Dan Wheldon executed the pass flawlessly, screaming past a fellow driver as if she weren't moving.
Well, fine, technically she wasn't. The Volvo 760 had pulled over to the side of Eckington Place NE, allowing space for Wheldon and a passenger to cruise by in a two-seat IndyCar-style street machine.
"Passing a Volvo out there is like passing Paul Dana on the race track," Wheldon later quipped.
The Indianapolis 500 winner was in the District last week for a promotional event at the headquarters of XM Satellite Radio, which broadcasts Indy Racing League events and sponsors the car of Wheldon's teammate, Bryan Herta. The two Andretti Green Racing drivers and team co-owner Michael Andretti helped ferry a line of XM employees, media members and curious observers on a 60- or 80-second trip around the block, depending on traffic and the weight of the driver's right foot.
The route -- a D-shaped oval of sorts -- went past R Street Self Storage, past a graffiti-covered wall, past a P6 Metrobus in which heads swiveled, past the high-end Capitol Overlook condos that are part of Eckington's continuing housing boom and past surprised new condo owner Bing H. Chen.
"I thought I was still drunk from last night," the 27-year-old luxury car salesman said. "Who would ever think of something like that going down these streets?"
The joy-riding vehicle, which sits about two inches off the ground, is powered by a Honda motorcycle engine and can't touch race speeds, topping out somewhere above 100 mph and crackling loudly when it pops out of gear. In Northeast Washington, the drivers didn't go much above 45 mph, but Herta said the ride can offer fleeting touches of the real thing.
"You don't realize [until] you're sitting down that low how your view changes," he explained. "You come by a Honda Accord and you're like, 'that thing's huge up there.' "
Construction worker Aaron Bennett of Westminster, Md., loved his trip with Herta -- "insane," he said -- although he didn't know Herta's name and confessed he was "rooting for the chick" -- that would be Danica Patrick -- during the Indy 500.
Oh, and for the record, Wheldon finished fifth at Saturday's IRL race in Richmond. Dana, who is injured, did not compete.
-- Dan Steinberg