Not So Fast, My Friend
I thought faster would be better. But then the muscle car out-muscled me
The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. It has 662 horsepower. Its top speed is more than 200 miles per hour. It induces adjectives. The good ones.
I stalled it out.
I have a history of driving awful cars. I used to drive a Chevy Tracker. The vinyl soft-top flapped when I drove on the highway. I upgraded to a Chevy Cavalier, the Busch Light of automobiles. They were both weak, but their weakness made them controllable. When I got behind the wheel, there was no question who was in charge.
So I jumped at the chance when the folks at the Richard Petty Driving Experience came up with the American Muscle Car Challenge. For $200, you can go out to Charlotte Motor Speedway and tear ass around the track in new top-of-the-line Camaros, Challengers, and Mustangs. You do four things: Get up to 60 miles per hour as quickly as possible, stop as quickly as possible, power through a corner, and then, on the back stretch, open ’er up and see how fast you can go.
The Petty folks make you watch a video that explains the whole thing while simultaneously bemoaning the wussification of car culture. Cars used to be so awesome, says a bearded guy in a flannel shirt. Then, thanks to the (stupid) government, “they had all the fun sucked out of them.” It’s now an Astro van world, you see. Are you tired of being Nadered? Well then, grab some smokes and red meat and hit the gas, Nancy-boy! SPEED!
I watched a few nervous people try to get the car up to 60 on pit road. It took one guy 10 seconds. Heh. One of the Petty guys said it takes people a while to get comfortable in a car that goes so much faster than the one they drive to work every day. Nah, I thought. I’ll pop the clutch and haul ass immediately. SPEED!
Brian Keselowski was the trainer in the car with me. (Yes, he’s NASCAR driver Brad’s older brother.) I’ll impress him, I thought. Now’s the time to let out years of pent-up automotive frustration. SPEED!
I drove the Challenger first. Then the Camaro. Each time I stepped on the gas, I felt myself losing control. A tire would squeal: goose bumps. The g-force would pull me outward in the corner: moist palms. A glance at the speedometer: whiter knuckles.
“The car’s got you,” Brian said. It’s got traction control. It’s got great brakes. “You’ll be fine.” I had one thought in my head: Do not f—ing wreck this car.
Then I got behind the wheel of the Mustang. “This thing’s got a ton of horsepower,” he said. Oh no.
I lined up the car. I sighed. I’ve got this, I thought. I’m comfortable. Finally.
First I stalled it. Then I popped the clutch and punched the gas. The car started to fishtail. The pit road wall started to step out in front of me. I started to feel prickly under my skin. My forehead flash-flooded.
I am going to wreck this car.
I watched my reaction later on the video from the in-car camera. I didn’t smile. Not even once. I thought I’d enjoy having power over a powerful thing. Instead, I was just cautious and sweaty.
I got behind the wheel of my own car, a six-year-old Volvo. I’m in charge again, I thought. I drove back to Charlotte through the construction zone on I-85. The orange barrels whizzed past. I’m flying, I thought. I looked down at the speedometer: 45.