Saying yes to the speed demons

Published 9:04 am Thursday, April 15, 2010

After getting out of the vehicle of the Chief Instructor for the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) Southeast Region, I knew I had the topic for my next column.

It had been just a few minutes and a few laps on the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research (NCCAR) 2.1 mile ride and handling course and my head was buzzing—in a good and bad way.

What I had just experienced was indescribable, but then the spinning in my head made me want to find a place to lie down.

Never in my life did I think I would travel in a vehicle at 100 miles per hour without the notion of getting a speeding ticket.

It had all been Jim Pantas’ idea. Jim is the Southeast Regional Director for NASA and in the middle of our interview he posed a question: “Do you want a ride?”

“Nah, that’s OK,” I replied trying to stay focused at the task at hand.

But then came cries from the NASA crew egging me on to experience the ride around the course myself.

Do I want a ride? The childhood lessons my mother taught me flickered through my mind: when a stranger in a car asks you that, you say, “No.”

But what about a bunch of speed demons who know their way around a track? Mom would tell me to say yes.

“OK, sure,” I finally said.

Signing my second waiver of the day, I was fitted with a helmet and paired up with Roger Patton in a Chrysler Crossfire.

“He’s our chief instructor, I wouldn’t send you out with him unless I knew he was good,” said Jim.

Roger and I were given head sets so we could talk back and forth on the track. He compared the experience I was about to have to a rollercoaster ride and then we were off. I gripped the door handle with all my might.

The first paper clip turn was normal enough as the car hadn’t reached the full speed. But by the second turn I was closing my eyes thinking we were going into it too fast.

Just like a rollercoaster ride, the g-force pulled me side to side. The tires squealed like Roger said they would; the normal road tires slipping as we entered each turn.

“You hear those tires? They’re angry,” he said.

As we went into another turn, I was feeling was that “push” you always hear NASCAR drivers talk about where the car wants to keep on going straight even though the driver is turning the wheel.

Both fear and exhilaration became one for a moment in my mind.

Roger was nonchalant while driving us around the track, a “just another day at the office” approach as we traveled down the straight away at 100 miles per hour. (Oh yeah, I made sure to take a glance at the speedometer.)

Roger said for people like him this is just a hobby.

Like how your neighbor goes fishing or your sister collects porcelain dolls? Not exactly, more like how skydivers leap out of a plane or a bungee jumper soars through the air. The extreme of all extremes.

It definitely takes a car enthusiast to do what NASA drivers do.

Within a few laps that buzzing in my head began. I told Roger we should head in. I didn’t want it to come to an end, but I knew I was experiencing a little bit motion sickness.

NASA is a likable group of people with a shared passion for the automobile, perhaps the perfect group to break in NCCAR.

The experience with NASA was definitely a once in a lifetime chance. And I’m glad I said “yes.”

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.