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Original Issue

Lapping It Up At Indy

HERE ARE the fivethings that were going through my mind as I was being strapped into thecoffin-shaped cockpit of an Indy car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

1. This is where Idie.

2. There is aworking hospital on the grounds; how can that be good?

3. Thirty-sevendrivers have died at this track since it opened in 1909, including 23 whilequalifying or practicing, which is basically what I'm about to do now!

4. A.J. Foyt'slast words of advice to me at breakfast, which were, "Don't screw it up,buddy, or I'll piss on your grave!"

5. Not all columnideas are good ideas.

And that's whenthey hollered, "O.K.! Start it!"

I blame Matchbox.You know, the miniature toy cars? The Indy racer was my favorite. So when Iheard that the Brickyard was finally allowing people to drive a real Indy car($399 for four laps at, I climbed on. I mean, howscary could it be?

Damn scary,especially if you're dumb enough to read about Indy racing beforehand. Youdon't want to know that an Indy car goes from 0 to 100 mph in less than threeseconds, which is quicker than a Learjet off the line; or that if you hit thetrack's wall hard enough, the car will break into 300 pieces, like anotherchildhood toy: Legos. Mommy!

By the time I wasin the fireproof shoes, suit, headsock, gloves and helmet, I'm sure I wasturning whiter than Edgar Winter at a séance. Indy Racing Experience's ScottJasek tried to buck me up. "Imagine!" he yelled. "Can you playAugusta the week of the Masters? No! Can you ride a horse at Churchill Downsthe week of the Derby? No! But you get to drive Indy the week ofqualifying!"

And I wanted toscream, "What's second prize?"

Foyt, who won theIndianapolis 500 four times, essentially said I was doomed. "That wall'skinda close," he said, in his Houston drip. "And them straightaways areso long it makes them turns look a little skinny. You might wanna lift [yourfoot off the gas] a little." A little?

I once heard aboutan Indy rookie who was told that the great drivers never "lifted" atIndy, but the kid couldn't get himself to take the turns at full speed. When hefinally did, somebody asked him how. "I just put my left foot over my rightand stomped," he said.

With much remorse,I pushed the button in the modified car that Arie Luyendyk drove at Indy in2001. That started my favorite whine, and the crew began pushing the racer.Yeah, two guys push-start you in fifth gear because they don't trust amateursto shift. Kind of takes the glory out of it, though. Sort of like showing upfor your big date with Halle Berry and your mom's in the backseat.

Meanwhile, thedriver in the Indy car I would follow, Jeff Sinden, was already 100 yards aheadand leaving me behind like the rest of 'N Sync. I had no choice but to floorit. The car scorched off, and pretty soon the wind felt like it would pull myhead off my neck. I started getting lightheaded and seeing spots, and then Idiagnosed the problem. I wasn't breathing.

The turns werehairier than ZZ Top. Engineers say going 220 mph down the straightaway at Indyand then hitting Turn 1 is the same as you driving down your street at 76 mphand suddenly turning into your driveway. I believe it.

And it's all madeworse by the fact that your clenched butt is sitting about a stack of quartersoff the ground, and those huge Firestones are howling out in front of you andyour lead driver has vanished again, forcing you to jam the accelerator downthe straights. At one point, I actually thought, If I go any faster, this thingwill blow!

After four furiouslaps, I coasted in, elated, looking for Foyt so I could yell, "Pisssomewhere else, buddy!" I whipped off my helmet and asked the lap guy,"How fast did I get? Was I over 150?"

He looked at hisclipboard. "Not exactly." Turned out my lap average was 95.

Ninety-five? Howdo you go back and tell your friends you got to drive at Indy and only went95?

"Ninety-five?" my suburban pal Bill sneered. "I go 95 in myminivan!"

Here is the onething that is going through my mind now that I'm done driving a real Indy carat Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Can I try itagain?

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My clenched butt is sitting about a stack of quartersoff the ground and those huge Firestones are howling, and at one point Ithought, If I go any faster, this thing will blow.

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