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home : columns : dave fjeld June 24, 2016

1/30/2013 1:17:00 PM
The need for speed?
Do I really have a need for speed?
No, not really. You won't find me taking my GMC Canyon out for a 110-mile per hour Sunday drive and you most certainly won't find me on a motorcycle - or on the back of one - at any speed.
What you could see me doing is climbing in a two-seat stock car and seeing what 165 to 170 miles per hour feels like though.
I got the chance last week during a winter vacation in Florida.
The Richard Petty Driving Experience at Daytona International Speedway was offering the opportunity to hop in a stock car and take a spin with an experienced stock car driver on the high banks of the famed 2.5-mile, tri-oval superspeedway. They call it their "Ride-Along Program."
I jumped at the chance.
Now, a ride-along is not new territory for me. I did one at Walt Disney World a few years back. It was fun, but it's not a track at which NASCAR makes an annual stop. In fact, it's a one-mile, tri-oval in which I felt like I was constantly in a curve and never sure of where I was at.
Not the case at Daytona.
You know exactly where you're at at all times and, I must say, it's an entirely different experience being in the car than just viewing the drive around the track from an in-car camera.
What I paid for was NASCAR's equivalent of a qualifying run - leave pit road at about 120 miles per hour, get up on the bank, come around to the start/finish line and take the green flag. You then make a full speed lap, take the checkered flag, slow down in turn 3 and then return to pit road.
Now, these are not the Sprint Cup cars you'll see on TV on a Sunday afternoon. These cars have 600 horse engines (as opposed to the Cup cars' 800-horse engines) and top out at about 165 to 170, which is the speed we were traveling through most of the second lap (slowing slightly heading into turns one and three).
There are two things you get from this ride that you will never get from the most authentic driving simulator - the G-forces and the view.
As you come to turns one and three, it actually looks like you're about to drive up a wall - no kidding. And the whole time you're riding that 31-degree-banked corner, you feel as though you're climbing that wall.
Then there's the G-forces. I was literally sucked against the right side of the car. I can only imagine how difficult it is for those drivers to turn the car left - and at 185 to 200 miles per hour for Cup cars - with eight other cars all around you and for 200 laps. I have an entirely new respect for the guys who tackle the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega.
If you've ever seen that clip from Spies Like Us with Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase in which their faces are rippling from the G-forces, that's what my face felt like going through the corners.
Wow! It was like nothing else I have ever experienced and I would do it again in a heartbeat - only if somebody else picks up the tab.
I never once feared for my life during the ride. I completely trusted my driver, who also happened to be named Dave.
My wife, on the other hand, wasn't too sure. She withheld a monetary birthday gift only until I returned in one piece.

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