Riding along with Brendan
Whoever said NASCAR racing was just a bunch of guys turning left and going around in circles all day didn't quite get the memo on the full story like I did on Tuesday afternoon.
Following an up-close look at the newly-banked and paved track as Kurt Busch took laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I joined several media colleagues following lunch in a ride-along experience that needed only one word for a complete description.
Thanks to the speedway and the Richard Petty Driving Experience (which is starting to return to normal operations after completion of the track's repaving), I was invited to ride along as NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Brendan Gaughan - who will be driving in the Smith's Las Vegas 350 race on Sept. 23 - put the pedal to the metal in a replica model of the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge.
Before we started, there was some essential business that needed to be taken care of. I had to sign my life away on a waiver, then make absolutely sure to get a helmet and official fire suit that fits.
I turn to a table full of helmets first, somewhat nervously, and start checking for the biggest one possible. It was identified as "XXL," but it was going to work just fine. All of the helmets had a full facial view, so that certainly helped.
The chin strap proved to be a minor challenge, but I got some help to finish putting it on.
Next challenge: The fire suit, fully emblazoned with light blue, gray, and red colors and the Richard Petty Driving Experience logo splashed across the chest.
A staff member from the Driving Experience hands me a suit he claimed as the largest one they have. I take it and try it on.
The suit was a tiny bit snug after sliding the zipper up and putting the velcro strips in their proper place, but I was able to resume normal breathing with a satisfied smile.
With the full uniform in place, the hard part came next - waiting my turn for the ride of a lifetime.
In the blazing Las Vegas sun, I watch my colleagues roll off two at a time (Busch joined Gaughan to help handle the load.). A small case of nerves starts to set in, but the more I watch, the more I want to stuff my large body inside the car.
When my turn came, Brad Mark, general manager of the Richard Petty Driving Experience, asked the magic question.
"You ready to go?" he said as he tapped me on the shoulder.
I smiled, breathed deeply, and said yes.
When Gaughan and Busch pulled in to the starting position on the backstretch before turn 3, I'm directed to the car. Patience in making my entrance - those darn cars don't have any doors - would be key.
With the helmet and HANS (head and neck restraint) device on, I throw my left leg over - and get stuck. I straighten out, throw both legs inside, and angle my body for entry into the car.
Once I lean forward, the crew takes off my HANS device and replaces it on two hooks on the side. All patience, no worries.
Securely strapped inside, I shake hands with Gaughan and he starts the car. After some momentary adjustments, he hits the gas and we accelerate through the gears.
Second gear, third gear, fourth gear. We pick up serious speed. By the second lap, we start to slide up toward the wall in turn 2, but the car holds its position.
It feels fast, but the car doesn't have a speedometer to tell us just how fast we're going, so I wonder.
Looking over at the tachometer, it shows what I guessed as 7200 rpm. I hold the thought and take in the moment of the major rush of speed.
It was all too short. The experience was over in two short laps. I thank Gaughan for the amazing ride and slide out of the car with a little less trouble than it was to get in.
Later, I get the chance to ask how fast we were going. By Gaughan's best guess, with the tachometer topped out at 6,500 to 6,800, he said that the top speed we hit was 165 mph.
I'm in awe as I remove my fire suit and helmet.
Next time you watch a NASCAR race, take it from me. The experience of speed is real and 100 percent amazing.
from the St. George Daily Spectrum