Taking The Ride Of A Lifetime

Justin Poole

Justin Poole

By Justin Poole-Guest Columnist
Posted in Columns 7/30/09

Have you ever felt the urge to wind your car out as fast as it will go just to feel the rush of adrenaline and the acceleration push you back in your seat?

Other than on the interstate, socially responsible people probably never get above 85 mph, but if that doesn’t curb your appetite for speed, I know just the thing.

I had the opportunity to ride along with Vince Whitmire during the 2008 media day out at the former Peach State Speedway, now Gresham Motorsports Park, as the track was preparing for that year’s Independence Day event. Vince, a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, was more than happy to have a greenhorn like myself riding shotgun in his two seater, which was a former Hendrick Motorsports Nationwide Series racer.

Justin gets some help with his helmet prior to the ride.

Poole gets some help with his helmet prior to the ride.

Before even getting to hear the engine rumble and roar to life, I had to get strapped in. After climbing through the window opening and getting adjusted in the seat, I began tightening the straps on the harness and found out the hard way that it is a lot easier to tighten the straps than to loosen them. Next came the helmet with its thick padding to prevent your head from playing a game of pinball off the roll cage.

Once I was strapped in and secure, Vince fired her up. If you have ever sat trackside at a race and heard the roar as the cars fly past and felt the ground rumble under your feet, it is only a fraction of what you hear and feel sitting inside the belly of one of these speed demons.

As Vince started rolling through the pits and onto the track, I could already feel the adrenaline start to pump. As the car approached speed, Vince hollered over the engine noise if I was ready to really go for it. I yelled back for him to “stand on it”.

Whitmire pilots the ride along car around Peach State Speeway, now Gresham Motorsports Park.

Whitmire pilots the ride-along car around Peach State Speeway, now Gresham Motorsports Park.

As we picked up speed on the apron and headed up onto the banking, the catch fence turned to a blur and as we crossed the start-finish line, we edged near the wall. I have to admit that approaching that concrete wall at speed is one of the most terrifyingly awesome experiences I have ever had.

The ride continued and I couldn’t help but think that as much of a thrill it was to be riding as a passenger, that was nothing compared with how much work it was for Vince as he navigated around the track, shifting and getting to within what appeared just inches from the wall. I can only imagine attempting the feat while door-to-door with someone and another car on your tail.

By around the third lap, I was starting to get accustomed to the sliding force as the car hit the turns and barreled out into the stretch, and to the crazy g-force that was pushing my body straight back into the seat. The roar of the engine was now a background theme highlighting the experience. The dual smells of fuel exhaust and hot rubber only made me smile as we rounded the track again.

Poole climbs out after his first ride at speed in a stock car.

Poole climbs out after his first ride at speed in a stock car.

The ride came to an end only a lap or two later. Vince had a line of others ready to jump in and take my spot. As the car entered into the pits and came to a rest, I realized I was soaked through with sweat and the inside of the car felt like an oven.

I have heard that professional drivers lose several pounds during a race due to sweat, and I believe it. I had on run of the mill jeans and a t-shirt and was pouring buckets. Drivers enter the cars in Nomex fire retardant suits and full-face helmets, staying in for a lot longer than a few minutes during a race.

It gave me a completely new level of respect for the people committed to the sport.

As I exited the car and passed the helmet onto the next rider, I knew I had just lived an experience that would be hard to top.

Justin Poole is a writer and reporter for MainStreet Newspapers in Jefferson, Georgia.

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