If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. If it were easy to describe, everybody would be explaining what it means to experience the quickness of things.
In actual fact, speed is neither easy to achieve nor to describe. I have tried to do both, for reasons I can’t fully fathom. In the case of the former, my results have been relatively unimpressive; in the case of the latter, they have been earnest but inconclusive. I am determined to try again to describe my fatalisticand so far non-fatalattraction to speed.
I refer, specifically, to whisking myself as fast as possible down the road while remaining in control of the car I am driving or the motorcycle I am riding. A car is quickand a motorcycle quicker yetwhen it catapults forward under throbbing, ear-splitting acceleration that drives the seat of the pants, literally, into the driver’s seat or the motorcycle saddle. For many, quickness itself is the sole attraction, one that stems from a sensory cocktail that “tastes” like an auditory and visual riot but “feels” like a primal, tactile embrace by the Mother Laws of Physics.
The qualified term “top-speed” fails to encompass the larger issue of going fast. This is not to say that I have disliked hurtling at 155 miles-an-hour in a car on a race track or at 135 miles-an-hour on a sport-bike. These are not ultimate speeds by any meansneither for the vehicles I was aboard nor for the tracks where I raced.
Truth to tell, they were not even the ultimate speeds for which my skills were groomed, or so I’ve been told by experienced colleagues in a better position to critique. They are merely the velocities for which I was mentally prepared to settle at the time, much to the chagrin and the occasional derision of those who regard top-speed their grail. I am obsessed with engaging speed in a continuous, steady state, and quickness is but a subset of the whole enterprise. The conquest of top-speed is merely a quixotic mission that recedes from each further grasp like a mirage.
At speedtrue speed, rare speedI find myself merging into a larger stream of uncommon experience, where all that was once concrete becomes liquid, flowing, and clear. I have trained and I have read in my preparations for going fast, but I do not consider speed an esoteric pursuit requiring mystical initiation. Speed is progressive in proportion to skill; as skills improve, speeds do likewise.
While absolute quickness and top speed are arguably dependent upon one’s ability to buy them, a genuine experience of carefully cultivated speed is well within the capacity of whatever car you drive or motorcycle you ride.
“Speed is money,” you will hear at the race track; “how fast do you want to go?” Having given up my racing ambitions some time back, I nevertheless have to disagree. Speed is exaltation; speed is escape; speed is the simultaneous arousal of all five senses in pursuit of a special bliss. Winning at speed is what costs; and the cost is usually dear because, at the very least, one must sacrifice speed’s broad bliss to the narrower job of finishing first.
I wish I could satisfy every curiosity about how it feels to sprint fast and deep into a tight, smooth, slightly banked corner: The suspension compresses to an animal tautness; brakes clench in supernatural restraint to keep you from sailing off the edge of flat earth; you downshift with a delectable cannonade of scarcely contained combustion exploding internally before your feet, behind your back or, best yet, between your legs. Unyielding gravity, which just a moment before was standing perpendicular to the ground, now defers to your express command and lies on its side, tugging insistently at your head and torso.
The road unwinds. The throttle slings you forth. The tires claw greedily for traction while squealing for joy in their glory of slide. The next corner looms; the last corner recedes. To describe the sensation at any given moment is to disconnect the experience from its flowing reality and lurch to an abrupt sensory stop. Real speed is ineffable yet irresistable. It tempts you with an unworldly promise of “no beginnings” and “no endings” as it beckons you to ride, aloft, upon the unfurling ribbon of the road.
Auto Racing/driving schools
♦ Skip Barber Racing School(1-800-221-1131; http://www.skipbarber.com. ) Multiple locations, vehicle types and session lengths
♦ TrackTime Inc. Performance Driving Schools (330-759-1868) Race-prepped BMWs for rent or “run what you brung”; one- and two-day sessions at multiple track locations; separate NASCAR program also
♦ Road Atlanta Racing School (770-967-6143; http://www.roadatl.com. ) Race-prepped Nissan 300ZXs and full gear; one- and two-day classes
♦ Buck Baker Racing School (1-800-529-BUCK) Exclusively NASCAR; multiple track locations, including Atlanta and Bristol, Tenn.
Motorcycle racing/riding schools
♦ California Superbike School with Keith Code (818-246-0717; http://www.superbikeschool.com. ) Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R class bikes or “run what you brung”; multiple track locations, including Road Atlanta
♦ CLASS School with Reg Pridmore (805-933-9936; http://www.classrides.com. )
Honda sport- and super-bikes; multiple track locations, including Road Atlanta
♦ Ed Bargy Racing School (770-745-7809; http://www.mondspring.com/~ebrs. ) “Run what you brung” only; multiple track locations, including Road Atlanta and Talladega (Ala.) Grand Prix Raceway
A speed demon's library
♦The Technique of Motor Racing by Piero Taruffi. A classic work and my persisting favorite, despite its original appearance in 1958.
♦ Sports Car and Competition Driving by Paul Frére. A bit more “careerist” approach, intended for the would-be racer. Dates from '63, but Chapter 4, “From Slipping to Sliding,” is an enduring must-read for anyone hoping to “go quick.”
♦ Jackie Stewart’s Principles of Performance Driving: Roadcraft for the 1990s by Jackie Stewart. Published in ’92, this volume is nominally more relevant to today’s driving conditions (notwithstanding the timelessness of speed’s essential physics).
♦ A Twist of the Wrist: The Motorcycle Road Racer’s Handbook and The Soft Science of Road Racing Motorcycles, both by Keith Code. There’s no closer communion with the quintessence of speed than a sprint astride a pocket-rocket. These books describe the responsible way to get to and from the altar all in one piece.
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