Attending a NASCAR race has long been on my bucket list, so when I was asked if I wanted an opportunity to ride in a real stock car on an actual track, I accepted immediately.
Upon arriving at ISM Raceway, located in a western suburb of Phoenix, I was directed to the infield. As I drove through a tunnel underneath the track, I heard the roar of a NASCAR stock car from overhead and was quickly reminded that, in short order, I’d be strapped into the seat of one of them.
I was invited to the track to partake in the NASCAR Racing Experience, which lets attendees ride along as I did or, for the more adventurous, actually drive the vehicles. The experience travels around the country to all sorts of tracks, including ISM Raceway, which underwent a recent $178 million renovation completed ahead of the TicketGuardian 500 race scheduled for March.
After a quick registration process, I was set to go. Before I knew it, I was sized for a helmet, handed a neck brace and walked to my awaiting chariot, which sat with the engine burbling.
I was given a few pointers (apparently, dropping a cellphone is a big no-no; they’re very difficult to find in the complex interior) and was told to have fun. With that, my driver, Rick Anderson, pulled out of the pits and put his foot on the gas.
Going into the first turn, I was worried. It’s difficult not to be, as all I could picture were the horrible crashes I’ve seen on TV over the years. But the second I felt the tires stick — on the gas or not — it became an incredible thrill ride.
On the straightaways, we breezed past the 100-mph mark as the engine revved nicely. The window netting flapped in the strong wind and it felt like I was riding in a huge go-cart.
I smiled like an idiot the entire time.