idea I’d end up on the track with 8 other cars under the lights during the 15 lap feature event but that’s what happened.
When we got to the track Saturday night I was pretty nervous and all I thought I was going to do was go out and run a couple very slow laps during the time when they have to pack the dirt track down before practice. Just sitting in that car with the engine running was quite a rush, the noise and the heat are something else even at idle. The small block chev in the car makes a little over 500 horsepower which I have to say is just a shade more than my Saab 93 can muster.
When we got to the track we unloaded the car off the trailer and got it ready to run. I’ll never complain about gasoline prices at the pump again after seeing Tim pay US$5.00 a gallon for 117 octane racing fuel. I think the normal price at the pump for unleaded at the time was about $2.85 . Some of the other drivers took the opportunity to come over and jokingly give Tim a hard time about me driving his car without me ever having sat in a race car before but he just grinned and took it all in good stride. It just made me nervous as hell.
Anyway I got suited up in nomex and helmet, jumped in the car and slapped the steering wheel onto the column. Started er’ up and rolled out to the track. They actually have all the cars run the opposite direction during packing than they do during the race… I never did find out why. Managed to get it out there without hitting anything or anybody and started to roll around the oval at about 15-20 mph trying to get the feel for it. You don’t have to worry much about shifting as you keep it in 3rd (high) gear all the way around when you’re at racing speeds.
The flagman waved us off after a short while and I rolled into the pits thinking that was pretty damn cool. When I got out of the car I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Tim asked how it was and I said it was awesome. He said well you may as well go out and hot lap it during practice session then. Cool. I couldn’t wait. I don’t think Merry was too happy about the whole thing but when I reminded her that it was probably safer than driving to work on the freeway everyday in Calgary she couldn’t really argue. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the way she handled the whole thing… I wasn’t sure she’d want me in the car at all. But I guess after seeing her dad race uneventfully for years she could see it wasn’t so bad.
To make a long story short practice went well and I thought I was getting the feel for sliding the car through the corners. As I got a few more laps under my belt I started increasing the speed but I had no idea how fast was fast. Didn’t really even know if I was in the same ballpark as what the other cars in this class would run like. It felt a lot like driving on ice while sliding through a corner, too much throttle and you spin, not enough and you get high and off your line.
Anyway, when Tim asked if I wanted to run the heat race next I was totally stoked. There were 9 cars in the heat and I started in last place. We didn’t draw for a start number since Tim thought I should start at the back of the pack, I was just fine with that. When the green flag came out the noise on the track was like thunder, I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything like it… let alone sit in the midst of it for 20 laps. Unbelievable. I managed to stay out of trouble through the whole thing and even stayed on the lead lap. I finished 7th and was pumped to go race in the feature later that night.
Got to watch a stuntman (and I use the term loosely) crash a car into a stack of old cars and then blow himself up during half time… hey, it’s a living I guess. Then the feature events started. This is where the winners are decided and the prize money is won. They race the lower classes first and then it was time for us (pro street class). The final class of the night has the big boys racing in the “late model” class. Those cars are spooky fast and they actually run laps on the 1/4 mile dirt at around 16 seconds. I’ve been in lot’s of cars that can’t even run a quarter in a straight line in 16 seconds… on pavement!
The feature was under the lights at night and again I started in last place. About 4 laps in I came really close to getting tangled up with some other cars that spun in front of me but I dove down low in the corner and just squeaked by. Got really close to spinning out once when I got too high coming into a corner too fast. Kept it together and managed to stay on the lead lap through the whole thing finishing 6th which I later found out was the last position to pay money. I couldn’t believe it. Ok, so it was only $25… but it sure was cool all the same. I gave Tim the money and I kept the envelope that it came in for a souvenir, happy to have just been there.