What do we often preach to you baby boomers? LIVE IT UP. TRY SOMETHING NEW. GO FOR IT! From the sounds of things in this story by Hawthorne, New Jersey’s Alan J. Paul, he does. It’s called, The Day The Earth Sped Up.
Several years ago I decided that I really wanted to make something into a reality that I had only fantasized about most of my adult life: I wanted to drive a race car on a race track.
My wife Jan — God bless her — instead of saying what most wives of going-on-elderly husbands would say, like, “Grow up, old man! Go bowling, whydontcha?” said instead, “Sounds like fun. Is there someplace where you can do that?” Google brought us quickly to Skip Barber Racing, in Lakeville, Connecticut.
Before any actual driving commenced, there was a half-hour of classroom instruction, featuring much talk about foreign-sounding concepts like “vehicle dynamics,” “hitting the apex,” and, “brake in, throttle out” when navigating a turn. It seemed like a lot for neophytes to absorb in thirty minutes, and the instructor, sensing that some of us might be lost already, said, “Don’t worry too much about all this stuff. It’s just a car. Drive it.”
We went trackside for the car intro, and almost immediately, this little concern began seeping into my consciousness: “What have you gotten yourself into?” It wasn’t fear, since I was now mere moments from fulfilling a lifelong fantasy. Instead, it was a gently gnawing anxiety that this old man might be about to embarrass himself beyond repair.
But that nagging, naysaying voice in my head disappeared after the first two laps of the day; I discovered that I was not only comfortable in a race car, but may also have possessed a modicum of aptitude for the exercise. I had very little difficulty in practice with the concepts of vehicle dynamics, apexing turns, and brake-in/throttle-out — even though I had a very difficult time comprehending them in the classroom.
Two hours literally raced by. I left Lime Rock Park, the track where we drove on that fateful day, carrying a deluge of emotions, sensations, and complications with me. Driving a fast car fast is addicting, probably not for everyone but definitely for me. What this says about my personality, I am not sure. But I instantly developed a craving for more of it; I wanted that feeling of “speed for speed’s sake” to be at least a small part of my life from that day forward.
It takes a vast amount of skill, courage, and genetic superiority to drive a race car competitively at even a very basic level. At the elite level, where drivers routinely average over 200 mph during a race, the physical, mental, and emotional stresses they experience are immense. I’ve now driven a race car at nearly 150 mph, under rigidly controlled conditions, with no one trying to pass me, for brief periods of time. It is both exhilarating and terrifying; it is at the absolute limit of my ability. To go 50 mph faster is not 25 percent more difficult, but exponentially so. It is a world apart, a bridge way too far for mere mortals.
The earth sped up for me that day, in the pastoral village of Lakeville, Connecticut, imparting doses of enthusiasm, excitement, and enlightenment that, frankly, were in dire need of replenishment. In doing so, perhaps, the experience I had there slowed down, if only a little, the inevitable excursion to that great bowling alley in the sky that awaits us all.