Saturday, July 13, 2013

Day 62 - Driving a Lamborghini

I have never driven a Lamborghini. For that matter, I have never driven a supercar. While driving such a high-powered vehicle has never been high on my list of things I want to do, I have always maintained a curiosity about what it would feel like to be at the helm of such a finely tuned machine. That stated, my curiosity has never really been strong enough to spur motivation to seek out such an experience. Instead, I would periodically watch television shows about supercars to learn more about how they work and what they are capable of doing. Historically, that was enough to satisfy inquisitiveness; however, my “I have never...” idea has caused some shift in my willingness to go after some new experiences. With a newfound motivation to seek out experiences I would otherwise likely never obtain, I figured making it a part of my “I have never...” journey made sense. After all, driving a supercar is something nearly every male dreams about doing at some point in his life, and I had the push to make it happen. As a result, I tracked down a company that offers a chance to drive a supercar on a closed racetrack, and scheduled an appointment to get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini for the first time.

The entrance
The day began with a trip to Blackhawk Farms raceway in South Beloit, Illinois. In her infinite support and graciousness, Rachael decided to accompany me on the journey and to watch on as I completed my laps around the racetrack. Together we rode a little more than one hour to a small wooded lot on a small back road in the Illinois countryside. Pulling into the property, we drove down a long, one-lane asphalt driveway bordered by grass fields. Midway down the road a small booth sat awkwardly near a rickety gate. I made a comment about the unassuming nature of the surroundings as we pulled up to the gate and I rolled down my window to speak to a woman behind a small pane of glass. The window slowly opened to the outside air, exposing us to the overwhelming sounds of high performance engines being put to work. Unaffected by the noise, the woman in the booth greeted us over the sounds of the nearby supercars and directed us to drive into the park, cross the racetrack as directed, and park in the grassy space nearest the racetrack pit.

Following her direction, we continued down the road before us until we reached a closed gate with a stop sign on it. A man approached us and explained we could pass over the track momentarily once the ongoing laps had stopped. In response, Rachael and I waited patiently as the man made small talk with us and did his best to prepare us for the forthcoming experience. Shortly thereafter, the man received the signal the track was clear, prompting him to open the gate and wave us through. Rachael and I continued down the road as directed until we eventually found a parking spot near the pit as the woman at the booth had explained. With our vehicle parked, Rachael and I exited the car and started walking toward a main building on the property. I stood in awe of the cars lining the road to my left as we walked. Pairs of Ferraris, Porches, Lamborghini’s, and top of the line Audis sat lined in two rows waiting for their next drivers. Seeing the cars for the first time made the whole experience seem more real to me, which spurred a feeling of excitement at the thought I was about to drive a 600 horse power supercar for the first time.

As we took in the sight of the vehicles on the track, Rachael and I walked over to a tent next to a building nearest the start of the track. In front of the tent a sign labeled "sign in" sat perched a few feet off the ground. In turn, I ducked into the tent and prepared to start my adventure. Inside the tent a series of track employees darted around tables lined with photos, TV screens, and computers as they helped people waiting in line. I immediately noticed a free employee, which prompted me to approach her and wait to be helped. After a few questions, the woman confirmed my reservation and explained I needed to first attend a brief training course that would prepare me to handle the power and speed I would experience on the racecourse. Continuing, she explained a training session had begun moments earlier, which gave me the opportunity to sneak in and complete the session a little ahead of my scheduled race time. In turn, the woman directed toward a the building next to the tent, advising me the classroom could be found on the first floor. 

Getting prepped

As directed, Rachael and I walked into the nearby building and took our position at the back of the room just as the introduction concluded. Over the next 10 minutes a man at the front of the room covered race safety, car control, and race line mechanics. I listened intently as he described the course and explained the physics behind effective racing. The more he explained the structure and control required to guide a vehicle to the apex of each turn, the more respect I gained for the drivers that make a professional career out of racing cars. To my surprise, there was much more to the process than driving fast, which inspired me to make a challenge out of the racing experience. Although I had no intent to race my fellow participants for the lead (which the instructor advised could not occur anyway), I intended to do everything in my power to find the line in the track and bring the vehicle to the maximum speed possible under my rookie control. 

