The Spokesman-Review : interns

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Stef: AWSM Day 1

Originally written, Friday, May 18, 2007 (also published in The Oregon Daily Emerald, Tuesday, May 22, 2007)

Until very recently, I'd always scoffed at the legitimacy of NASCAR - a sport that I'd long associated with beer-gulping, pot-bellied hicks waving the Confederate flag, and drivers who drove stock cars because they'd probably never be able to cut it in the European-dominated world of F1 racing, the real motorsport.

As of this moment, I hereby rescind all snide comments.

I spent the weekend in Dallas at the Association for Women in Sports Media's (AWSM) 2007 National Convention.

One of the planned activities was a ride in a specially outfitted stock car: four laps around the Texas Motor Speedway at 160 mph.

My roommate for the convention - a bona fide NASCAR fan from Philadelphia who could match driver to car by numbers alone (apparently Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the No. 8 Budweiser-sponsored car, and Casey Mears drives the No. 25 National Guard-sponsored car) could hardly contain her excitement. I simply shrugged and said whatever, it'd be a fun little roller coaster, but nothing more awe-inducing than a romp on the Indiana Jones Adventure Ride at Disneyland.

I take that back.

We got to the track and everyone donned firesuits and helmets. I sauntered up the the replica No. 11 FedEx car (usually piloted by Denny Hamlin, who is currently fourth in the standings, my roommate chirped. OK, someone's a little obsessed.)

With my broken left collarbone, it took some effort before I finally managed to crawl through the open window on the front passenger side of the car. I got into my bucket seat and strapped in.

At this point, the experience conjured up visions of astronauts and space shuttles. My body and the bucket seat molded together. This, I thought, must be what it feels like to strap into a seat preparing to blast into space.

The driver climbed in through the window on the driver's side, pulled on his helmet and grinned at me, "You done this before?"

"Uh uh," I shook my head, cheeks squished by the helmet.

"Well, hang on."

Nonchalance aside, I got really excited when all 10 cars revved their engines together.

Then we were off. My driver slid us into third place behind the first two cars, and as we rounded the first curve, it seemed to me that we were veering so close to the side wall that if I'd stuck my hand out the open window, I could have touched it.

But that was not an option because we were already roaring along at 140mph.

The drivers put on a good show, darting from side to side, and every time another car came within a few feet of ours, I cringed and thought we were going to crash.

We quickly maxed out at 160mph, and being the speed demon that I am, I felt myself grinning like an idiot as we whizzed along so fast that I was pinned back in my bucket seat.

I soon lost track of how many laps we'd done. So I blinked in disbelief when my driver took both hands off the wheel to pull his helmet off his head while maintaining the ridiculous speed we were going at.

"Dude, I don't want to die!" I wanted to say when he wedged his knee under the steering wheel and steered like that as he reached up to clip the helmet to a hook in the ceiling.

Just as I was about to grab the wheel and steer for myself, I saw the end in sight, and we came cruising to a halt.

As I clambered out of the car, I'd gained a newfound respect for all NASCAR drivers. Jostling for position and weaving between cars at 160 mph takes a whole lot more skill and quick reflexes than I ever imagined. And anyone who can make those bulky looking machines dart around like Reggie Bush going through a pack of defenders is a champ in my book.

2 Comments:

  • Stef,
    Great post. I don't know if we have anything that exciting in Spokane. Maybe we can get you out to the fishing derby at Lake Coeur d'Alene. Same kind of NASCAR crowd with the added bonus of smelling like fish when your done.
    See you soon

    By Anonymous Joe, at 2:03 PM  

  • Joe,

    I'll find the exciting for you. ;) ... or try to anyway. I'm excited for this summer!

    Stef

    By Blogger SR Intern, at 6:46 PM  

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