Picking through the pile of driver suits it dawns on me that I am going to be strapped into a NASCAR Busch North style racer for the first time in my life. I have seen these cars and cars like them race for most of my life. If you were to call me up and say “ Rusty Wallace has the flu and we need you to drive” , I would have jumped at the chance. Now here I am ready to climb into a stock car and live my dream.
Where am I you ask? I am at Canaan Speedway in
I find a suit to fit my rather large frame and pick out a helmet that fits snug and then I sit down for my introduction to riding and driving one of these beasts. Vetern driver Doug Hurst is my instructor today and he greets all of us in attendance as if we were life long friends. Doug does an outstanding job of making people feel at home at the track. Actually all the drivers that Brian Hanaford has lined up to give this thrill to people have a long resume and a remarkable ability to make you relax and have fun. I got to spend the day with such heroes as Dave Dion , Stubb Fadden and Brians own dad, Harold “ Hard Luck” Hannaford. The track and series Championships these guys have between them is second to none.
Doug started by telling us that we would be suiting up ( already did that, beat you to it Doug!) and strapping into the passenger seat first. We would then take 5 or 10 laps around the track at race speeds with a pro driver behind the wheel. We are to pay attention to where he lifts off the gas and where he gets back on the throttle. We should pay attention here because what he is telling is very good advice. He talks about things such as rolling on and off the throttle rather then stabbing it. Things that you need to learn to not upset the balance of the car and to go fast. After this 15 minute lecture we are all raring to go!
I get to watch the first couple of people climb in and I make note that its easier to get in a race car then get out of one. They help strap the people in and then Doug fires up the car and away they go. Doug quickly gets the car up to speed and they are blasting through the corners, tires squealing in protest. You can see the rubber on the track from the thousands of laps turned at this speedway in these and other race cars. Before you know it Doug is pulling over and grabbing another rider. Its my turn next!
Climbing through the window and slithering down in the seat the first thing I notice is the windshield is really tough to see out of. This is not your family sedan! Once I am firmly in place I , with some help from Doug, get all my belts in place. These are full on racing seat belts and not some chintzy lap/shoulder deal like in a street car. Once you got the belts on and tightened you cannot even move! Doug asks if I am ready and proceedes to fire up the car and pull away. Vrrrrrrrrrrooooommmmmm! We take off and I notice right away that the car has some serious power. I have been in some street cars that seemed to pull harder on take off but let me tell you, when you hit the first turn you FEEL the G-Forces!! Into the turns we go as low as you can without driving in the grass and we rocket off the corner on to the straightaway. Doug is like a ballet dancer behind the wheel. His feet are like poetry in motion as he feathers the throttle with his right foot and pumps the left on the brake to keep the car pointing straight and going fast. Round and round we go the car feels loose and likely to spin out at every corner and you can hear the tires howl over the roar of the engine. I notice the tachometer only changes about 1500 rpm from the corners to the top speed at the end of the straights. You see the wall rush up and meet you coming out of turn four and Doug hammers the throttle as we rocket by the stands. Wow, this is a thrill. Before you know it our 10 laps is over. It is strange because it not only feels like it goes by fast it also seems like a long time. Its about the length of your average Heat Race but without the other cars on the track. Drivers sure don’t have a lot of time to make their move if they are racing heats!
Back into the stands, grab a cold drink and now we wait to cycle through those of us that are going to drive the car. There are a few that opt to just do the ride along and that was thrill enough for them, for sure! I watch as the first person gets in and takes off… he stalls the car. I make a mental note, not to stall and look bad!
The driver of the car is soon underway and right away you can see the difference in a pro and an amature. The speeds are noticbly slower and the car is much less smooth. Not to mention the pros go right up to the wall where us common folk are wise to keep a nice space between them. After all we all did sign a waiver stating that if we total the car we just bought a race car!
After a few drivers get their chance it again is my turn to go. I get down on the track and climb in the car, it is much harder to get in the drivers side. There is a steering column and a much different racing seat on this side. Once I finally get my wide butt into the car I am fumble around trying to get my belts on. Once ready to go I find out they want me to do one slow lap to get the car down to the bottom of the track to refuel it. I flick the three toggles ( one for fan, one for ignition, one I forgot what it did.. DOH!) hit the starter button and ease the car into first gear. I manage to pull out and not even hiccup the car, yippee!! We go over to the side of the track to get our gas and as it seems like its taking forever I joke with Doug, “ Guess we are not going to win any races with this pit crew , eh? “ Doug laughs and says, “ Not today anyway!”.
We are all ready and I go to take off and buck and skip and hitch my way to the first corner. Damn, I had hoped to look good taking off. Later I was vindicated when I noticed Dave Dion himself do the same thing! If a pro can mess up the launch then I guess I can too! As I start moving I notice this car just wants to turn left by itself and is hard to keep straight. I also notice that you can’t see very well out of the car and I know now why a good spotter is a must in racing in the big leagues.
I ease the car into the first turn and Doug using hand signals as well as speaking to me ( you can hardly hear over the roar of the engine) lets me know when to roll on to the throttle and when to roll off and start my turns. I do my best to listen to his advice and do well. Going into the first turn at speed now I notice the car seems really loose. It feels like we are going way to fast and I am going to spin… but alas the car just hooks up and the G-Forces pin us in our seats as we exit turn 2 with the throttle down! The straight in the back just whistles past and before you know it your letting off for the turn in 3. Again the car feels a bit loose but not as loose as turn 1, the track looks the same at both ends but does not drive the same. Next thing you know you got the wall coming up fast and your on the gas racing past the stands across the finish line and back lifting off the gas for turn one. I do this over and over and feel like I am getting faster with each lap then a momentary lapse in concentration happens and I feel myself hit the turn wrong and the car feels MUCH slower comng out of 4 then the last few laps. How do the pros keep up this racing on the edge with 30 or so other cars on the track and do it for ohhh 100 laps or more??
Soon my driving
time is over and we pull over to get the next driver. I shut the car down, undo
my belts and try and look graceful exiting the car…. Easier said then done! I
am sure the smile on my face is a mile wide as I have never had a experience
quite like this. I have driving Enduro cars and Street Stock cars on tracks like
Back to my fantasy… the phone rings, its Roger Penske, he asks me if I can drive for Rusty this weekend as he has the flu. My answer? “ Sorry Mr Penske, but I don’t think I got what it takes to run Winston Cup just yet. Give me some more seat time in Hannaford Associates car and MAYBE I will be ready in the future!”
Does this all sound like something you would like to try? Go for it! All you need to do is check out their website at www.603youride.com. I encourage anyone who watches racing, anyone who wants to try racing, or anyone that wants to have the time of his/her life get a hold of Brian and Co. and let them show you the time of your life. Trust me, you will be telling your friends and family for years to come about this.