The course
Following the training, the instructor directed us to make our way to the pit. Ready to drive, I walked back to the tent and completed the sign up process. Moments later I was next the pit with a hood on my head, ready to drive a Lamborghini. After a brief period, a man handed me a helmet and told me to walk out to the end of the pit. Although the ongoing race had not yet completed, I was told the cars were making their final lap, which meant my car would be pulling in momentarily. Following the man's instructions I walked down the side of the pit and took a seat on the guard rail running the length of the outer most portion of the pavement. In anticipation, I sat and watched as a Camaro, Ferraris, and an Audi pulled in and slowed to a stop. One by one the cars lined up and drivers stepped out exhilarated. In response to the sight before me, I stood up and looked on for the Lamborghini to arrive. In what seemed like minutes I waited to catch a glimpse of a Lamborghini. I could hear the engine wailing over the trees, but the car was nowhere to be seen. Finally, I saw a bright red line round the final corner of the track and slow abruptly as it entered the pit. Once stopped, I walked toward the car and ran my hand across its sleek body. The reality of the situation set in as I approached the driver's door on the car. "I'm going to be in control of this thing" I thought as I approached the open door and prepared to hit the track.

Getting in my ride
With the previous driver exiting the vehicle, a track employee directed me to take a seat behind the wheel. As directed, I tucked my body into the surprisingly small car and centered myself in the contoured bucket seat. Next to me sat a professional driver who proceeded to introduce himself and explain his role as my instructor and mentor during my laps around the course. Signaling I understood, I grabbed my seat belt and wrapped it over my body before closing the door. As we prepared to leave the pit, my mentor walked through the training tips I had learned earlier in the day and explained he would provide me real-time direction to improve my performance. Relieved at the degree of experience the instructor appeared to have, I acknowledged his statements and gave him notice of my novice experience with such vehicles. He reassured me we would make the most of the experience just as we turned onto the race course. Then with one call over the radio we were given the signal to go, which prompted me to put the pedal down.

Out of the pit

Starting the race we wound into a series of turns on asphalt snaking its way through an open field. I listened intently to the direction given by my instructor as we drove, making sure to take is somewhat easy until I was able to get the feel of the vehicle. About halfway through the course I felt my confidence growing slightly as I recalled the instruction I had received earlier and did my best to put it into action. Although the gap between me and the cars ahead of me had widen significantly, I knew the distance would provide me the opportunity to catch up later, which meant I would be able to experience the unconstrained power of the car during my final laps.

Upon completing the first lap, my instructor provided me reminders of the course's turns and critiqued my performance. While I knew my performance was anything but professional, I felt in control at a relatively high speed. In turn, my confidence grew more. In turn, I challenged myself to take the course faster with each turn we encountered, remembering the bends and method being preached to me from the passenger seat. Coming into the last turn of the second lap, a call over the radio broke the now familiar sound of the Lamborghini. "Slow down Lambo!" the radio barked as I approached the last turn. Watching for my instructor's hand signals, I tapped the breaks and rounded the corner. The car sunk into the ground and gripped the pavement as I hit the apex of the turn and pushed the pedal to the floor. Now entering the straightaway along the pit, I pushed the car as fast as it could go. The force of the engine pushed me back into me seat as the car accelerated. I could feel the force of gravity weighing against my chest as we tore down the pavement and we eclipsed 100 miles per hour. Still accelerating, I saw the next corner approaching and waited for a hand signal. A moment later my instructor threw his hand in the air and gave the signal to break hard, which set my feet in to motion. As we slowed to round the first turn on the next lap, I felt the pressure ease off of my body and the car slowly lift from the rear. In that moment, an powerful feeling of excitement took over. I couldn't believe what I had just experienced in a car, and I had one lap left to go.

Hitting the straightaway at 100 MPH
Entering my third lap, I continued to push the car. I knew I wasn't likely to catch up the to cars that stuck close to the pace car in the first lap, but I wanted to test my ability in the vehicle. As a result, I did whatever possible to find the race line and drive hard without pushing the limits of my control. With each turn I took tighter lines at slightly higher speeds. The experience was thrilling as I wound my way through the course and listened to the engine whir louder as I accelerated. I realize now that experience is hard to describe, so I'll leave the explanation to a video clip of my drive.

Today I drove a supercar on a closed racetrack. Although it's something I never expected to do, I must say the experience is something worth having. The speed, the feeling of the car, and the challenge of the course all provided me unique experiences unlike anything I have tried before. While I don't know if I will ever get behind the wheel of a supercar again, saying I had the experience once and made the most of it is something I can wear with a tinge of pride. For most people, there just aren't that many opportunities to do something like driving a supercar on a closed racetrack, but its something I can now cross off my "I have never..." list.

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