I'm a bit impulsive, so when a chance came to race around a Grand Prix track at 150 miles an hour in a supercharged, ground-hugging, open-to-the-elements, hell-on-wheels speedster in Austin, Texas, I said, "Sure."
Back story first. (If not interested in normal weekend-away things, skip down three paragraphs to the car chase.) A community organizer and her savvy daughter invited me down to attend a house party honoring late Texas governor Ann Richards. The governor had founded a successful, eponymous, all-girls high school right before her death. A great event, and a chance for a return to a city I had not been to since I was in my 20s and my first husband was in officer's training for Vietnam.
Most of the long weekend was a chill-out. I scarfed ginger pancakes at the glam Driskill Hotel, admired butterfly weed at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Preserve, dawdled at a downtown Mexican-art gallery, pondered a seven/eighths replica of the Oval Office at the LBJ Library. Normal getaway things. At a wellness retreat called The Crossings, I was even cuddled and swirled for an hour in a pool by a nice lady giving me a "watsu" (water/shiatsu) massage.
I downed fried frogs' legs and Lone Star beer, and pulled-pork on Wonder Bread. I waved to Austin's homeless transvestite mayoral candidate, who was walking downtown in a bra and a beard. I watched millions of bats head out of their cave at sunset, heard live, maverick music at divey UT places, and drove through the Hill Country.
And then came the call. Friend of my friend opening a Grand Prix track at an east Austin former pecan farm on the Colorado River. The course was almost finished, but was being tested. Did I want to ride alongside a pro and try it out?
I tend to say yes before I think things through.
I met Bob a few minutes before I was about to entrust my life to him. He's a former Internet exec who had scrapped it all to race Ferraris in Grand Prix events, and mentor wannabe racers like Craig T. Nelson (TV's "Coach" and "a brilliant driver") and Lance Armstrong ("feisty with the ladies," according to Bob).
Okay. Bob was a pro, and I rationalized that I could add to my bucket list with this crazy endeavor. Besides, I figured, I sometimes speed on the parkways. What's a few more miles-per-hour faster? Like, say, twice as fast? Anyway, I helmeted up in the seat beside him with false bravado. Bob set a mic so I could scream that we stop the madness, and he strapped me in a four-points seat belt.
The race car was open to the air and so low I felt I was sitting on the dusty ground. That is something I didn't factor in. It felt more like being in a streamlined bumper car than an automobile.
Suddenly, before I had a chance to say, "Let me think a bit more about this," the motor whined like a jet engine, the tires screeched, and within a few seconds my face felt like it was plastered to the back of my head.
I can't adequately describe the terror of immediately accelerating from 0 to 150, hurtling around a racecourse purposely set with unexpected curves, bumps, and straightaways. It was the fastest I'd ever moved on the ground (except maybe when I was running away from a horny bull in a pasture one time -- another story), but it seemed endless. And I was determined not to wimp out and push the panic button. Besides being impulsive, I'm stubborn.
When I asked Bob later, after my face returned forward, he said the closest experience would be flying in an F-16 jet: G-forces, blinding speed, pumping adrenaline, the feeling of flying. I will never experience a Top Gun moment, and I have never skydived or bungee-jumped or accomplished other breathtaking endeavors that I'm sure some of you have. I can only attest that it was 10 times scarier than the highest, fastest roller coaster I had ever been on. And a coaster is simulated danger. This was the real deal.
I hated every minute, twice. Because when Bob, an exceptionally charming sadist, saw that I was petrified, he sped me around the track again. And this time we came less than a car's length behind another car (a normal-looking one) that seemed to be dawdling along (probably at 100). What was that about? Ever since driver's ed I've known that you're supposed to leave two car-lengths, even at normal speed. I began to question Bob's judgment, but it was too late.
And then there was the "J curve," a maneuver Bob teaches the military in case they ever have to get out of an alley in Baghdad, fast. Without stopping, the car turns into reverse and speeds the other way. It was over before I had a chance to close my eyes. I just, and I mean just, managed to hold down my Tex-Mex lunch. (Yeah, I know. Dumb.)
Afterward, "relaxing" with Bob in the trailer, I noticed blood on his shirt. I must have been in a daze, because I didn't even see it before. I now also noticed a scar on the left side of his face, by his nose. He had said he always escaped mishaps. He just didn't say how many, and in what shape.
As we chatted further, I surmised that Bob is a rare breed: an auto-sexual. He belongs to this fancy, famous downtown-Austin men's club called El Reyes, where he indulges in single-blade shaves, massages, pedis and such. I imagined him, still in his bloody shirt, with a margarita in his hand in his private room, custom music playing, getting manscaped. I wonder if I would have trusted my life in his hands if I knew they were creamed and manicured.
Anyway, I do not recommend the race-car experience to the timid or the sensible, which still leaves a few of you.
For more by Lea Lane, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.