"Fast Fast FAST. Loud. Fast loud fast fast. Slower. SLOWER! STILL REALLY FAST! TURN TURN! Fast FAST FAAAAAAAAST!!!" That's about all that my brain could muster after my first lap at the Talladega Gran (sic) Prix. And I have my wife and Jalopnik to thank for it.
After Patrick George sent out my SOS to the community, so many people gave me their informed (jbh, HermanSM) and/or heartfelt opinions about what car to choose. I was really truly grateful, and in a couple of other posts I doled out a lot of internet high-fives to certain folks in particular for their excellent breakdowns of the cars and the track (Outie5000). Nonetheless, I failed at Kinja (not Kinja's fault) and relegated those two updates to the infinite junkyard of lost internet posts. So to make up for it, here's the whole story.
The main point - I had to make a choice and Jalopnik delivered. In making that choice, however, I found the longest, most redundant and roundabout way of coming to what was always the most likely and perhaps most predictable decision. It was to be a Ferrari kind of day.
My predicament was that someone was going to let me drive a very expensive, very fast car (read: was going to let me give them my money for the chance), but I had to choose the car. One car. One car among four very desirable exotic cars.
Never had I so much as lifted a door handle on one of these cars let alone experience the feel of the pedals under foot, the tires clamoring for more grip around a turn, or the rip in the universe created by a wailing engine redlining at 9000 RPM. I was lost in the excitement and turned to the only community I knew that could solve the issue. And boy did that community ever deliver!
Relative to what I expected, there were loads of people that responded. Not only that, they were people that (a) had done this same thing before, (b) owned or regularly drove one or more of these cars, or (c) had track experience at the particular track! Combining car information with track information, I set off to find the perfect combination.
But first I had to let myself get in the way. Every post I read made me want to drive whatever car it was promoting, or else the post just made me sad that I was confined to driving only one. I went back and forth for far too long. I realized I couldn’t make the decision on my own, so I had to find some way to make all of these comments make it for me. I turned to the numbers, and fired up a sexy spreadsheet. (No better way to distill passion than to turn it into math. Am I right? Germans?)
So after my wife reassured me that no car would be insulted if I did not choose it, I felt better about picking only one. She also told me that cars don't even have feelings in the first place, so not to worry about it. I love her for lying to me about that to make me feel better.
I lined up horsepower, torque, weight, wheelbase, 0-60, 0-100, 0-100-0, and weight distribution. I accounted for exclusivity by including price, number produced, and number shipped to the States. I had to know which was best suited to be a track car, as well as which I would most likely never be able own or even drive again. I then added track information – how many turns, how tight, banks, distance of the straights, run-off areas. Once I had all of this, I added a bit about my own car history and what skill level I brought into the equation (none). It was gorgeous – numbers were everywhere!
And then I read a comment, and another, and another asking about what poster I had on my wall as a kid and what was my most memorable car moment. The poster was a Testarossa, and the memory was when I was 15 and my dad and I took delivery of our Model A. The latter of these two was an actual turning point in our life.
The “A” has 40 hp on a good day, can’t go around a turn at more than a handful of miles per hour, has mechanical drum brakes and no power steering. It redlines at whatever point feels like enough and there were literally millions produced right here in the U.S. of A. It checks none of the boxes for fast, exclusive, or expensive. But it fills my heart every time I turn over the engine, and I well up if I talk too much about what it means to me and my dad. It stands only for the passion that a car lover can feel about the act of driving. No amount of numbers or data could stand in the way of a feeling. With that in mind and the Testarossa on the wall, it was going to be a Ferrari day for sure. Incidentally, my brother had a Countach on the wall, so that was settled as well.
The morning of the event it was torrential downpour. Xtreme Xperience was the company running the event, but so far the only extreme experience I was aware of was driving down I-20 in a deluge to get to the track. But the car gods were with us. The skies parted, the sun emerged, and the tracked warmed and was almost dry by the time we finished the drivers meeting. My brother and I watched as close to $1M worth of Italian and German metal was tossed around a little country track in rural Alabama. We donned our head socks, made all the appropriate jokes about how ridiculous we looked, and then waited our turns.
My brother went first in the Lambo. To this point, the fastest car he’s driven is his ’97 Discovery. So this was, needless to say, going to be a different for him. I scoffed at his speed on the last straight of his first lap but was pleasantly surprised when on the second he screamed past and dove into turn 1. We only got three laps, and I’ve gotta say he looked like he enjoyed every second. The Land Rover may not feel the same after this. We exchanged laughter and high fives after he was done and then it was my turn.
It was elated to walk up to an idling Ferrari, pull the door handle and scoot right in like I owned the thing. My instructor, Josh, introduced me to the car and after seat adjustments we were off. Before we were out of the pits I asked Josh one question: “Now Josh, when you tell me to brake, how hard do you want me to push the pedal? Is this traffic-slowing-down, or is this avoid-an-accident?” Paraphrasing his response: “every time you approach a turn like this at highway speeds, you are avoiding an accident, so push the brake like you mean it.” That was all I needed and we were off. (Note: not the actual car - I failed to get a pic. This is identical enough, though.)
The first lap was confusing to say the least. That kind of driving on an unfamiliar track in a car that can do things I didn’t think were possible is very disorienting. But Josh was amazing. He was very direct and very clear, and when it was time to go fast he made sure that we went as fast as we possibly could. I was literally giggling as we rounded a turn with enough speed to push me all the way to the rumble strips before blasting into the straight. I caught just north of 120 on my last run of the back straight and I had the time of my LIFE!
It was only three laps, and I am certain that number is calculated to force you to purchase more. And I don’t blame them. It felt as if I was going to disappear into the weave of the seat covers as I was slammed into the bolsters. The wheel felt like I was driving a go-cart it was so snappy and responsive. And the noise, my God, the noise! Every synapse in my body was flooded with activity at the sound of prehistoric dino-juice igniting and exploding into a fury of spinning metal!
Will I do this again? Almost certainly. It’s a drug and I’m hooked after one taste. It may be a while, but I will certainly go again.
And did I mention my sweet mother went for a ride in the pace car? She is my unsung hero of the day for letting us talk her into that. She did not hesitate to remind me that she went faster than me after we were all done.
So, thanks to Jalopnik for lending a hand. This is something I will not soon forget.
Bonus: the most apropos brochure I've ever seen at a race track.