Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 9/12/14

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 10: Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Arby's Ford, edges a lead over Scott Wimmer, driver of the #29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Busch Series ARIZONA.TRAVEL 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 10, 2007 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Several months ago, Crown Royal gave MSF the opportunity to cover the “Your Name Here” 500 NASCAR race in Richmond, Virginia.

Growing up in Indiana, I learned to love racing, and as such, was sent to cover the event.

As much as I like racing, the actual race was secondary. While I was there, I got to meet Daniel Hansen: national hero. I was also able to meet Rodney Atkins and attend his concert from fewer than five feet away before the race.

While covering the event, Crown Royal had me and several other writers participate in a scavenger hunt. I teamed up with Tracy Pendergast (The Smoking Jacket) and Brett Singer (Daddy Tips) in the contest.

Mike, my rival, is on the far right. Matt Kenseth is front and center.

 

The deal was this: The winning team would win a trip to Las Vegas where they would get to hop into a NASCAR and race against Matt Kenseth.

Of course, we finished in last place…by less than one item on the list. But Crown Royal decided to reward us all (for what, I don’t know; they did this purely out of the goodness of their hearts) and send us all to Las Vegas.

This past weekend, nine of us writers partook of the once in a lifetime opportunity to race against Matt Kenseth in a NASCAR at the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Las Vegas.

Crown Royal paid for everything. They put me and my wife up at the MGM Grand and also took us out to spectacular meals at restaurants each night. I even visited a Wolfgang Puck establishment.

On Saturday morning, we drove to the track. After a crash course regarding the ins and outs of driving a NASCAR at over 100 MPH, we donned our jumpsuits and walked out to the track. The rules were simple: Follow your instructor as closely as possible. If you kept up with him, he would drive faster; if you lagged behind, he would drive slower and your time would suffer.

They told us that our cars were capable of driving about 170 MPH, but we would be limited to the 130-135 range. The blogger with the fastest time would receive a $2,500 check to give to a selected charity of his choice.

Obviously, my competitive juices started flowing immediately. Two of the charities were directly involved with the military, and I’m a HUGE supporter of our brave heroes that protect our freedoms every day.

Seven other bloggers ended up participating:

  • Mike Arone (The Rugged and MikeAroneFitness.com)
  • Tracy Pendergast (The Smoking Jacket and The Man. The Legend)
  • Kaitlyn Vincie (Hot for NASCAR)
  • Justin Korkidis (Complex)
  • Josiah Schlatter (Bleacher Report)
  • Brett Singer (Daddy Tips)
  • Z Smith (Nascar Race Mom)

To be honest, I instantly narrowed down my competition to two guys: Mike and Justin. I knew if I could beat them, I had a great shot of winning it all.

Unfortunately, the cards were stacked against me in Vegas (pun completely intended), as everyone else received two breaks that I didn’t. First of all, I was placed in the unenviable position of driving first. Obviously, this is not ideal in a racing situation. The second break was less obvious.

We all looked fat in those helmets...I promise I don't normally look like that.

Apparently, the number of real men in America is falling, because I was the only person of the bunch that could drive a stick. That meant that everyone but me would be getting a push start. How would that work against me? Let me explain:

The instructor took me aside and told me that I should shift gears when the car reached 4000 RPMs. As soon as the instructor drove by me, I slammed the car into gear and followed. I had two goals: stay on his butt, and get the car into fourth gear as fast as possible.

Unfortunately, these two goals were mutually exclusive.

If you have never driven a NASCAR before, you will be surprised to find out that the cars can move pretty quickly. In fact, the cars can move pretty quickly in first and second gear.

As I came off of turn two and started accelerating, I was shocked to see my car still lagging at about 2500 RPMs. I was fewer than three car lengths behind my instructor, and as touchy as the accelerator was, it wasn’t possible for me to get the car up to the required 4000 RPMs without slamming into the back of him (obviously, an undesirable scenario).

By the time I had finished my first lap, I was going 90 MPH…in SECOND GEAR. I had to make a decision, and fast. I took my foot off the gas, allowed some space to get between us, and then quickly accelerated in order to get the car into fourth gear. By that time, two of my ten laps were wasted and I had lost valuable time.

Every other driver was aided by a push start. He could place the car into 4th gear on pit road, and then receive a push until the car reached about 50 MPH where they could slide the car into gear easily. Everyone was at full capacity a lap and a half before me.

Even so, I would not be denied. I pushed my car to its maximum capacity, and ended up finishing with a fastest lap time of 132.98 MPH.

To call the experience “awe-inspiring” would be an understatement.

Three things stood out to me above all else:

First, as fast as 133 MPH sounds, I wish I could have gone a little bit faster. By lap six, I was completely comfortable, and even started driving the high line a little bit in order to gain a little more speed in and out of the corner.

Secondly, those cars are made to go that fast. As obvious as that sounds, it’s the truth. When we drive on the rough highway at 80 MPH in our Buick Century, we feel every single bump in the road. Our car might shake, and the ride is anything but smooth. Not in a NASCAR. Even when I was carrying 3 and 4 g’s in the corners, the car took it smoothly.

Third, I have no idea how racers do it.

As comfortable as I got just following one car, I can’t imagine racing side by side with 42 other drivers. On my eighth lap, another blogger just started his ride. He was coming out of pit lane, well below the yellow line, nowhere near me. As I zoomed past him, my heart started racing and I thought I was going to die. That was just with ONE car on the track besides myself.

As much respect as I had for NASCAR drivers before, I respect them so much more now.

Me and the wife after I finished.

So who won the race? Even though all the breaks went against me, I was confident that I did well. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite do well enough. I ended up losing to Mike Arone by 0.07 seconds.

It was great to lose to a worthy opponent. Mike raced well, and he and his website were able to donate the money to a worthy charity.

Of course, I hate to think of what might have been.

0.07 seconds…

Mike, if you are reading, I want a rematch.

Jon Washburn @The_Dr_Twitch
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