Sunday, April 08, 2001
A need for speed
At semi-legal speed, the trip from downtown Cincinnati to Kentucky Speedway takes 40 minutes. If your Shivolay happens to have a NASCAR gear, you can do it in less than 14 minutes.
By the time you get there, you will probably have a police escort. But it's almost worth it. NASCAR speed isn't just fast. It's another dimension.
Even moderate, test-drive, demo-NASCAR speed could get you to Florida in about the time it takes to drive to Cleveland.
Going 165 mph on four wheels is like being a bug on the windshield of an F-16. The world comes at you too fast to take in anything but a loud blur. And if you're lucky, three laps around a 1 1/4-mile oval are over before you have time to ponder that your only contact with paved Earth is a few square inches of Goodyear rubber.
They were handing out free samples of NASCAR speed on Thursday at the racetrack in Sparta: three laps at qualifying speed, to introduce a new attraction called the Richard Petty Driving Experience (www.1800BEPETTY.com). For about $90, they take you for a ride. For $349 and up, they let you drive. For those who peel off serious jack, they offer thrills like the Bristol Experience (Defy the laws of gravity . . .).
I wriggled into a Monte Carlo feet first like climbing through the bathroom window, and settled into the aluminum racing seat, surrounded by roll-bar pipes and geometric steel like the inside of a two-man rocket ship.
I noticed that Winston Cup cars have no cup holders, no climate control, no leather-wrapped steering wheels or CD players. They smell like the intoxicatingly sweet cologne of burning rubber, high-octane fuel and Chanel No. 630 horsepower.
They sound like thunder in a cage that wants out right now. And they go like turbocharged lightning.
Before we launched, there was a brief class to explain what type of lunatics pay $90 and up to go faster than any human body can go without falling out of an airplane.
Ninety-four percent are men. Duh. And more than half have never been to a NASCAR race before (that's me again).
We've gone 11 years without an incident, a spokesman said.
That was very reassuring until I began to picture an incident, which in my imagination looked something like a fireball tornado of tires and arms and legs, mostly mine.
Before I started replaying those colorful imaginary incidents in my head, I attended a press conference by Kerry Earnhardt, who will be driving in the June 16 Busch Series Race at Kentucky Speedway.
Mr. Earnhardt's father, Dale Earnhardt, was killed in a crash six weeks ago. I miss him very much and know that he is proud of why we are here today, said Little E in a written statement.
But he didn't want to talk about it. We'd like to keep away from the safety issues and his loss and just talk about racing today, a spokeswoman said.
That was OK by me. No crash questions. Please.
Now, I realize some padded-room busybodies have actually suggested that NASCAR drivers should slow down which is like asking the NFL to play touch football and telling NHL hockey players to try Nerf pucks.
People who don't have a need for speed just don't get it. But the rest of us can understand perfectly why Kentucky Speedway is expected to draw 600,000 fans this year more than the Bengals could pull with an entire season of sellouts.
And after three laps at the speed of NASCAR life, I can understand why someone would live and die to drive fire-breathing Fords and Chevys.
It makes the wildest ride at King's Island feel like the plastic pony on a pole in front of Kmart.
Contact Enquirer Associate Editor Peter Bronson at 768-8301; fax: 768-8610; e-mail: email@example.com. Cincinnati.Com keyword: Bronson.
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