Last year, my wife got me a most excellent Christmas present: a Formula racing experience. I would go to a race track in Millville, New Jersey, and get a chance to tear around in a baby Formula One car for a few laps – after getting some instruction in it, of course. The gift came on the heels of our entire family becoming a gang of armchair car enthusiasts after starting to watch the BBC motoring show Top Gear. Which, if you haven’t ever seen it, you really should. It’s basically three complete motorheads driving and testing all manner of incredible (and not-so-incredible) cars and looking like they are having a great time doing it. (Do yourself a favor, though; skip the American version of the show. It’s rubbish.)
On my big racing day, I was more than a little nervous. During our instruction, we were informed just how tricky the course was, especially turns One and Five, two notorious bends where more than a few cars had spun off the track. Before I drove, I got to ride shotgun with a professional driver in a Porsche Boxster for some test laps. This was some of the most insane fun I’ve had on four wheels as the driver hit every turn at maximum speed. With every hard turn and bank, the G-forces I felt reminded me that indeed, the human body really is mostly made up of water.
By the time it was my turn to go, I was nervous. These baby formulas were unlike normal cars, in a big way. You squeezed into a very tight cockpit with a manual four-speed stick jutting off the right side of the car. You held the steering wheel close and then moved your right hand off to shift, holding it like a praying mantis. The clutch was so tight I had to practically stand on it. The car itself weighed about as much as I did, so the slightest touch on the gas and you were off.
A lot of my fellow drivers simply floored it and drove their cars like they had stolen them. A few of them lost control and spun out – no small feat considering how low the cars were, with their fat and grippy the tires. Me, I took a much more measured approach. I spent my first two laps getting to know the car rather than to risk wiping out. Lap three went alright, and by laps four and five I had it flat out. My fifth and final lap was my most memorable because I took every turn at top gear, I watched a bug die on the surface of my eyeglasses (better than that my teeth), and as I hit my final straightaway so fast my face started to blow out like in one of those astronaut training films, I thought: I am so violating the terms of my life insurance right now.
It did hit me later that while my wife forbids me from skydiving and bungee jumping (with good cause, I must admit), it seemed that I was in no less danger flying a little race car around a track with three other guys who knew as little about it as I did. The risk management behind it all didn’t quite add up. But in the end, I didn’t care. Most times in life, it pays to play it safe, and to protect what you’ve got. But as my wife so lovingly reminded me, sometimes, you just have to pop the clutch and let it roll.