A Spin Around Fontana
Good afternoon from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. It’s race day. More precisely, it’s the day of the night race here. IndyCar officials have announced that the start of the race will be moved back to 6:10 PDT to allow the sun to drop below the horizon and not blind the drivers going down the backstretch.
This weekend just keeps getting better and better. I know I’m getting very close to the line of sounding like I’m bragging, but I’m really just trying to share the experience of being here. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, someone out there may decide to attend an IndyCar race in person, if there is one nearby.
As I’ve already boasted about, I got to wave the qualifying flag for Helio Castroneves yesterday during his run. That was indeed an honor that I’ll never forget. Last evening,we both had another thrill – rides in the IndyCar two-seater.
About five years ago, my brothers chipped in and bought me three laps driving the one-seater at IMS. That was driving a 2000-era Dallara fitted with a de-tuned engine. Top speed was 125 mph. When I was told that speed beforehand, I was wanting more. By the time I got up to speed – that was enough for this novice. That was the thrill of a lifetime, and I would highly recommend anyone doing it if they have the chance.
Last night, Susan and I both had the opportunity for two laps in the two-seater around the track here at Fontana They did not have to twist our arms.Altogether they had five two-seaters running. Some were lucky enough to get Mario Andretti as their chauffer. Logan Gomez was Susan’s driver, Davey Hamilton was mine.
We were fitted in firesuits, complete with gloves, head sock and helmet. We were in the second group to go. They had us stand beside the two lanes they were using in the pits. My car was in the outside lane, so I was to stand in the middle of the two lanes. As the first group was finishing their rides, I looked westward to see a car driven by Mario Andretti speeding directly toward me. My first instinct was to run, but I had trust in him. This was, after all, Mario Andretti. At the last second, he veered to the lane behind me. I stood still as the car brushed within inches of my legs.
Then came our cars. Susan’ s car was directly in front of mine. As soon as Davey’s passenger hopped out, they crammed me in. It was a little tight, but then they tightened all the seatbelts so that I couldn’t move. I didn’t mind. If the car slapped the wall, I didn’t want to be bouncing around in the cockpit.
Then they started the engine. I could feel the vibration against my back for a few seconds. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Susan’s car speed off. Suddenly, Davey stomped the throttle and we were screeching away. I felt every bump and pebble along pit road as my back was pinned against my seat. When we reached the track, we took a hard left – and I mean hard. When I thought we had reached top speed, we continued to accelerate…and accelerate some more.
By Turn Two, my feeling was that we were on the verge of losing control. I was slammed against the right hand side as Davey kept getting closer to the white inside line. We hit the backstretch and it calmed down – for a few seconds. My helmet was rising up slightly and I reached my hand up to pull it down. My hand got caught in the wind and about blew off. I straightened the helmet and never tried that again. I positioned myself to where I could see just over Davey’s left shoulder and have a good view for what was coming up.
Then we entered Turn Three. We were now pretty much up to speed, which is about 180 mph for the two-seater. We started creeping back to the white line and the lateral g-forces started taking over again. As we circled through Turns Three & Four, I couldn’t help but wonder how these drivers endure these g’s for five hundred miles. We headed down the main straightaway, which is not straight. It’s curved and fairly well-banked. I was surprised at the g-loads I felt on the front-stretch as we crossed the start-finish line.
Lap Two was about the same…except more. As we headed through Turn Two, I felt this constant sensation that the back end of the car was on the verge of coming around. But I trusted my driver’s reputation and knew he would take care of his precious cargo. He did. Still, I was amazed at the stress the cars, tires and drivers go through on each set of turns on this track.
As we came out of Turn Four, I kept expecting him to start slowing down for the completion of our ride. Just when I thought we were getting a bonus lap, we made a sudden dart to the pits, but still carried a ton of speed until we came to a quick stop right where we started. They helped me out, put someone in my place and the process started all over.
I had wondered how my bride had fared. She had expressed concern that she may barf. Instead, I saw her when she pulled her helmet and head sock on. It was then that I saw her with one of the biggest grins I’ve ever seen her wear. The outing was a success.
If you ever have the opportunity to do this, take it. Don’t hesitate. My neck is a little sore today, but it’s well worth it. You will be hard-pressed to find a bigger thrill packed into three minutes. And you’ll come away with a complete appreciation for what these drivers go through.