Whoopee! With thumbs up, the pit crew signals, “OK to go!” The Indy race car begins to rumble and vibrate, gaining speed as it leaves pit row. The engine’s roar ascends to a deafening level as the car rapidly accelerates on the racetrack.
I am in that car, sitting right behind 11-time Indy 500 driver Davey Hamilton, who takes me for the ride of my life on two laps around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The grandstands are a blur. Hamilton takes us close to the wall as he sets up his attack Turns One and Two. Then we make a 180 mph sprint down the back straightaway. The car grips the track, and I feel the g-force as we whip through two more turns. Coming out of Turn Four into the front straightaway, I get a glimpse of grandstands on each side, the famed Pagoda, the Tower. I laugh out loud.
I can’t pinch myself in disbelief because I am too tightly harnessed in, buckled up in five spots, with padding behind my helmeted head. I am wearing a knit balaclava under the helmet, a regulation racing suit over my clothes, padded gloves on my hands and fire shoes on my feet.
While I was waiting for my ride, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson gave me very apt advice. “From the minute the crew straps you in, your ride will go very, very quickly, so pay very close attention to every detail of it.” I implant impressions of speed and g-forces, walls, inclines, grandstands, fences, buildings, the puffy clouds in the sky, the grass on the infield.
I also wonder how a driver handles this so deftly during the Indy 500, driving at 200-plus miles per hour, with 32 other cars in the pack, for 500 miles. How does a professional driver think and react so quickly–maneuvering, setting up and executing passes, dodging trouble, listening to the team’s spotters high in the grandstands, absorbing strategy advice from the engineers in the pits.
My high-speed, g-force laden ride ends all too soon. Never have two minutes been so much fun.
In Your Bucket Because. . .
- You want to go really, really fast in a car…. without getting a speeding ticket.
- You are a big fan of IndyCar races, and while you watch you wonder what it feels like to speed around those tracks.
- This is “The Fastest Seat in Sports.”
Reactions from the Riders
Like many of the INDYCAR Experience participants, I did this with a group. Anticipating the experience with friends, helping each other with helmets, taking photos of each other before, during and after the race added an enormous amount of fun.
A few, very few, participants were apprehensive and nervous before their rides. One thirty-something guy said, “So when you get strapped in, after you’ve seen your friends and colleagues race past you at 180 miles per hour, the butterflies set in a little.”
Although riders knew they could close their eyes to allay their fears, none did. An avid NASCAR fan said, ” I was a bit scared waiting, then it was just awesome. The real surprise was how safe I felt in the car. I had a chance to look around and see everything.”
Several had vivid impressions of specific parts of the ride. “I loved the feeling of the car staying flat in the turns, not feeling pushed to one side,” said my friend, Bob. That thirty-something guy turned from PR executive into a sports writer as he described his ride with Davey Hamilton. “Davey and I had made the approach into the third turn at God knows what velocity, and there was kind of a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting I had with myself as the outside wall screamed past me…it kind of felt like we ice skated the asphalt with a hard-to-describe sense of raw power enveloping us.”
It was a kick to watch and listen to my friends as they finished their rides. They climbed out of their cars with thumbs up, huge, huge grins, whoops of joy. “Best thing I have ever done!” “Never had so much fun!” The most common reaction–“I want to go again!”
Our rides ended near the legendary Yard of Bricks, the three-foot span of the bricks traditionally kissed by each year’s Indy 500 winner. Today, we all deserved to kiss the bricks. In this once in a lifetime event we were all winners.
- From May to October, The INDYCAR Experience operates about 20 days at the Indianapolis Speedway. It also operates at most of the tracks during the IZOD IndyCars Series schedule.
- The INDYCAR Experience also operates daily at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida.
- Riders must be 18 years of age or older, under 6’5″ in height, and under 250 pounds.
- For more information and reservations: www.indyracingexperience.com.