Gearing Up

I took a ride in a vintage race car and didn’t embarrass myself. One thing I realized: Indianapolis Motor Speedway looks much different from the track.

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Photo by Wil Foster

Let’s clear the air, I thought I was going to scream like a kid on his first big roller coaster ride when we hit the first turn.

I’m as prone to suffering from a lead foot as the next person, but topping 150 miles per hour on the straightaway between turns one and four at IMS is a far cry from driving fast on I-69. I’ve never been in a car going that fast. I’ve never been in a car going that fast with someone else driving. I’ve never been in a car going that fast with someone else driving that then cut a corner like some obscene monetary prize depended on it.

The only sense of security I had, in addition to my seatbelt, was a helmet hitting me at an inopportune time as I eyed the turn over the black hood of the red No. 9 car.

As my driver — Jim Barfield, who has worked extensively with NASCAR great Bill Elliott in the past — and I approached that turn, I thought I was going to let out a yelp so embarrassing I wouldn’t be able to make eye contact with Barfield, or anyone else for that matter, at the track as I left.

Thankfully, the only thing I did do was think, “Man, I sure as hell am happy he knows what he’s doing.” Each time he approached a turn, shifted gears and switched from the throttle to break, I tensed up, grabbed my seat, and did my best not to sway from side to side. Sliding into Barfield or out the window felt like very real possibilities to me. But each time he made the turn just fine and so did I.

He may not have been able to hear me chuckle over the roar of the engine, which I suspect will serve Bill Elliott and Ray Evernham well at the Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am, but that chuckle was the only audible sound I managed to make.

That was my attempt at, “Thanks for not spinning out, man.”

Heck yeah, I was afraid.

IMS looks different from the seat of a race car. Sure I’d been on pit road before, but usually I walked from there to the air-conditioned media center. The stands hadn’t towered over me before, as they had stoically gazed over anyone bold enough to race here.

Carlus Gann, a long time associate of Elliott who owns and has worked on the car with Barfield, assured me when I collected myself on pit road, I will have realized the power of this car.

Since he and Barfield acquired it back in November, it’s gone through some extensive work, but has been racing its whole life.

“The only things that didn’t have to be removed, replaced, or repaired were the windshield and the driver’s door hinges,” Gann says.

It makes sense that the first thing he said to me when I hopped out of the car and ran my hands through my hair — yeah I was pretty sweaty, can’t imagine at the end of any extended practice a driver smells too good — was more of a rhetorical statement.

“Car’s got some power, right?”

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