Well, I suppose if I’m going to recount my last weekend to you I should start at the beginning, on Saturday morning with the kayaking at the park…. but I don’t want to, I’m absolutely bursting to tell you all about my ride around the race track in the Corvette!! I alluded to it yesterday when I said you’d have to chisel the grin off my face, it’s still here five days later, I think it’s going to be here for a while.
We arrived at the track at about 3ish in the afternoon and set up camp before going down into the paddock (pits) to see what was going on, I could tell by the lack of on-track activity that they were taking a break, I was desperate to get in there and stake my place in line! When we got up there I could see a line already forming and Darin (Corvette owner and driver) had the car parked on the grid in readiness. Joe, who normally races a Formula 500, was helping the volunteers get the helmet on correctly and get situated in the car, he also set up the five point harness and made sure you were buckled in nice and tight.
And then off they went, one lap of the track (with Darin driving), from a dead stop in pit lane, shooting out into turns one and two, through the little kink, the sharp left hander, up and over the hill, which both changes camber and drops back down toward the track at the same time!, through the second kink and into the sweeping right hander before pelting hell for leather down the back straight and into the 90 degree right hand turn at the end, continuing into the second right hand turn and then left, right, left through the esses before the final bend, a long sweeping double apex that shoots you out onto the front straight at about 90 miles an hour under full race conditions! Then it was a short blast down the front straight before braking sharply and turning left back into the paddock and heading slowly back to grid to pick up the next passenger and do it all again. I think he took out about 20 people in the end, I know he was very tired when it was all over, despite the short break between laps, the sips of water and the cool suit he was wearing under his full race suit. I could also see that although he was giving decent rides he was tailoring it to the passenger which I thought was nice, a little faster here, a little slower there, making sure the person enjoyed it without passing out! And the looks on their faces when they climbed out of the car and removed the helmet was priceless, somewhere between total shock, awe and stunned admiration, and then the grin would start to appear, eventually stretching from ear to ear followed rather quickly by a bout of whooping and hollering and a little dance around the grid!
And then it was my turn. But let me back up a little bit first, Darin has been at our track for only two years, he came through drivers school in April of 2006, although he was a very experienced driver in other types of motor sport. Everyone noticed him immediately, his racing style, his competitiveness, his complete lack of an ego both on and off the track, his ready smile and sense of fun, his generosity with awards for the volunteers and his sportsmanship. You also couldn’t help but notice how incredibly fast he is behind the wheel of his race car, you’d have to be blind not to see that. I suppose what I’m saying is that you can’t help but like this man, and I’ve heard that in the paddock for the last two years time and time again, and sometimes from the most unlikely of sources. I know some people who call him The Saint.
Now you might wonder if a guy like this has any bad points, I wondered that, and so did our grid chief Becky, and being the partners in crime that we are we decided to make a target of poor Darin, and boy do we give him HELL! We tease him, we try to rile him, he’s the butt of most of our jokes, we’re sarcastic, we laugh at him, and you know what, he laughs right back with us. He’s taken it all and more, with great gusto and his unflappable smile and humor, he’s such a boat load of fun to be around, such a sweetie, but apparently he decided it was pay back time!!
So, suited and booted I clambered over the roll cage and sat down in his car while Joe fixed up the belts for me.
“Good afternoon Mr O’Riley, how are we today” was my greeting with a huge grin on my face. He turned, saw who it was, and with a smile that I could see clearly in his eyes (he had on a full face helmet), he said to Joe “Make sure those belts are nice and tight cause we’re going for a ride!” I laughed and told him to do his worst, don’t hold back….. and he didn’t. We rumbled off grid and he told me to hold onto the roll cage on my right, I was going to need it! In pit lane we didn’t have to stop at all, we immediately got the green flag as there was nothing else on track so he stamped on the gas and we shot out into turn one, I was punched right back into my seat by the force, it felt like a jet engine taking off. We were round one and two and through the kink before I even got my breath and then he drifted it round three, shot over the hill and down the dip…. my stomach is still somewhere up there, on Hilltop Turn, I really must retrieve it one day! By this point, about 1/4 of the way round I felt like I wasn’t even wearing any belts at all and I was so grateful he’d told me to hang on; it truly felt like I was going to be thrown into his lap at the next turn! We plummeted down the hill, through the second kink and he lined it up for Big Bend and the back straight, we took the bend at 75mph, he didn’t even bother to brake and then gunned it….. we hit 125 before he slammed on the brakes for the 90 degree right hander at the end and drifted it round! I think my eyes were popping by this time but I was also grinning like an idiot too, we continued drifting right around Archers and Paddock and then into the very sharp (at speed anyway) left, right, left again of the esses, I was expecting to be thrown around here but the b*****d drove the car straight into the curb… up we went and then slammed back down onto the track, and I was still grinning, although I hadn’t expected that at all. We straightened out and he went what felt like pretty much flat out into the final bend, the double apex of Swamp, coming out of there and onto the front straight I truly realized what a fantastic car this was and what a superb driver Darin is, our exit speed must have been close to 80 and he gunned it again down the front straight, even though we had to come to a dead stop at the end and turn back into the paddock. I was honestly thinking he was going to plow through the cones set up to filter us back into paddock, and turn in for turn one again, when he absolutely stood on the brakes and we were both pitched forward against the harnesses as the tyres smoked their way to a stop. We turned back in to the paddock and I remembered to start breathing again, Darin was laughing his ass off and said “We almost ran out of track right there, didn’t we?” Yep we surely did! I also told him to work on his technique through the esses a little more, but all I got in return was an evil little laugh! Pulling up on the grid I didn’t want to get out, if there hadn’t been others waiting for a ride I would have begged and pleaded with him for one more lap. But I’ve shot myself in the foot now… preparing to exit the car, he put a hand on my arm. I looked back at him….. “Now I expect you to be nice to me next year. OK?” Oooooooh crap! I might just have to mend my ways now, but don’t hold your breath!
[Darin sharing a joke on Grid with Becky, left, and his crew chief, Nicole]
A few people later and it was Becky’s turn out there with him, and she got exactly the same treatment as I did, in fact he even curbed it again at speed in the esses, only this time they went up on two wheels for a fraction! What a hoot! Afterwards when it was all said and done we visited with him at his trailer while he was packing up and he got hugs from both of us. He told us that he took it easy with most people but Becky and I got the two hardest rides of the day, and I believe him, from what I could see of him when he was driving he was working very, very hard indeed. He was sweating when we came in. Despite they way we tease him, Becky and I really liked and respected him before this weekend, but we both absolutely adore him now! I told him not to worry about qualifying and stuff next year, just put your feet up a bit and relax, you can have pole whenever you want it!!!
And just in case you might ever think that a driver of this caliber must surely never put a foot wrong, think again, there’s the odd occasion where he tries just too damn hard. This is the short straight immediately after the right hander at the end of the back straight this summer, he just got it all wrong, and in quite spectacular fashion too.