I just finished a morning of Legend car driving school as Charlotte Motor Speedway gets ready for next week's Legends Million Dollar races. What a rush!
I have watched the Legend cars run during the Tuesday night shootouts for years. I have even watch our producer, Herman Towe, wheel a Legend car around the track, watching him win and watched him sometimes crash. I have to admit I was a little nervous getting behind the wheel of a "real race car" but once I was able to get a few laps under my belt the nerves turned to excitement and the adrenaline was flowing.
First, we were given some classroom instruction from our Chief Driving Instructor Rudy Zech, who talked about the proper line to drive, when to brake when to get on the gas. It was a lot to think about and my head was swimming, but once I was behind the wheel everything he said began to make sense once I was turning laps.
The key to my success this morning was when a couple of young men, and I emphasize the word young, who drive these cars competitively showed up to share some of their insights.
Gray Gaulding is a whopping 12 years old. He is currently the youngest driver entered in the Legends Million race next week. Daniel Hemric is 19, and is a Summer Shootout Champion in a Legends car. I'm 41 and have been driving since I was 16, but when it came to getting around the small 1/5 mile oval, these guys had a ton of insights that were the product of experience, something I had none of before today.
At first I was only worried about getting a feel for the car. By the time my second 10-lap session came, I was sizing up my competition and thinking about NOT being the slowest media guy in the class. My big competition was David Newton from ESPN.com, Nate Ryan from USA Today, and Jonathan Coleman from the Independent Tribune.
I began to worry about making sure I was faster than them more than I was thinking about crashing. The whole trick is finding the balance of between fast and controlled and fast and out of control.
At the end of the day I did not win the award for running the fastest single lap. That went to my colleague David Newton from ESPN.com. But I did win first place for being the overall most improved and consistent driver in the class.
It was a lot of fun to feel firsthand what it's like to wheel one of these tricky little race cars around a small track. I'm glad I'm not trying to do it with $1 million on the line like the big and little boys will do next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.