Sunday April 6th
It’s 6:00 am and I respond to the third snooze alarm from my Black Berry Bold. Even though it’s Sunday morning and I was out past midnight taking in the sights on Ocean Drive in South Beach, I feel wired and electrified knowing that “today is the day.” The sun is supposed to be hot in the Everglades, so I remove my black shirt and go with white to give my skin a chance.
I m with the Maverick Business Adventures, a group of successful entrepreneurs (I m the baby of the group) who condense business and adventure into mini-trips throughout the year. Our first day consists of a unique adventure experience and our second day consist of business sessions.
Today is Fear Factor live…
I scarf down a chocolate croissant and am reminded by how intense my hunger is when I wake up at 6 am instead of 8 am. My adrenaline is pumping so I won’t be needing any caffeine this morning. I have never been really much of a “car guy” but I know that dozens of my friends would kill for this opportunity so I plan on enjoying every moment.
Today is the day I join the 200 MPH Club and I am getting the tools to do it.
The “tools” are provided by World Class Driving which consist of a 3-mile airway strip once used by the military and now serves as our playground to test the limits of Italy and Germany’s finest collection of exotic sports cars.
After picking out our helmets and race shoes, we reviewed some brief chalk-talk, broke into groups and got ready for our first workshop. They start us off on a coned-off mini-circuit that is set up to get you prepared for the high speed and it feels like learning how to drive all over again. The acceleration of each gear is breathtaking and you can’t help to smile to yourself despite knowing you don’t have a clue of what you’re doing. Thank goodness these cars are smarter than me.
I begin in silver Audio R8 and developed an instant crush. This crush could have moved towards a serious relationship if my pride was shattered after losing control through the first high speed turn that reminded me that I wasn’t with my old girlfriend, I mean Acura, anymore. I slammed the gas into a straight away which terminates into a hair pin, leading to another straight and another high-speed turn.
We got 5 laps each and I progressively scaled up the intensity on each lap. By the 3rd lap, I was finding my lines, shifting smoother and began contemplating a career in race car driving.
That thought ended on the 4th lap when the instructor began egging me on to go faster and stop babying the car. In response, I sheepishly blushed wondering if I had expressed my dreams out loud.
After some compliments and corrections, I was offered an opportunity to cheat on the R8 who was in fact starting to bore me, and develop a new relationship with a gleaming orange Lamborghini Superleggera that wouldn’t stop giving me the eyes!
It never occurred to me how much nerves the instructors could stomach considering they were taking wanna-be’s like me behind the wheel. We all got to make a living!
I feel like I’m in a space ship when I fall into the lap of the Lambo. My relationship with the R8 are memories of the past! I strap up, tighten my helmet and do my best to absorb the instructions on gear selection and breaking points. I don’t want to disappoint the Lambo.
I punch the paddles and entertain 1st gear as I sprint away. I instantly discover that the Lambo is a completely different animal than it’s pet cousin and as soon as I berry the peddle to the floor, I think one thing. Vince needs a Lambo. I wonder if I can finance this over 50-years?
I never did well in math or physics during high school so the explicit instructions of gracing through the hair-pin go out the window when all you can think about is the full-force thrust. I forget to downshift into 2nd and practically stop the car when I hit the brakes which feels like 5 tone anchors gripping the pavement.
I accept the highlight of the day will be the full-throttle thrusts down the straight aways and hearing the car scream like a dying alien after discovering how much effort it will take to master the corners in just a few laps. Why didn’t we take this course in school?
I would have been happy just playing with straight-line speed all day but it’s not even 11 am and time for the next workshop.
Next workshop is preparation for launching our self onto the 3-mile straightaway to join the 200 MPH Club. I get to practice in a Corvette Caloway and Ferrari 599. It’s time to up the speed and move out the shallow end of the pool.
I start to question my investment into this experience as my confidence begins to disappear after my 2nd lap in the Corvette. The 200 MPH Club suddenly appears as an intimidating challenge. I’m forgetting to shift, taking the corners too narrow, not using all the road and turning in too early. Oh yeah, I’m braking too hard. No compliments this time. My only relief is when the instructor centers out one guy and says, “You and I need to talk…”
Driving these cars is a love hate relationship. You want to experience the speed to say you did it but when it’s done, you’re just happy you survived and content stroking it off the “to do” list. I never thought I would put high speed driving into the same category as “survivor” sports.
