By Todd Grandominico
CHARLOTTE _ It’s no secret; I’m not a NASCAR fan. Never have been, probably never will be. It’s not that I have anything against it, it’s just that spending 16 Sundays each year mired in the combination of alcoholism and disgust generally required of a Cleveland Browns fan, I figure it’s best to put sports aside for the other 36.
But when the chance came up to take a few laps in a ride-along on the Charlotte Motor Speedway, I had to take it. I mean, this is 170 mph in a freaking stock car. This is roaring engines and horsepower, high speeds and danger - hell this is my bar story of the year. No way was I missing this.
Arriving at the Speedway, my first stop is at the garage to receive my driver suit. Walking out to the pits I take one last check of the phone to read the 17th text message from my girlfriend reminding me of my duty to remain alive, and the one from my brother asking if he was still my beneficiary, and then I get fitted for a helmet.
Climbing over the wall and heading to the car, I can feel my heart pounding even harder. One last check of my suit, neck brace and helmet and I squeeze through the tight 15”x30” window and into the seat. As I get strapped in, my driver extends his hand and introduces himself as Sam. “You ready for the ride of your life?” he asks. Hell yes I am.
We get the green light and Sam floors the accelerator. He races through the gears and within a few seconds we bank into the first turn. Barely fifteen seconds into the ride and I’m already going faster than I ever have before.
Sam eases us out of turns one and two and roars into the back straightaway. I look to my right and see an incomprehensible blur of seats, bricks and fencing. The car buffets against the wind as Sam drops his speed and enters into turn three. He takes it high and edges us down low into turn four to complete our first lap.
Coming out of the turn we ease back to the right, blow by the pits and rocket into turn one. The g-forces are incredible and my body crushes against the right side of the car. As I struggle to sit up straight I glance over at Sam, who honestly couldn’t look any more at ease if he had brought along a sandwich.
We hit the straightaway at 170 mph and take turns three and four in an instant. Speeding back by the pits, we enter our third and final lap. Sam runs the car hard and repeats our first two laps, but as we hit turn four, he drops our speed and pulls us back into the pits.
We coast to a stop and as I climb out I feel an adrenaline rush like never before. Holy shit that was cool!
I get out of my gear, and knowing my duty, grab my phone to let April know I survived. “How was it?” she asks. “It was pretty cool,” I respond casually. “Kind of like riding with you, but not as scary.”
(Grandominico is a photographer whose work can be viewed - and purchased - at www.tmgimages.com.)