The title for this month’s article is the fastest speed I have traveled in an automobile. High speed auto travel has always fascinated me. From when I was a wide eyed 10 year old car nut, to now as I push the envelope with my car on track.
The record speed was achieved in 1997, in a purpose built race car and I was NOT driving, but a passenger. I had been in Las Vegas by myself for the day attending a Mustang club get together and was headed back to St. George for dinner with my family. As I approached the almost completed Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I decided to poke my head around and take a look at the progress they were making.
I exited and drove down Speedway Blvd, I was in awe of the complex and the fact that we have a world class facility taking shape in our back yard. I drove around the North end of the track and parked by the unfinished grandstands. As I got out of my car and walked up to the fence, I could hear the unmistakable sound of a Cup car roaring around the track. Sure enough, there were four Cup cars running some pretty fast looking laps. I have to tell you….the sound of full prepped NASCAR Monte Carlo’s, Taurus’ echoing off the unfinished grandstands were enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck. While I am a huge racing fan…I had not been that into NASCAR. Sure I Watched the Daytona 500 every year as the ritual kickoff to the season of racing, and always caught the races at Watkins Glen and Sears Poi….err Infineon Raceway, but my true love was Champ Car, F1 and WRC. So although I was not in heaven, I have to admit, the atmosphere was indeed intoxicating.
As I sat and watched through the fence, another car pulled up and a young gentleman got out and started walking toward me. I figured I was busted and was about to be ask to leave, but in fact, it was another enthusiast spying a look at the new speedway. We sat and talked for a short time and finally he stated, “I am going to go get a closer look!” I was sure he would get us both noticed and kicked out but I continued to watch. I was in shock as I watched his car go through the infield tunnel and up to pit lane, park, and then he walked up to the pit wall and started talking to the engineers! Needless to say, I jumped in my trusty Explorer and followed his lead. I parked and then exited my vehicle, I was met by a woman with a clip board who informed me that they were making final preparations for the Petty driving school and had several ex Cup cars fitted with passenger seats for the instructors to take students out, and I had to sign a waiver if I wanted to stay and possibly ride!
I felt a hint of adrenaline while I pulled the Nomex drivers suit on, and folded my body through the roll cage into the passenger side of the full race spec Monte Carlo Cup taxi cab, my adrenaline started to really ramp up. Then the engine fired up, I felt the sonic explosion in every fiber of my body…How could someone do this for two and a half hours every Sunday and not overload? The driver’s red and white suede leather nomex driving glove gripped the large black shift knob atop the chrome Hurst shifter handle and moved it firmly into the “First Gear” position and the car burst forward as the clutch was disengaged. I was amazed at the force holding me into the back of the Kirkey race seat…it, quite honestly, almost knocked the wind out of me! How could this car accelerate this fast…it’s just a boring roundy round NASCAR? (Turns out, a spec Cup car of the time period would run a 10 second flat quarter mile time…who knew?) The turn one bank was approaching fast as we changed gears. My body went from being pinned to the back of the seat to being pinned to the outer side bolster as the angry Monte tracked left as the pit lane followed the curve of turn one. Half way through the turn one-two complex the driver put the Monte on the banking and my body then became pinned to the bottom of the seat as the G forces from the banking took hold. Exiting turn two, the driver put down the hammer and drifted to the outside back straight wall. With that wall, just inches from my head, I could not help but think that I could literally reach out and touch it with my fingertips! At that point my attention quickly turned to the turn three banking rapidly approaching. Everything in my mind, body, and soul told me that there was NO WAY we could make the turn at the speed we were traveling. Then in a mind numbing experience, the Monte followed a textbook line around turn three while unloading more G force then my body had EVER gone through. The semi cold Goodyear slicks made a very unique sound as they clawed for grip. The car was a little twitchy through the three, four complex as the Eagles came up to temperature. “IT WONT FEEL THAT TWITCHY NEXT TIME THROUGH…THE SLICKS WILL BE UP TO TEMP!” the driver said into the radio. This brought a smile to my G load deformed face, not because of the comfort of the statement, but because that meant we would have at least one more lap!
The second lap proved to be the quickest and we clicked 194.8 at the end of the back straight! In all, I made five laps that day. The only thing I remember after that is that I could not feel the pit lane concrete under my feet as I seemed to be floating. I changed back into my street clothes and headed home. Many attempts were made to call EVERYONE I knew on that trip back from Vegas to St George…but alas, not one person answered my frantic cell phone calls. I had to settle for releasing adrenaline by playing the stereo very loud and singing along for the 1 hour 25 minute trip home.
Remind me sometime and I will tell you the story of my top speed behind the wheel….driving a 600 hp Silver State Classic winning Guldstrand Corvette.
Until next month,
Here’s to Internal Combustion, and wind….in the face
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