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The need for speed as auto racing to ramp up again in Loudon

July 05. 2014 8:40PM
Reporter Allen Lessels makes his way to the pits before taking a spin behind the wheel of a NASCAR-style stock car around the "Magic Mile during the Kyle Petty Driving Experience at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Friday. D (AVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Track record unthreatened in reporter's spin at NHMS


I'm waiting.

Surely word has spread in the speedy world that is NASCAR of what transpired at New Hampshire Motor Speedway nine days ago.

There has been a ton of talent zipping around the Speedway in recent weeks, to be sure.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, the top three drivers in Sprint Cup points and locks to make the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship, spent a couple of high-speed days testing at the track early last month.

Brian Vickers, rookie Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman were among those who put in their time last week.

Things really get hopping this week when all those drivers and the rest of the best in stock car racing arrive to prepare for Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301 at the track.

But don't forget about a week ago Friday.

That was a special day on the track as well.

It was the day and the weekend the Richard Petty Driving Experience - which caters to wannabe race car drivers among its various clientele - paid its first of three visits to the track this season.

And it's why I'm waiting.

Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush and Tony Stewart and the other big-time owners of NASCAR Sprint Cup teams must have heard about what transpired that day, don't you think?

I'll be honest with you. . . . As I shimmied and wiggled my way out the 15-inch high window - our crew chief Craig Kirby by way of Georgia, he goes by "Big Block" at the track, warned us that would be a difficult part of the day - I wasn't feeling all that thrilled about my performance.

Disappointment turned to downright despair when the computer spit out lap reports a few minutes later.

Now I must interject here that I have a couple of pretty good excuses, er reasons, that I wasn't exactly setting the same kind of pace around the one-mile oval that, say, Newman, who set the track's qualifying record last year, will be looking for this weekend.

Here's one: Blame it on Breck.

The back story.

This isn't my first time around the racetrack. I circled it a couple of times a few years ago in my personal car, a Jetta wagon, and a number of years before that I spent the good part of an afternoon driving a stock car on the road course as part of a media event. I've also been around it as a passenger in a Sprint Cup car and in a two-seater Indy Car.

I much preferred driving: Never did much like the feeling of being on the back of a motorcycle, bicycle or snowmobile and letting someone else be in charge of my well-being.

Then came Breckenridge. A few summers ago we were visiting the kids in Colorado and took a ride on a mountain coaster. I was in charge of my own ride, didn't react well to increasing speed and went tumbling off the track and through the gravel. The small scar on my left elbow serves as a reminder.

For some reason, in the middle of Big Block's discussion of safety first and 600 horsepower engines and being careful to do everything smoothly and the chance to go over 100 miles per hour and to worry not about the walls - they aren't going anywhere - Breckenridge crossed my mind.


So I got in the car with Dave Davis, a racer out of Claremont who was my very supportive ride-along coach - with a throttle control device at the ready - for my eight laps on the track.

I only missed one gear shift on my way to fourth and the end of pit road and then it was onto the track.

You know how the United States survived the Group of Death to get to the World Cup elimination tournament?

I survived the Grip of Death to get through my eight laps.

Yeah, it was a white-knuckle ride. Not because I was setting any records.

Urged by Coach Davis, I tried to allow the car to slide up closer to the wall down the straightaways and tried to push the speed, too.

"Smooth," Davis said. "Now let's get on the gas a little."

Then I had to slip to the left to let one of my classmates fly by. I'd get to the corner and ease off the gas and hope against hope that the tires and car would hold through the corner until I could get on the gas again.

Todd Morey of Vermont, another of the Petty crew, likened it to turning into a McDonald's entrance at highway speeds.

Around and around we went and things got more and more comfortable.

I climbed out of the car and knew I had not been all that quick around the track.

"It's not all about fast, fast, fast," Big Block said. "It's also about having a good time."

That I did.

As for speed, I'm not going to burden you with numbers.

Suffice to say, it was plenty enough to get stopped and cost a bunch on Interstate 93. And not nearly enough to impress my 20-something sons.

But there's more behind the numbers, too.

First, there's a renewed appreciation for those who do this for a living.

Second, I did cut my lap time down each and every time around the track.

So I wait. For the call.

I'm thinking Hendrick or Roush or Frank Stoddard, the Cup owner out of the North Country, will see and be impressed by the improvement - even if it takes me twice as long to get around the track as everyone else - and realize the potential and call me in for a tryout.

Then, if I can just forget about Breck.

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