Hot Wheels cars. Micro Machines. The Hess Truck at Christmas. Like many grown men, I have a deeply rooted connection to things with wheels that started early in life. The idea of driving fast fills me with a childlike glee that feels a little like a combination of “snowy Christmas morning” and “a-ha’s latest album release”. So, when I learned that the folks at NASCAR were crazy enough to allow ordinary folks to test drive (or ride) their cars around a proper race track, I couldn’t believe my ears. Yet, that’s exactly what Viator’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway Ride Along Experience provides.
Which is how I found myself at New Hampshire’s legendary Motor Speedway on a bright, cloudless October afternoon. Upon arrival, there was surprisingly little fanfare in the lead-up to my ride. There was no mandatory one-hour course on the theory of g-forces or even a primer on what not to do in the event you find yourself launched from the car on fire at any point. I simply registered at the track entrance, signed a brief, one-page insurance waiver, collected my commemorative plastic name tag (with lanyard!), and I was declared ready to race.
The prep garage was abuzz with on-deck drivers shuffling between piles of canary red, one-piece racing uniforms and varying sizes of helmets. Once I’d found my appropriately sized gear and suited up, the staff pointed me toward the line to await my turn to ride. Like the cars zipping by, the line moved quickly. The staff clearly appreciated a quick turnaround which was fine by me as I was growing anxious.
Twenty minutes later, my purple and white NASCAR ride pulled to the side of the track in front of me. The driver left the engine running while the crew ushered me to the passenger side. With the nylon safety webbing removed from the window, I climbed inside. In seconds, the staff had me clipped into the six-point safety harness and, with two taps on the roof of the car, I was ready to roll.
Without a word, the driver depressed the pedal and we leisurely pulled away from the pit. With the track clear, he – excuse the technical term – goosed it. The car shot forward like a bullet train. The engine’s deep guttural roar was enough to jar a filling loose. In less than 10 seconds, we were pushing the first turn at more than 100 mph. The g-force even at “only” that speed was enough to convince me that we would flip the car. But, of course, the wide racing slicks kept us glued to the track. As we pulled out of each turn and into the next straightaway, the driver again mashed the pedal. I instinctively reacted like Mel Gibson’s victorious cry of “FREEDOM!” in Braveheart. In reality, it was equal parts terror, exhilaration, and sheer joy. We topped out north of 150 mph – a speed at which my vision narrowed to a tunnel with nothing but a blur at the periphery.
Sadly, at that speed, my five-lap ride was over in what felt like seconds. We pitted the car, and I climbed out of the window, still dizzy. I peeled my racing suit off and, with a clown-like grin on my face, stumbled back to my pedestrian Toyota 4Runner. I had just glimpsed the raw energy and excitement of life as a professional NASCAR driver.
For most common folk, it’s as close as they’re likely to come to feeling like a fighter pilot. Whether you’re a race fan or not, it’s a three-minute rush of adrenalin that makes for one hell of a bucket-list-worthy experience!