I stood nervously by the side of the track watching the drivers zip by, managing the tight curves I knew I didn’t have the skill to handle. I wasn’t worried about crashing, I knew I could keep the car on the course, I just didn’t want to make a total fool of myself amongst what I knew would be tough competition. I wanted my race at Utah’s Miller Motorsports Park to end repectably, unlike my previous go kart experience so many years ago.
I pulled sharply off the course, scared out of my mind. I had taken several laps confidently, even passing my brother with a laugh, but a switched flipped in my head and I freaked out. We were on a family vacation to the Wisconsin Dells when I was a kid and my dad took us go kart racing. I loved the idea and thought it would be amazing fun. And it was, at least until I freaked out for some unknown reason and pulled off the course.
Years later that memory has stuck with me. I stood there with my head down, ashamed of my inability to drive a simple go kart, as my father waited patiently while the attendant fished my ticket out of a slot in a locked bucket so I could go on a different ride. It was embarrassing, but also economical – I got a second ride for the price of one.
As I shook John Gardner’s hand, the media representative for Miller Motorsports Park – which is just a short drive west of Salt Lake City – I had no idea he would later be taking our group go kart racing at the track. I was at a stop on a Utah Office of Tourism-sponsored trip which, I assumed, would be a simple speed bump to the other things I was more interested in seeing. Instead, it turned out to be a fun and interesting tour as I frantically tried to learn a new language – the one of automobiles.
Most of what John said went way over my head; four liter this, cylinders that, none of it made any sense to me. All I knew about racing was champagne spraying and Ricky Bobby – the movie, that is; I wanna go fast! I know nothing else about cars other than where the gas goes and that the oil should be changed on a somewhat regular basis. Beyond that, if it looks cool then I’m impressed and will nod my head off as someone dazzles me with words I know are English, but make absolutely no sense to me when strung together in such a fashion.
What did make sense, though, was when Gardner said the total value of their automobile museum was estimated at a cool $30 million. The gem of the collection, a light blue Ford GT40 Mk II is estimated at $10 million all on its own. In 1966 it was one of three Ford GT40s to sweep the finish at the internationally-famous (so much so that I even know of it) Le Mans race. Interestingly enough, though, as John told it, the driver was well in the lead until the Ford executives radioed down and said that they wanted a photo finish with all three Ford vehicles. That is when the driver slipped into second, losing the race on an incredible fluke.
I swept through the rest of the museum, admiring the amazing collection of cars. And despite my lack of automotive knowledge, I knew there were some really impressive machines there; no matter how naive you are, the name Cobra stands out. It certainly did with me, as did so many other cars in the collection.
Leaving the museum, we took a tour of the actual race course – the one where the big boys drive. With twenty-three corners, it had more turns than my daily 30-minute commute. It looked like a wicked track, one that would surely challenge the engineering on my tiny Ford Focus. Thankfully she wasn’t there – tucked away safely back home – to be rebuffed and shown up on such a course.
John took us on a driving tour and explained the finer points of the track, his knowledge absolutely boundless when it came to racing. At a point, though, I fell into a cone-of-silence and lost track of what he was saying; it was simply too much for me, a non-car guy, to comprehend. There were only so many new words I could learn in a day from my new language and, at that point, I was already at critical mass. The only thing I could understand at this point was that the track certainly had a great background with the mountains:
The tour ended as we pulled up to the go kart track. I was excited for the chance to drive, but also not interested in losing so much face so early on a trip with a bunch of other guys. I knew that if I didn’t have a good showing, and particularly if I pulled off the track because I was scared like in my youth at Wisconsin Dells, it could very well stick with me for the rest of what we dubbed our man-cation.
So, I hunkered down, put on my happy face, and stupidly teased the professional racer in our group – Simon Dion-Viens. I had no chance at beating him, but I at least needed to come off as confident. He laughed at me when I said I knew he’d pass me no more than five times. As it turns out – while he ran only two seconds short of the track record on his first ever run – he only passed me on four of the ten laps.
Simon chuckled with us and the rest of the group’s inability to handle such high-powered automotive masterpieces – or at least my inability – and clapped us on the back with happiness as we stood in awe of his time. He was humble about it and I was simply proud to at least have my first finish on a dreaded go kart track. And with that finish, a good start to a weekend man-cation in Utah.