Thanks to a very good friend (lookin' at you, Shane Mahoney), I got to go to Media Day for the Grand Prix of Long Beach last Tuesday. First I talked my way into the soon-to-be IndyCar paddock area, then there I found a dozen or so race trailers and cars and a few dozen people. Cars were drifters, some Pirelli World Challenge GT Porsches (from TruSpeed Porsche at right), and a bunch of Scion TCs that the celebrities race in the, you guessed it, Celebrity Race next Saturday.
The people milling about were race teams, celebrities, race organizers, and media. And a handful of people like me: hangers-on, there for the free ride.
OK, that's not entirely true. I'd asked Shane if I could go see what all the fuss and show was about in the interests of research for my own racecar driver, Kate Reilly. That's when Shane said the magic words, "Sure, and we'll put you in a racecar for a ride."
I was there early.
Remember, everyone? Unlike Simon, I've never raced cars. I research, I imagine, and I write. Fortunately, it seems I'm good enough at all of those to give people insight into the mind of a driver. But as for the idea of me driving? I'm ... well, "a chicken shit" wouldn't be too far off.
On the other hand, any car in the hands of a professional? (Or skilled amateur, I'm not picky.) I will take any ride I can get. And love it.
I was all suited up and ready to go for the 10:45 session, when the checkered flag fell as I was waiting (I was to have been the third person at that time). Shane promised me a ride in the 1:15 session, so I grabbed some lunch and loitered, which I realize is no hardship for me. As a writer (and mostly an only child, let's be honest), I do just fine living in my own head for hours and days at a time. So I enjoyed sitting in the shade on a mid-70-degree day and watching what was going on.
I met some great people, too, in some of the journalists that were there for rides and information, including Kayte Deioma, a Long Beach photographer and writer who admitted she just can't stay away from the GPLB.
But my favorite person for the day (sorry, Shane) was driver Tomy Drissi, whose #47 Three Stooges Porsche (really) I got to ride in. (Thanks to Kayte for the photo of me and Tomy.)
I was a little nervous, I'll be honest. I've gotten lots of hot laps in street cars around racecourses, driven by some excellent people (including a lap around the LB circuit with ALMS and Radio Le Mans announcer John Hindhough, and yes, he did some narration of that lap for me!). And I was a passenger in the Panoz racecar built for my racing school, in the hands of Grand-Am champion Andrew Davis.
But this was my first honest-to-God, this-car-will-be-racing-next-week racecar to do more than sit and imagine in. I hear someone saying, "Could the reality possibly live up to all that hype?"
Yes. Yessssssssssssss. It was awesome.
Tomy took the precaution of telling me he'd give me a thumbs up sometime during our two laps to make sure I wanted him to keep going. When he did so, I couldn't get my thumb up in return fast enough. I almost thumbs-uped him from the first corner all the way through our laps, because I was having so much fun.
What was good for my research was a first-hand look at the concentration and focus a driver needs to maintain, because he (or she) is keeping a car at its limits at every moment.
What was good for my bragging rights was that we just touched 150 m.p.h. before braking for Turn 1 on the second lap. (Yes, that fast, even though he wasn't going 100%.)
So I owe huge thanks to TruSpeed, Shane, and Tomy for reminding me of the exhilaration and adventure that is racing. This is why I hunch over my keyboard day after day: to share the wonder and fun with the rest of the world.