Do You Have What it Takes to Drive a
By Stan Weber
It's been kind of interesting to read the recent comments regarding what's necessary to successfully drive a fast car. Got me to thinking about a couple of experiences in my past that affected my plans to become a "hero" driver.
I'll admit right off that my actual experience is limited to go-karts and thrashing 1960-era stockers (roughly 100 mph trap speeds - no real problems if you just stay alert) at the drags. Still, 35 years ago, I was a "hard-core" digger fan, and full of that innocent optimism that comes with being young. It was always in the back of my mind that some day I might work my way into the driver's seat of a digger. You know what I mean, you're 22-23 years old, and everything seems to come pretty naturally. At that tender age, and with no real sense of how things work, or what the stakes really are, most everything seems like a possibility.
My first inkling that I may not have the "killer instinct" that some of you mentioned, was while riding "shotgun" in a friend's '64 Pontiac super stocker. He was trying out his newly installed B&M hydro and since he had loaned out his racing slicks - had simply substituted the snow tires from his street car. We were supposed to be making some "easy" passes to sort out the tranny, at an abandoned air strip. Of course, once we got going, my buddy couldn't resist hammering the gas. I can still remember hanging on for dear life (I'm sure my fingerprints are permanently pressed into the roll bar) as he maxed the thing out (probably 120 mph or so). All I could think about were those damn snow tires, and how the hell he was going to control the car when one of them suddenly burst off it's wheel. The visions of multiple flips -- and the resulting carnage -- going through my mind at the time were scary enough, but the weird thing was -- while I was about to wet myself -- my friend was banging his fist on the dash and, with red-faced rage, cussing at the car because it wouldn't go any faster!
Right then, it occurred to me that there was something profoundly different in the way some people perceived things.
A few years later, I had an opportunity to be a tire-wiper for a jr. fuel car during some break- in runs. Back then, it was fairly common to have a crew member hold onto the back of the roll cage to help keep the car from moving once it was staged. I quickly volunteered for the job in order to be as close as possible to the action. I had paid close attention to all the preliminaries (fueling the car, suiting up, buckling in, the push start, etc., and I hadn't seen anything so far that looked to be more than I could handle. However, when the car left the line - and having the vantage point directly behind it - I was amazed at how very quickly it seemed to move down the track (MUCH faster, it seemed, than when viewing a pass from my usual spot in the stands). But the real "eye-opener" was seeing the way the car moved from side-to-side during the run (especially at high speed during last half of the pass). Suddenly, I understood that you had to "drive" these things THE WHOLE DAMN WAY (as opposed to a stocker, where - once you got past second gear - you were pretty much along for the ride). Somehow, the potential for REAL trouble during every pass became very clear to me that day.
Although it took a while to sink in, the truth was that right then I knew I just wasn't cut from "the same cloth" - as the saying goes - as were those who could strap in and take a car to it's limit (or beyond) without holding anything back. Up until about 10 years ago, I considered enrolling in one or another of those dragster driving classes - just to see for sure - but I never did, and by now (going on 57) the point is pretty well moot.
And even so, having made a couple of "school" passes in a de-tuned back-motored alky car at a fastidiously manicured track, would never have put me anywhere near the same league as those of you who regularly drove a tow-rig for, say 1,000 miles, then with maybe a few hours sleep, strapped in behind a blown nitro "grenade", and legged it down some rough-hewn podunk strip (that you knew had a nasty "dip" just past the thousand-foot mark, bad cross-winds, and a shut down area only a few yards longer than your trailer - with a stand of very sturdy pine trees at the end!)
My hat is definitely off to all of you digger, funny car, and fuel altered "shoes" who put your collective butts on the line (then and now) for the benefit of us "bleacher bums." Many thanks for the fun and vicarious thrills you've provided over the years. You are special people, indeed.