Monday, January 16, 2012

Start Your Engines

For Christmas this year I got Michael a Rusty Wallace Racing Experience, which means he had the chance to drive a NASCAR stock car at the Phoenix International Raceway. I was really hoping to finally beat him in surprise gift awesomeness, but he got me an iPhone, so...

On Saturday, after leaving the Junebug with my parents, we headed out to arrive for the 8 am start time. We were a little early, so stopped to take in the view of the sun rising over South Mountain and the Gila River.

Last minute before leaving the house I borrowed a long-sleeved shirt from my mom because I suddenly realized that, while a tank and light sweater might be warm enough for the day's high, it might be a tad light for the pre-dawn weather. Um...yeah, the people that arrived with blankets, scarves, fuzzy jackets and gloves were complaining about the cold. I was...clinging desperately to the fleece blanket from our trunk and thanking Mom silently for her shirt.
Michael first got suited up while all of us wives oogled the cars that were being brought around.

In case you're wondering, the drivers were put through a whopping 45 minute theory-based training before being put in charge of such death machines.
I'm pretty sure the main thesis statement for this training was "Try To Scare the Shorts Off Hot-Dogging Middle-Aged Men so as to Minimize Damages." (Michael was the youngest by a good 10-15 years.) Some of them were trying to be cowboys, asking about "rev limiters" and how fast they could max out, etc. etc. The teacher (a racer, herself, and missing a pinkie) tried to frighten some responsibility into them.

Examples: "I used to not let families into the training because every time we did there was a crash" or "Last time I was in Phoenix we had 4 crashes!"

Then it was time to go outside where I could shake from the cold/terror while Michael got assigned to a car.
The cockpits are so tiny that the steering wheel is detached until after the driver climbs in (through the window).
Michael got the Budweiser car (the other gents wanted this one)!
That's his helmet on the roof. I only freaked out about this for, oh, 20 minutes, pacing back and forth muttering, "They'll remember that the helmet's on the roof, right? The helmet...important...won't forget..." because I'm so used to people (me) forgetting things set on the roof.
Spoiler alert: they didn't forget about the helmet.
Then they were off!
They did a couple of warm-up laps behind the pace car before it pulled off and left the rest to the drivers!

There were 12 men in Michael's group (no women) but only 5 drivers on the track at a time, plus some professionals coming on and off who were giving "ride-alongs" to other participants. Michael had a one-way radio, meaning that the trainer could give the drivers instructions but the drivers couldn't talk back or ask questions. The cars can get up around 150 mph on this track but Michael thinks he only got up to around 90 on the straight aways because this isn't a super speedway - it's a shorter tri-oval track. Also: the cars don't have speedometers in them...never knew that.

The wives all got to sit around and feverishly snap photos and be nervous. Like so:
My Race Day Prayer List looked a little something like this:
  1. Dear God, please don't let Michael get in a crash or sustain any kind of physical or mental harm.
  2. Dear God, please don't let Michael get in a crash because we didn't pay for the $60 insurance and they made him write out "I realize that I'm responsible for up to $15,000 in damages" and then sign.
  3. Dear God, let Michael love the experience
  4. Dear God, let Junebug be a good girl for Vivi and Papa
  5. Dear God, let these pictures turn out
  6. Dear God, let me regain feeling in my fingers
Here is a shot from the in-car camera that recorded the whole thing. The reason Michael looks like he has tyrannosaurus arms is because there are arm restraint things that are safety-oriented and the steering wheel is practically against his chest. He has acquired a large respect for just how difficult a job NASCAR driving really is.

All six of my Race Day Prayer List items were answered and I think it was a really great experience all around.

Michael, I hope you enjoyed your gift, and thank you for not getting into any wrecks that would have left us eating Ramen for the rest of the year.

1 comment:

  1. I love your post! You write such a great story. It looks like Michael had a great time. (We're also glad he didn't crash!!!) He's so handsome in his racing suit! We were thrilled to babysit June and have some alone time with her. She was an angel. We're glad Michael enjoyed his adventure!