At Dover race track, start your Segways
By Andrea Sachs,
Racers, start your Segways.
Surrounded by a phantom crowd of 135,000, I bounded away from the starting block, pressing hard on my toes and tilting forward as if I were fighting a gale wind. I rounded Turn 1, deliberately avoiding the high bank that makes Dover International Speedway the track with the fastest mile in the world. I looked back at Debbie Wilson, who was of little threat to me. She was too busy enjoying the views around the Delaware oval. As I coasted toward the finish line, I checked my speed: 12.6 mph, a personal best. I would have performed a victory dance if I hadn’t been so worried about toppling over.
All morning I’d been itching to break out of easy touring mode and vroom into Dale Earnhardt Jr. velocities. SegZone’s new two-hour-plus tour of the Delaware racetrack, which hosts two NASCAR weekends a year, has that fly-like-the-wind effect on its guests. Standing tall on the Segway, I felt a speed demon alight on my shoulder, whispering at me to drive without caution. But I had to wait: I was, at the moment, lightly tethered to Steve Dapias, who was steadying my Segway in the parking lot outside the track.
SegZone, which also arranges tours of Annapolis and downtown Dover, is the first in the country, and maybe the world, to offer guests a Segway spin around a NASCAR racetrack. After a year of planning, Debbie and Steve, the sibling owners, held the first Monster Mile Segway Experience last week. Steve said that the combination of crazed-fan activities was a natural, just like Budweiser and NASCAR.
“Segway fans are very passionate about Segways, and NASCAR fans are very passionate about NASCAR,” said the adherent of both diversions. “Putting them together makes for a great experience.”
I harbored doubts that fans who thrill at cars going round and round at dizzying speeds would get pumped over a vehicle that falls into the same category as an electric wheelchair. Yet here I was, a formerly avowed anti-Segwayan and a NASCAR newbie who couldn’t wait to rev her machine along the mile-long track. I secretly wished I could have champagne poured over my head at the winner’s podium, my trusty Segway at my side, plastered with advertisements. Instead, Debbie handed me a cold bottle of water, which I unceremoniously placed in a pouch attached to the steering column.
The tour covers the track’s landmark attractions, starting with the Monster Bridge. En route to the glass-enclosed seating area, we passed a gathering of police cars. A little voice inside my earpiece warned me to stay alert. “Be careful. They’re doing some kind of police training,” said the disembodied voice of Brian Citino, the track’s manager of communications and our guide. “And I’m not sure which way they’re going.”
At the Bridge, we parked our Segways against the fence and stepped up and inside the elevated rectangle. We sat in blue seats that have been warmed by the bottoms of celebrities, sponsors, contest winners and other VIP spectators. Some of the seat backs feature the inky signatures of past winners, the seat number matching the victory car’s digits (e.g., Jeff Gordon, No. 24).
After poking around the Bridge, pretending that we were worthy, we boarded our Segways and scooted off to Victory Plaza to pay tribute to Miles the Monster, the track’s mascot. We formed a loose Segway circle around Brian as he tossed out such stats as Miles’s height (46 feet), birthday (2008) and eye color (red that glows at night).
I had my first taste of the race course en route to the Garage, where track historian George Keller would take over the narrative. On the slope down, Steve reminded us to lean back, as if we were playing the game of Trust with the concrete ground. Brian told us that we could ride halfway up the bank, but we should cruise the straightaway during the turns. When someone asked why, he mentioned the “L” word — as in lliability.
On foot, we explored the garage (the mechanics shop for the field of 43), the Media Center and the black-and-white checkered grandstand with George, a fount of arcane tidbits who has attended every race here since its opening in 1969. Oh, the stories he could — and does — tell.
Now, more than two hours into the event, the owners finally set us free to take a victory lap. I hung back with Debbie, who agreed to line up with me at the start and race in the true NASCAR-by-Segway spirit. I placed all my weight on my toes and took off, a tortoise on two wheels.
Race car drivers complete the mile in 23 seconds; Debbie clocked us at 5 minutes 11 seconds. Only 399 miles to go, which, on a Segway, would take about about 33 hours. If I ever compete in the 400 Sprint Cup Series, I think I’ll take the car.
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