Friday, January 22, 2010

Flying pylons

I'm sure I wasn't supposed to react to the news this way, but I did the way I did. I heard General Motors was auctioning off a super-duper limited-edition exclusive-as-a-Kona-slot Corvette Z06 this weekend, and that the proceeds will go to the relief effort in Haiti. And my reaction was:

Hey! I drove one of those!

I did. Not the one-of-a-kind, last-off-the-line one they're selling, but whatever Z06 it was provided by Spring Mountain Motorsports in Pahrump, Nev., when I raced in the 2006 Nevada Passage. The Nevada Passage was a kind of adventure-race, reality-TV, tourism-commercial hybrid that had ten 2-person coed teams competing in six short, intense (pronounced "not ridiculously hard to film") events in as many rural Nevada cities. The northern cities were absolutely beautiful, a far cry from the correct but grossly incomplete Vegas image too many people associate with the state. Pahrump, it happens, was not one of those gorgeous cities. Pahrump the town didn't do it for me. But the race track was incredible.

They had us racing the Corvettes around a 1-mile course on a giant, open expanse of asphalt, with orange traffic cones designating a turn about every 50 or 100 yards, max. There were no 100-mph straightaways. There didn't need to be. As the fighter pilots say, speed is sex but acceleration is orgasm. These 'Vettes could soil your Jockeys without ever leaving first gear. Team Journalist (we were teamed up according to occupation; Team Journalist, Team Firefighter, Team Cop, Team Accountant; it was like the Village People with firmer abs) never stood a chance, with the xy journalist working from his house with no commute and the xx journalist living in Manhattan and not having driven in five years. But we were already out of it anyway, and this event explained why clearer than ever.

Time is money, and so, it turns out, is the use of a new Corvette Z06. So each person got to drive exactly twice, for about 45 seconds. Once for practice and once for real. Best time won, but seconds were added for touching cones. Both of my opportunities -- call me Mr. Flat Learning Curve -- I turned in modest but respectable times, it seemed to me, without touching a single cone. Call me Mr. Accurate Flat Learning Curve, at least. But the winners, who, it should be said, had shown a pattern as such long before arriving in Reno, simply got into the Corvette and said, "Not my car," and floored it. Pylons scattered like surprised starlings, and by the time the cones were replaced and the math was done, there weren't nearly enough flying-cone demerits to offset the extra speed. And I think they had more fun.

I took note. We had one more event to go, a jet-ski race outside a town even more depressing than Pahrump. I vowed to race as recklessly on somebody else's jet ski as I should have in somebody else's Corvette. And I did.

And I still stunk up the race. But I smiled a little more.


veloben said...

No jet jockey ever went down hill on rural New England roads at 49mph with no enclosure and just two wheels.

Jef Mallett said...

I have, in fact, made such descents in Vermont, and I have to say it beats the Corvette hands down. Or landing a Cessna at the old Meigs Field, which is as close as I've ever come to putting a jet on a carrier. Which, while, fun, isn't very close.

veloben said...


Well you haven't piloted till you've brought in a Cessna 151 to Clow "International" surrounded by a bunch of Doctors trying to remember where the GEAR DOWN lever is in their Beech Baron or Twin Bonanza. Do the head in the cockpit stuff before flying through the pattern. Clow's "runway was 12 feet wide. Which is another story.

Much safer and more fun was trying to get the right technique to 3 point a Piper Cub on some grass field in northern Illinois. Never got that right enough to make my instructor happy.

When I get too old and decrepit to cycle I'm going back to flying.

Michael said...

How exactly do you determine when you're too old and decrepit to cycle?

I've seen some pretty old men out there!

Jef Mallett said...

Holy smokes. Veloben needs to write my next few columns (blog entries, rather; can't shake the old newspaper vocabulary) for me. He's WAY more interesting. Wow!