Feature Story

Fastest Five Minutes Of My Life

By Don Denelsbeck

For Christmas 2004, my wife of 40 years presented me with a certificate for 10 laps of Monster Racing at Dover Downs Speedway. On May 2, I got to cash it in. My daughter and I arrived at Gate 1 (Start-Finish Line) shortly before noon. About 12:15 they started signing in drivers, 25 or more, in one line. We signed an injury claim waiver and got our Pit-Pass. Non-driving visitors signed in at a different line and received a visitor’s badge to stick on their shirt or jacket. Next the drivers took a van ride around the track while the rules of the event and description of the track were explained. Dover Speedway is a 4-lane, high-banked (45°), cement racetrack resembling a large serving bowl. The flat apron on the inside of the track is asphalt. Dover does have the new soft barriers around the walls this year.

The rules were simple. Two cars at a time will follow the Instructor’s car around the track at an interval of 6 to 10 car-lengths. Drivers must use lane 3 on the straight a ways and lane 1 in the turns. Cones in the turns between lanes 2 and 3 are the upper limits of where drivers can go and the first 2 cones in turn 1 are spaced 6 car-lengths apart for reference. The instructor will start out slowly, around 90 mph, and increase the speed as long as the first driver is keeping up and maintaining a good smooth line. The Instructor’s car also has yellow “Caution” lights on the back, which are turned on if there is a problem and everyone has to slow down from “race” speed. Flagmen at the S/F line and the end of pit road, entrance to turn one, will also display various flags. Green signifies the end of lap 1, “Crank It Up”, Yellow- caution-be prepared to stop, White- one lap to go, and Checkers- Final lap, pull down onto pit road to end your 10 laps. Caution may be displayed if someone is having a problem or the first driver in line can’t keep up. In this case the running order is reversed and the faster driver is moved up behind the “Pace” car and the run continues.

At the end of our instructional van ride, we were dropped off inside pit road by pit number one. We donned our racing suits, not very colorful or race team specific, in the Media Center and went to the driver’s area by pit-1 to wait our turn to ride or drive. Those who paid for a ride only or ride and drive program got into one of the two Instructor’s “Pace” cars for three hot laps as a passenger. The “Pace” cars drove the same lines that the driver’s would follow when they got their turn.

The cars were then lined up two in pits 1 and 3 and two along the outside of pit road with a pace car at the head of each line. Drivers were assigned to their cars, given preliminary instructions and picked up their helmets. When their turn came the drivers were secured in their cars after having their picture taken sitting on the door, given final safety instructions and the cars were started up. Another picture was taken with the driver in the car just before the pace car took off.

Story of my life, I was in the very last twosome to run, paired with the only guy who opted to drive a Craftsman truck. This did, however, give me a chance to settle my nerves and watch what others did, both right and wrong. Watching the pace cars with the riders on board roar, and I mean ROAR, around the track for 3 laps (Green, White, Checkers) unnerved me a bit. I began to wonder if I was getting too old for this kind of stuff. I felt a lot better watching the other drivers start out at a much less intense speed and build up to whatever they could handle. When I finally strapped in to my White #11 Chevrolet, I felt that I was ready to go. I had already made up my mind that the pace car was not going to get away from me. I really didn’t care what the truck behind me did, but I was damn sure they weren’t going to move him in front of me.

The instructor checked my belts one more time, told me “Go as fast as you are comfortable with and have fun” and the pace car pulled out. The 400 HP BGN Monte Carlo came to life with a roar. I shifted into second at the end of pit road, third as I climbed onto the cement in turn one and fourth as I came off turn 2. Then the yellow lights lit up on the pace car and he slowed down. What the heck! We meandered down the backstretch in second gear. As we entered turn 3, very slowly, I saw the truck just coming off turn 2 in my mirror. He apparently had a problem getting started up. The caution lights went out as we came out of turn 4 and I took the green flag coming up through the gears. Now we’re having fun! The next two laps were kind of mild, getting the feel of the car, diving gently into the corners and remembering to stay in lane 3, one lane away from the wall coming off turns 2 and 4. Since I was no more then 6 car-lengths behind the pace car, he began to pick it up a little on each lap.

Now I’m already into the turns before I roll out of the throttle and pick it up again even before I can see the straightaway. Now we’re really having fun. I don’t know where the truck is and I don’t care. Maybe because I’m tall, 6’1”, when I dove into the turns, all I could see through the windshield was curved concrete, no wall, and no horizon, just the pace car. Oops! I’d better back off a little or I’m going to run over him. It was like driving around in a large concrete barrel. Jeff used to say, mostly about “Blacker”, “That car was on a rail today”. I know exactly what he was talking about. I never dreamed a car that powerful could have that much grip in the turns. I’m on the bottom of the track; a slightly lower line then the pace car is running, almost on the asphalt, wondering why the car isn’t sideways. My Caravan would have been, long ago. But my car is sticking; the pace car isn’t slowing down, so I’m back on the gas. OMG! What a rush! As I’m coming off turn 2 on lap 7, I think, I see another vehicle on the track just entering turn 3. Now what’s going on! It’s the truck that’s supposed to be following me. I’m about to lap the truck running second! (the pace car doesn’t count).

The pace car lights up the yellow lights and we cruise down the backstretch in second gear AGAIN! We come off turn 4 and the lights go out, back up through the gears and we’re off. Next lap, white flag, one to go. Now I’m driving deeper into the turns, barely letting off, back on the gas hard coming off 2 and 4 and fighting the car not to go up into lane 4. Checkers are waving; I cross the stripe, start backing the car down and start breathing normally again. What an experience. I pull into pit road and coast up to pit 1 and shut her down. I get out of the car and stand up on the door for my daughter to videotape my “Victory” arms straight up pose. One of the instructors asked if I was going to do a back flip off the door. “Nope, not today.” But I could have gone another 10 laps; I was just getting the hang of it. We quickly went to the photo trailer and got our 4-picture photo pack, then to the souvenir trailer to order our DVD from the in-car video camera. Since no one would tell me how fast I was actually going, I can’t wait for the DVD to arrive so I can time my laps. My daughter says I was really cooking on the last 2 laps.

The weather started out mostly sunny and mild, turned cloudy and cooler as the day wore on and finally started to rain as we were leaving the track, around 5PM, for the trip back to NJ. As we neared our home, an hour and a half later, the sun broke out and a rainbow appeared to touch down at the end of our street. The perfect end to a perfect day. It will be quite some time before I can wipe the smile off my face.

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