Feeling the need for speed

Episode 239

November 18, 2018

Sooooo…what is it like out there?

I have often wondered what it must be like to race or be in a car like I watch on TV or see at one of the tracks I have visited over the years. The temptation is to say it cannot be that hard, after all you are sitting down and the car does all the work.

Having raced stock cars, the FFA modified pulling tractor, and karts, I know it looks easier than it actually is. I do however think the average person who drives their car to work or down the interstate to visit relatives may think it cannot that difficult.

I liken it to baseball or slow pitch softball. I used to be able to hit a baseball when I played semi-pro in Canada in 1973. (Believe me not any kind of prospect at all, just a willing catcher).

The pitchers maybe threw in the 70 to 80 mph range. I was younger and had decent reaction times. I think I hit .178 in the regular season and nearly .350 in the playoffs.

Fast forward to the scene now when I watch baseball players hitting pitches in the 90 -100 mph range. It has been said that hitting a round ball with a round bat is one of the most difficult sports tasks. Yet when I played slow pitch softball, I was hitting nearly ever pitch that I took a cut at.

That is how I would like to compare the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Champion Joey Logano to the John or Jane Q. Average driver. Yes they are both driving a car, however, the skills required to race at Logano’s level vastly surpass those needed by Mr. or Mrs. Average driver.

(Oh by the way congratulations to New England’s newest NASCAR champion Joey Logano from Middletown, Connecticut)

How about those who have had a taste of speed?

Suited up and getting ready to take a few laps around Daytona International Speedway, Caribou’s Dan Raymond gets into the passenger side seat. This was the Richard Petty Driving Experience ride along deal. (Dan Raymond photo)

I was thinking that rather than ask race car drivers about their “go-fast” experiences, I would ask a few “normal” drivers who have on track drives or rides with one of the companies that utilize real race cars on real race tracks to give fans some idea what it is like “out there”.

While on family vacation in Florida in April 2005, the Raymond family (Dan, Shelby, and son Tyler of Caribou), dedicated one day of their vacation to the Daytona area. For a gearhead what is a visit to Daytona without at least a tour of one of the world’s most famous racetracks, Daytona International Speedway?

“They (Richard Petty Driving Experience) were doing the ride-along with the two-seater car,” said Dan Raymond. “I think it was $200 for six laps around the super speedway.”

Raymond donned the appropriate safety gear and was given a safety briefing prior to the six lap adventure. He mentioned to his driver, someone who drove in the Busch Series Raymond was unable to recall his name, “I’m in Florida and this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience, give me good ride.”

His driver replied, “Oh I will!”

“It felt like someone was pushing you,” recalled Raymond. “I think it was 170 mph on the straights. It sounded like there was wind noises only on the straights. In the corner, however, you could hear the tires screeching and you could hear the engine noise echoing off the wall.”

At speed on the front stretch of 18 degree banking of the tri-oval. (Dan Raymond photo)

“We ran in the middle to 3/4 the way up the wall in the 30 plus degree banking on the turns. You knew that you were in quite the car to go this fast. My funniest part was wondering how this car stay together with the engine screaming.”

Raymond mentioned that they were alone on the track and could not imagine what it would be like to have thirty-nine other snarling cars in close proximity in a race. He and his family did the Daytona International Speedway tour after his six lap ride. He said that ride gave him a new perspective as to what the track characteristics were and how they might affect the drivers.

Dan Raymond with his son, 8-year-old Tyler, prior to Raymond’s six laps. Little did they know at the time in 2005 some of the motorsports events they would be involved in as father and son. (Dan Raymond photo)

Mars Hill farmer get’s speed thrill not once but twice

Kevin Grass, a potato farmer and former agriculture educator from Mars Hill, Maine, has by his estimate been to approximately 20 NASCAR races. They include 14 or 15 at Daytona as well as Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, Fontana in California, Phoenix Raceway (now ISM Raceway), the Monster Mile at Dover, Delaware, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway located in Loudon, New Hampshire.

He has also visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Charlotte. You might say he is a fan of NASCAR racing.

Despite the numerous forays to NASCAR tracks, Grass was curious about the forces encountered by drivers while racing. He got his first chance at the now torn down Walt Disney World Speedway, Bay Lake, Florida.

The one mile tri-oval was built in 1995 adjacent to the Magic Kingdom parking lot at Disney World. It was built to host the Indy Racing League and was home to the Richard Petty Driving Experience, Indy Racing Experience, and Exotic Driving Experience before closing in 2015 and demolition began that year. It is now the Magic Kingdom parking lot and entrance.

His day at the track began with classes which turned out to be 6-7 hours in length. He along with 6 classmates learned about safety features of the car, track, and equipment. After lunch they were taught shifting and braking.

Grass mentioned that part of the pre-drive class was intended for persons who may have never driven a standard shift car or truck. As a farm boy from the County, he had grown up utilizing manual transmissions.

Did I mention that his wife, Donna had accompanied him to the track and was waiting patiently for him to get on the track. With the class as long as it was, she certainly had her patience tested.

When it finally came time to drive the 600 horsepower actual former NASCAR race cars, he volunteered to be in the first group on the track so he would not make his wife wait much longer.

