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Lapping It Up

Now we're out on the track infield, country tunes are pumping out of speakers, and here are our cars. Instead of listening to the lecture about fires, about escapes from the seat, I am admiring the modified Ford Taurus I will be racing.

Yellow and black. A Nextel Cup car equipped with Goodyear Eagle tires. It is like a wasp that has been washed and waxed.

"Pennzoil," says my car on its hood, and "Die Hard" on the roll bar. That is me.

It is time to start the engines.

Head sock: check.

Helmet: check.

Neck brace: check.

Seat harness: check.

We're in the pit lane, and everything is happening fast. My chin strap is cutting into my jowls, but there isn't time to complain. I'm being made to climb in the window of my car. And not that I'm fat, but the steering wheel is removed to let me do it.

"Why can't we just open the door?" I ask.

"It's welded shut for safety, like in all stock cars," replies the pit guy.

He looks as if he is having second thoughts about letting me drive.

The dials on the dash say WATER, FUEL, OIL, RPMs and BATTERY VOLTAGE. I am strapped in low and tight and am told to put the car in first. I slot the shift up, trying to be fast yet smooth, and click it into gear.

I'm there -- a green light says so -- and here's my pace car rumbling in front. Seamlessly, at the precise split-second of starting, I punch down on the gas.

The pit guy is staring. I have stalled out.

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