Exactly one week before heading out to the 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross round in Atlantic City, I got a rather special email.
I’d just flown to Florida to spend a week holidaying with my family, we were out getting a bite to eat but I’d rather have been in bed to be perfectly honest. Well, that was before my phone buzzed in my pocket.
Now I’d been doing bits with Red Bull GRC for well over three years at this point, but what I’d just been asked was completely unexpected.
“Would you have any interest in a ride along with one of our drivers on Saturday the 27th?” read the email. Erm, yes!
Fast forward to Saturday the 27th and I’m at the track early, we all had stuff to do that morning so I was there three hours before I was due to get strapped in but there really was only one thing on my mind.
Come 11 o’ clock, I’m signing a waiver saying that if I were to be killed to death while having the time of my life, that’d be okay (don’t tell my Mum), and getting ‘dressed for the occasion’ with a three layer racing suit, balaclava, helmet and HANS device, but bear in mind it was more than 30 degrees Celsius that morning.
About 15 minutes later I’m walking through the paddock and Tanner Foust calls over to me: “Hey man, are you with me?”
I’d done some work things with Tanner in the past, but riding alongside him was something a little different to the usual interview or two.
As I’m getting strapped in, to the point I could barely move, Tanner leans over to me and tells me he’d never seen the track before. That was pretty obvious really; I’d walked the track while it was still being put together the day before.
“You’re the crash test dummy,” he quips. Gee, thanks mate.
What followed was an eternal wait. It was probably only five minutes but when you’re in a furnace wearing far too many clothes, a second turns into an hour. Before every Red Bull GRC event, most of the drivers take members of the media out on track for three laps – we were waiting for another batch of lucky journos to have their turn before we took to the circuit.
We finally got the nod to go onto the track. I had a small idea of what to expect after yesterday’s antics but frankly, I was way off. 0-60 miles per hour in less than two seconds, drifts, slides, 70-foot jumps and top speeds of around 130 miles per hour.
We launched off the line and went almost immediately into a hairpin turn which opened up onto the track’s dirt section. In the middle of this was Red Bull GRC’s signature 70-foot jump. Now, as you’ll remember, I was well strapped in, so every time we went over it I turned into puppet. I’d stay still, but all of my limbs would lift up in unison as if someone was pulling strings above.
Upon landing, a quick tug of the handbrake sent the car into a beautiful controlled slide as we left the dirt and went back to Bader Field’s various taxiways and runways. A twisty section then led onto the longest straight on the 2016 calendar, allowing the car to stretch its legs and reach a speed it rarely had the opportunity to before it slammed to a halt for another hairpin which was followed by a tight left hander.
After that, the track again opened up for the start-finish line, punctuated by a flat out left kink which saw us glide inches away from the solid concrete barrier. A cause for concern you’d think, but I was having way too much fun to care. Meanwhile, Tanner looked as relaxed as if he was sitting in the bath. Well, I guess this is his day job after all.
The car was unlike anything I’ve ever been in; dirt, tarmac, asphalt, concrete, no matter what surface it was on, it transitioned effortlessly. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the acceleration that got me. I mean, the car I was in – the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle GRC – is one of, if not the quickest accelerating car on planet earth. No, the big thing was the braking. Stamp on the brakes in a road car and the car slows down. Every time Tanner stamped on the brakes, the car stopped dead, leaving my internal organs in another postcode.
Three laps might not sound like a lot but the course at Bader Field was one of the longest in Red Bull GRC history, and while the experience seemed to be over almost as quickly as it started, while it was happening, I was processing every tiny detail.
As we made our way back to the paddock, I was in awe of what just happened. Tanner checked a couple of times to see if I was okay – I had no idea he was doing so at the time, that explains his cheeky thumbs up to the camera when we pulled up.
After I’d handed my suit, helmet, and HANS back, I cooled off and gathered my thoughts. Before I knew it three local police officers came over to me for a chat – they were just as excited as I was about what just happened! That was a pretty cool experience, but I had to go and talk to Tanner. He’d only done that one ridealong that morning so he was available.
We talked about the three laps, allowing me to learn more about the speeds, the challenges, and pretty much just what had happened.
All the fun aside, this was actually an educational experience. How many sports journalists get to experience what they report on first-hand? How many newspaper columnists have scored in the World Cup final or served an ace at Wimbledon?
I certainly hadn’t, but I’d done the next best thing.
Watch the the video below: