|Rudy all dressed up with somewhere to go.
If that 80-year-old grandmother can do it, I thought to myself as I zipped up my fire suit and affixed my helmet, then so can I. And moments later, I was doing 175 mph around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Let’s just say, I have new respect for the drivers who will compete there this Memorial Day weekend.
Well, it’s not quite true that I was driving the sleek, expensive car with big, white lettering reading “IZOD” on the side. I sat behind Indy 500 driver Davey Hamilton and tried to believe we weren’t going to hit the wall every time he went into a turn. The force of the wind tried to tear my helmet from my head, and my ears were filled with the loud growl of the engine—something akin to leaning close to a chainsaw cutting through thick timber.
This is one of the perks of being a travel writer: People waive the fee and invite you to do things you wouldn’t normally think of doing. Be my guest, the public relations person at the aquarium in Sydney, Australia, once told me. Just slip on this wet suit and breathing apparatus, mate, and we’ll lower you into the water so you can swim ... with our sharks.
In Queenstown, New Zealand, another friendly PR person convinced me to don another wet suit. And now just hold on tightly to this little, Styrofoam board, she said, and you can body surf a couple of miles through the white-water rapids from the melting snow. Oh, try to avoid the rocks.
|Bravado: Thumbs up before "gentlemen, start your engines."
While visiting Indianapolis recently, the local convention and visitors’ bureau’s representative, Kim Harms, hosted a dinner at Oceanaire restaurant. I sat next to a gregarious guy named Scott Jasek who told me his company supplied all those $600,000 racing cars driven on the Indy circuit.
He told me fascinating things: The Honda engines in the cars are leased by the racing teams for a year for $1 million. Those huge, fat tires that are changed eight times in an Indy 500 in about eight seconds during pit stops cost about $3,000 per set.
“Wanna go around the track?” he asked. “You ought to try it.”
And that’s how I came to be in that fire suit and helmet two mornings later. Turns out 20 days a year, Jasek and two partners offer the public the chance to ride in a race car with an Indy driver at the wheel. The more intrepid may actually drive a car themselves. Either option costs $499 or, as I like to say, $500. (Next available date: July 8th.)
|Indy 500 race car driver Davey Hamilton and Rudy after The Ride.
I’m one of those guys who thinks simply living a normal life is fraught with risks. Crossing the street, meeting the mortgage payment or simply starting up a computer are all risky events in my opinion. Activities like bungee jumping, swimming with sharks or being a human white-water raft are simply tempting the gods too much.
But there was Scott Jasek, smiling from ear to ear, and the PR woman looking at me expectantly. Am I not a man? I asked myself, taking another drink of wine. And don’t men love fast cars?
“Gosh,” I said, “that would be great fun.”
A total lie.
But I showed up. And, thankfully, so did an 80-year-old grandmother collecting enthusiastically on a gift from her family. She climbed in that car like a pro, and I tried to see her face when her car whizzed by, but the speed was too great, and her helmet shielded her expression. I imagined her face contorted in terror.
When the car coasted to a halt near me, I noticed she was smiling as she pulled off her helmet.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Great!” she said. “Lots of fun.”
I climbed in the car, and you know what?