He strappedĀ  into the Dodge race car and tightened his five-point harness as tight as he could get it. The crew for Richard Petty Driving Experience then came along and tightened his belts so tight he felt as though he could not breathe.

“I was told we would work our way up to 125 mph,” said Grass who was anxious to get to the max speed as soon as possible since he paid $500 for 10 laps. ” The hardest part at Orlando was there were no radios in the cars. I was so tall that I had a difficult time seeing the flagman since I sat so high in the car.”

“The car accelerated hard, was very stable, and we got to 125 by the second lap. It did not feel that fast yet soon my 10 laps were done. They wanted to know if I wanted to purchase the video, however, after spending that amount of money I did not want to spend even more on the video.”

Daytona ride along

Plaque that Mars Hill’s Kevin Grass received after taking part in the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Daytona International Speedway in 2009. (Kevin Grass photo)

In 2009 Grass went as a passenger on a ride along with Richard Petty Driving Experience at Daytona International Speedway. He was scheduled to actually drive a race car with the Richard Petty Driving Experience February 19, 2001. You Dale Earnhardt Sr fans know this was the day after Earnhardt lost his life on the last lap of the Daytona 500. The activities at the track were cancelled for several days due to ongoing accident investigations.

Kevin Grass collector edition of the Orlando Sentinel the day after Dale Earnhardt died at the Daytona 500. (Kevin Grass photo)

When Grass did finally get his chance at the Daytona ride along he was not disappointed. “The camera does not do justice to the experience in a race car,” said Grass. ” Although with today’s in-car camera shots it is better. Despite that, you need to feel it in your butt and your bones as you sit on that minimally padded aluminum racing seat.”

“It felt like I was strapped to a rocket ship from the time we accelerated hard out of the pits. We must have been doing 100 by the time we left pit lane.”

“Simply breathing with tight belts and the G forces in the corners was difficult. We rode that white line about half a car width from the wall. We were fence riding like Kyle Larson.”

“It was noisy especially in the turns. I kept thinking ‘Let’s not hit the wall’. The back straightaway was my favorite part of the lap. It felt good to go so fast. Turn one was the turn that looked like we were going to hit an asphalt wall with the high banking.”

“I could not judge what the car would be like with racers all around. That air would have to move you around. There certainly would need to be a level of trust.”

Grass mentioned that a trip to a race at Charlotte or Texas would be great. He also would like to take in a short track race like Richmond or Martinsville.

A Tony Stewart fan until Stewart retired from NASCAR in 2016, Grass searched for a new driver to cheer for. He found his driver, Ryan Blaney in the Penske/Ford #12. “That kid can drive.” he remarked.

He has so much respect for Ryan that he has named his Black Lab, Blaney.

Zoom Zoom Racing goes roundy round before land speed racing

Caribou native Carl Theriault now living in Massachusetts, photographed at speed with his Mustang at one of the Loring Timing Association land speed races. ( Pete Freeman-capture 27 photo)

When asked about his exposure to the driving experience, Carl Theriault made these observations,”I did the Richard Petty experience out in Las Vegas in the early 2000s. The driving experience was good for rookies; most got out hands shaking.”

“I still had mini B, wheels screeching, bumping through the corners, in my blood. So 135 mph driving on a 180+ track was fast, but 1,000% under control.”

“So not what I was looking for. Come to find out I had a lap close to 145, buy still just off-ramp in the Mustang material.”

“Now for the ride along they took it up to 170 to 175, so 95%. The first corner while under G-load strain, I remember saying ‘this is what I wanted to feel when I was driving’!”

“It was also great that they had it so that 3 cars were out there at a time, and you passed on both the inside and outside as well as got passed on both the inside and outside.”

“In the end, I personally liked the ride along better than the driving experience. Although they did call out that there are other driving experiences. But if I was at 75% at 135 and they took it up to 85% max, I might still want the 95% G load experience.”

Your chance to experience racing on the local level

Maybe you attended the Firecracker 200 at Spud Speedway last July 3rd or you have been to another venue where the super late-model stock cars race. Maybe you were curious like Raymond, Grass, and Theriault were in regards to super speedway racing, but wonder what it feels like at Spud Speedway to head to turn one when the green flag waves. Or how does it feel to be heading off turn four in quest for the waving checkered flag.

Wonder no more. The Rusty Wallace Driving Experience team is headed for Spud Speedway Friday June 14, 2019. They will be bringing real super late-model race cars with 400 horsepower crate engines to the one-third mile track.

Beginning at 10 am that day drivers and those who wish to experience ride along laps will find out first hand what it is like on the track. I suspect they will be surprised at the tugging of g-forces in the turns and the rush of acceleration as the race cars flirt with the limit of traction heading out of the turn.

Since it is nearing Christmas, maybe you or that special person is looking for that unique gift look atĀ https://racewithrusty.com/spud-speedway-70

Latest from the website:

Latest from Rusty Wallace Driving Experience as of November 19, 2018.

I hope you are able to participate in this unique visit to Spud Speedway by a first class organization. Make lasting memories next June 14th.

Speaking of speed

From James McMahon, Kart Pulse at SuperKarts USA in Las Vegas 2017


Lets go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)




Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine