Greetings From: Phoenix, Arizona

Getting my chance to be a NASCAR driver in Phoenix, Arizona.

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

“Mmmph.”

That’s the sound I heard from the other side of the RV.

I looked over at MsBoyink.

She was staring at her laptop.

“What?”

“Just…something,” she said.

I got worried.

“Something bad?”

“No,” she said. “Just…” 

“What then?”

“I wasn’t going to show you this,” she said.

“Show me what?”

She let out a heavy breath. She tipped her laptop towards me.

She was looking at GroupOn.com – a website that promotes limited-time deals by location.

On her screen was a deal for a “NASCAR Driving Experience” being held at the nearby Phoenix International Raceway.

It wasn’t that I was a die-hard NASCAR fan. I’d watched some races on TV but had never been to one in person.

Rather, back when we started traveling I had the whole family pretend money, time, or access weren’t obstacles and write down experiences they’d like to have or people they’d like to meet.

On my list?

Drive a race car.

Quarter-miler, circle-tracker, stock car – it didn’t matter. I just wanted to drive a high-performance car used for some type of racing.

MsBoyink had seen my list. 

She didn’t like the thought of me in a race car.

But love isn’t always expressed with cards or flowers. Sometimes it’s expressed with race cars.

She handed me her laptop and I signed up for the deal.

The day came. Clear sky. Mild temps. The kind of day snowbirds move to Phoenix for.

We arrived at the track and the upsells started. Insurance was an extra $60. Practice laps riding along while a pro drove was another $80.

Training was next. Our instructor made it plain – this was a “driving experience,” not a “racing experience.” A race master would be talking to us the entire time, telling us when we could pass to move out of the way so we could be passed.  

After training they size you up. 

Not to see how fast you’re going to be, but physically how big you are. For the firesuit and helmet.

And the car.

Turns out, stock cars aren’t generous on space. They had one car setup for “tall guys.”

At 6’3”, I’m often the tallest in a group of men.

Not this time.

I crammed myself through the window of a “standard sized” green and yellow #46 car that may or may not have been a leftover from the Days of Thunder movie with Tom Cruise.

“He isn’t going to fit!”

I got strapped in. Mounted the steering wheel. Put my helmet on. Got a feel for where the pedals and shifter were.

And waited.

And thought about how little I could actually move. 

And waited.

And realized how warm it had gotten.

And waited.

And pondered claustrophobia in a way I hadn’t before.

And waited.

And started to sweat. I was able to get a hand up to my helmet and take my sunglasses off for a bit of relief.

Finally the radio crackled to life. We all gave thumbs up to the race master. I put my sunglasses back on. Put the clutch in. Found first gear.

Start your engines! came over the headset.

And I did.

The flagman pointed to cars ahead of me. They launched. Then he pointed at me.

This was it. All of the buildup. The training. The trashtalking. The nervous jitters.

I feathered the gas and let my foot off the clutch.

And STALLED THE CAR.

Oh, I got it re-started. But it suddenly got about 10 degrees hotter inside that car and I was glad no one could see my face. 

From there the experience was  a blur. The corners came up faster than it seemed possible. The car’s reaction to jumping on the gas was impressive.

The answer to the question everyone asks is…I don’t know. There was no speedometer. I was too busy steering and shifting to be able to look at gauges anyway.

Walking back from the pits – still high on adrenaline.

All too soon my three laps were over. I pulled into the pits without incident. Extracted myself from the cockpit. 

And paid another $15 for the souvenir photo.

I’m usually too cheap to pay for those, but this time was different. 

Because I had driven a race car.

NASCAR driving experiences can be found all over the country. Missouri options include nascarracingexperience.com/kansas-speedway in Kansas City and racewithrusty.com/project/lebanon-i-44-speedway in Lebanon.