I suit up with a Belgian ex-pro for a few laps in the Ferrari – two people I don’t want to disappoint. I let my nervousness get the best of me and butcher the first lap with the same mistakes in the Corvette.
Over the Belgian instructors barking I manage to calm myself and collect my bearing and conquer my embarrassment and ask him directly, “TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT TO DO AND WHEN.” I’m determined to exploit this car the way it deserves, without anymore screw ups. I remind myself that I’m surrounded by asphalt and a world-class instructor. What could possibly go wrong? I muster up the courage and get focused for the final laps.
I turn my brain off and pummel the gas and begin my first attack up the straightaway with my eyes far ahead in the distance. I hit all my gears dead on at top speed and downshift perfectly, brake without desperation and power through the first turn with more speed than before. I ignore the rear swinging sideways and keep the gas planted savoring this childhood dream while I get my eyes up to the next cone and finally feel in control.
Now this is fun. I wonder if anyone is watching and hope someone is video taping when I realize you can’t day dream and push a Ferrari at the same time. Just take it all in Vinny and don’t get yourself killed.
The best part is getting out of the car while your buddies stand around and we all exchange high fives with grins that could have outcast the Joker in the Batman movie. I m still convinced that that our instructors have taken acting lessons because when I ask how I did they reply, “You are ready.” I guess it’s better to keep us confident whether it’s true or not!
The last workshop is to get us comfortable at top speed before we make our attempts at the 200 mph barrier – baby steps right? I slide into the passenger seat with a different Belgium instructor and am asked, “Ready to dance?” Yes, and my partner will be the lady in red – the Ferrari 599.
In our first attempt of a double century, I get acquainted with 195 mph. Let me say that nothing can prepare you for when we hit the breaks at 195 mph. I would have be thrilled with the run if I wasn’t busy recalibrating my vision!
Before my attempt, I get some extra pointers on coming out of the exit which is the deal breaker between 199 or 200. The track is just not long enough to hit 200 mph if you screw up this one corner, it’s do or die!
I am reminded by a pilot that I MUST break at the first orange cones or else you won’t have time to turn off the track and circle back. What happens if you miss the turn? You end up in swamp full of alligators. I’m not kidding.
I ask for the Lambo Superleggera to accompany on this mission. The previous driver, a man in his early 50s who is the first guy in our group to hit 200 mph. Surely, I could take him. He wishes me luck and I slither into the car to meet my female instructor. The instructions are clearly emphasized around the breaking at the end. First cone, lift off the gas. Second cone, touch the breaks and then SLAM when I tell you to.
I took the first bend in 2nd and rocket up the first straightaway into the turn that will determine my top speed, I keep my eyes up, stay relaxed, downshift to second, find my turn and smash the gas. I almost go off the runway taking the corner so wide but that was the plan. I’m almost red lining in 2nd so grab 3rd without hesitation and find the 3-mile straight away. This is it!
I think I missed 4th, thank goodness these cars shift by themselves which came up faster than expected. Fifth gear approaches slowly and finding sixth gear feels like a death march. I want to look at the speedometer, I must be at 200 mph by now. I look down and see only 160 mph.
My rational brain starts to beg for mercy. I trust my self and stay relaxed. My vision begins to get blurry. It’s hard to tell if I’m drifting. I can see some orange cones in the distance but keep barreling into the horizon.
Around, 185 mph my brain processes some disturbing thoughts of the car flipping. I blink and and snap out of it to hear the car screaming through the final meters.
The final 10 mph feels like another world and a push against unseen limits. I start praying the orange cones would show up sooner and at the moment I’m rescued by a voice, “Lift.” I release the gas gradually careful not to apply any violent movements. I touch the break at the second set of cones and crush the breaks. I probably hit them harder than necessary because we stopped a solid hundred meters before the swamp of alligators and my European instructor compliments me, “You have a strong food.” I proudly accept the compliment.
Reading my mind, my instructor says, “Good ride, you did 200.” Time to call my Mom.
Here’s the video of my adventure:
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