Hot Wheels cars. Micro Machines. The Hess Truck at Christmas. I have a deep connection to anything with wheels and it started early in life. Just thinking of driving somewhere fast fills me with the kind of adolescent glee associated with snowy Christmas mornings or news of A-ha’s latest album release.
So when I learned that ordinary folks like me could test drive NASCAR race 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. And for those with no interest in driving, yep, you can sit back and be a passenger too.
And so that’s how I found myself at New Hampshire’s legendary Motor Speedway on a bright, cloudless October afternoon – ready to roll. Upon arrival, there was surprisingly little fanfare in the lead-up to my ride. There was no mandatory course on the theory of g-forces or tips on how to avoid accidentally launching yourself from the car (it wouldn’t happen). I simply checked in at the track’s entrance, signed a one-page insurance waiver, collected my commemorative plastic name tag and 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 others standing in line awaiting their turn to ride. The line moved fast, just like the cars zipping by us. The staff clearly appreciated a quick turnaround which was fine by me as I could feel myself 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 was able to climb inside. Within seconds, the staff had me clipped into the six-point safety harness. Two taps on the roof of the car and we were off to the races.
Wordlessly, my 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 were going to flip. Thankfully, the wide racing slicks – a special type of tire – kept us glued to the track.
As we pulled out of each turn and into the next straightaway, the driver again slammed his foot down on the gas pedal. Instinctively, I gave a shout much like Mel Gibson’s victorious cry of “FREEDOM!” in Braveheart. It was equal parts terror, exhilaration, and sheer joy. We topped out north of 150 mph — a speed that gave me instant tunnel vision, blurred at the edges.
Sadly, at that speed, my five-lap ride was over in what felt like seconds. We pitted the car, and I climbed back out of the car window, dazed. For a short time, I’d had a glimpse of the raw energy and excitement of life as a professional NASCAR driver. I peeled my racing suit off and with a huge grin plastered on my face stumbled back to my pedestrian Toyota 4Runner.
For most of us, these kinds of tours are as close as we’re likely to come feeling what it’s like to be a professional race car driver. Whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, it’s a three-minute rush of adrenalin that makes for one hell of a bucket-list-worthy experience.