Driving a CASCAR stocker
It all looked so easy on TV.
I'm on my first solo lap in a detuned CASCAR late-model stocker, hobbling my way through Mosport Park's turns, dips, humps and hills. The car's running an engine that's been ripped off of a Dodge van, and produces only about two hundred horsepower, about half of what a regular racer makes.
Two hundred, it seems, is way too many. The Dodge Avenger-bodied car, with an automatic transmission no less, to make things easier for me, squirrels its way all over the track, its hugely wide front tires steering with a mind of their own. The rear end feels like it's going to rotate around every time you tap the brakes.
Worse yet, it's hard to see out of the car; looking through a turn nets you a whole lot of the car's massive A-pillar; looking out front isn't much better, due to two reinforcing struts that span its height. You sit way down low in the car, and the rollcage and window nets keep you from ever gaining an adequate view of what's going on.
I suddenly have a lot more respect for stock-car racers. Their job, even on an oval track where all they do is turn left, is a very difficult one. Not only are their cars exceptionally fast, but they're also a handful to control. Now I realize how hard Hamiltonian Don Thomson Junior must have been fighting when he took me for a ride around the track with one hand.
Their crews, as well, spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars setting their cars up to precisely match a race course's characteristics: one reason that the demonstrator was handling as erratically as it was, I'm told, is that it's set up only to&emdash;yes&emdash;turn left.
Road courses like Mosport are a whole different ball game, different enough that team owner and driver Dave Whitlock has set up another team just for road courses, with a specially set-up CASCAR Taurus with road-racing pro Scott Maxwell at the helm.
As I take a couple more turns, as I start to get a feel for the car, it starts to feel less intimidating. The steering is light and accurate, and the floor-hinged brake pedal, the two bars that stand in for a gas pedal, are easy to modulate once I learn to adjust my inputs to the massive acceleration and grip that even this "detuned" car is capable of.
Still, I'm now filled with respect for these guys and the machines that they're driving&emdash;machines which I had previously seen as low-tech slugs. Setting one up and driving one is a lot harder than it looks, something we'd all do well to remember the next time we watch a televised race: no, dummy, I now tell myself, you can't do that with your eyes closed.
The Castrol Super Series begins on the weekend of May 16&endash;17 with the Mopar 300 at Delaware Speedway Park near London; 10 of the 19 events will be broadcast on Speedvision.
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