I know. I suck at writing consistent blog posts. I would give myself an F, but I guess that’s OK, since I really dig that beautiful letter 🙂
No offense. I really do appreciate you reading my posts; it’s just kinda difficult to pause my new life and sit my ass down to write. My chair pillow even tells me I should be out there seizing the day.
I just celebrated my 6th transplanniversary! I can NOT believe it’s been six years since my brother’s marrow was transplanted into my empty bones. I visited City of Hope for AFBT and a check up with Dr. F, who reported that my counts are f-ing fantastic 🙂 Six years ago, I was wasting away in my hospital bed, never imagining fantastic blood counts. I never even imagined being well enough to leave City of Hope, let alone put the pedal to the metal in a dragster.
I dedicated much of this year to ripping holes in my Buttkick List. Destroying it. I’m stoked that I crushed nearly 20 items on my List in 2018. Most recently, I took four runs down a drag strip.
Once I learned that it was possible to drive a dragster, I couldn’t punch in my registration information fast enough. Then I received my confirmation. I paused and thought about what I had just signed up for. I tried to imagine what it would be like in the car. I looked up the Yelp reviews. Daunting. When I was a little girl, my family attended car racing events, including drag racing. The deafening sound, the burning rubber smell, the thick smoke, the colorful blur, the body-thumping vibrations, the dancing parachutes, the fire trucks and ambulances at the ready. It all played out in my mind. I panicked and looked up the refund policy.
I went back and forth, second guessing, like I’ve done with all of my intimidating Buttkick experiences, but I knew, once again, I had to go through with it. I just couldn’t live with myself if I pussied out. The fear of letting myself down was greater than the fear of driving a dragster.
Todd and I drove an hour to the Irwindale Raceway on the big day. He’s incredibly supportive in all of my pursuits, always at the ready with the camera. When we got out of our car, we could hear engines accelerating. I was so relieved. Those engines sounded pretty throaty, but not something I couldn’t deal with. Then I realized those sounds were coming from the “exotics” that were available for fun $100 test runs around a couple of cones in the parking lot. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens. Beautiful cars. Not intimidating cars. The course was set up to allow a top speed of about 50mph. And the paying customers were placed in cars with “professional” drivers riding shotgun. Pussies. All of them.
I convinced myself that I was braver than the “exotic” peeps, and I stepped over to the dragster check in area and WHAT THE F IS THAT????
I quickly figured out that THAT was a dragster being fired up somewhere behind the check in trailer. My normally neat penmanship was barely legible on the sign in sheet, due to the shakes, and I made stupid smalltalk with a guy who also planned to do the dragster thing. “Sounds like they’ve got an angry t-rex back there, right mate?” What idiot says that?
The check in guy said he hoped I didn’t eat much for breakfast. Then I was handed a flameproof black racing jumpsuit, headsock and helmet. Ummm. This looks pretty serious. Those “exotic” peeps are wearing jeans and Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts.
Riding shotgun on my ride along.
The first part of my dragster experience is a ride-along. These clever folk have taken a regular dragster and modified it by welding two cockpits together. All I have to do is go along for a ride. Cinchy. When I was called for my turn, a woman walked towards me, having just finished her ride. “How was it?” I asked. She said, “Oh my God,” but I could tell she was crying. I asked if she was going to drive a dragster next. She looked at me as if I had asked if she was going to jump on the back of a wild tiger. “No way,” she said.
I’m asked to step up to the car and climb inside the roll cage. It was NOT comfortable. I looked over at my driver, but I couldn’t politely ask him not to kill me, due to the thundering engine. I was strapped in, given gloves and then my arms were chained to my harness, only allowing my hands to move a few inches. WTF is that about? My visor was lowered on my helmet, and I was off to the starting line, trying to take in a few deep breaths, perhaps my last. I had watched a few of these ride-alongs earlier, and so I knew we were going to do a long, smokey burn out before we lined up for the actual run down the strip. I could feel an unreal 8,000,000,000,000 horse exertion behind me during the burn out, but it only lasted a few seconds. Then we backed up and put our nose on the line. Is something on fire? The tree of lights started illuminating at the top, then one at a time until the lowest green light shined, and my helmet was slammed against the back of my cage and we flew down the strip. Wow! Now that was something! Not too scary – it was actually really fun!
But now I am supposed to get into a single car and drive myself down the strip. Maybe it wouldn’t be too lame to bail at this point. I already went down the strip. I already rode in a dragster, right? Doesn’t that count? Can I check the box? It was getting close to the start time of my driving instruction. I decided to just attend the class and see how I felt after that.
One of my runs down the strip
There were about 12 guys in my class. Mostly 30 or 40-somethings. I was next to the guy I had spoken with at check-in. He said he had been around drag racing his whole life, and this was his dream – to drive down the strip. I was way out of my league. Our instructor went through all the steps of driving a dragster, and my classmates seemed very familiar with it all. You have to use both feet, as the pedals are really spread out. Steering is done with a tiny metal piece shaped like a bow, but you can’t really steer, because you can easily oversteer, which will send your car into a roll, which is why your arms are chained into the cage. No arms flailing outside a rolling dragster. They’d prefer you keep extremities intact in case the tires leave the strip.
You need to do a burnout just before your run by slamming on the gas for two seconds, then easing on the brake. I was going to skip this part, because it terrified me, but he said it’s not optional. Burnouts are necessary to warm up the tires, or else they won’t stick, and you’ll fishtail all over the start. Oh holy hell. I have to do a f-ing burnout. There’s a crazy Zamboni-looking contraption that sprays glue on the strip to help hold the tires down, but apparently that’s not enough. After the burnout, you move the nose up almost to the line, watching the light tree for the second green, then glide four inches closer to the line, where you stop, then roll slightly right up to the line, and by then you see the lights starting down the tree. You slam on the gas at the second to last light, because when your brain tells your foot to hit it, and your foot reacts, the last light is already shining. The pedal remains floored until you hit the 1/8th mile marker, then you let up and slowly brake until you come to a stop, where you make a three point turn at the end of the strip. You then drive back to the start along the side road. All of the steps at the start have hand signals that you must follow from the track director dude. That’s assuming you remember all the signals.
Somehow, I get the last position, so I get to watch everyone else go ahead of me. One driver had the fire truck chase him down the strip with lights flashing. Turned out to be a false alarm, but that got my attention. The guy who had been around drag racing his whole life forgot the hand signals and did a burnout when he was supposed to lower his helmet visor, screeching within inches of the track director dude. He was sternly warned that he was going to be ejected, which freaked him out. When he finally hit the gas, he drove super erratically, which freaked me out.
I was overthinking all the information swimming in my head, which made me more nervous than a tightrope walker with vertigo. As I was strapped into the #8 car, I thought my phobic sweat could have fueled the dragster better than the 110 octane racing fuel.
One of the attendants could tell I was beside myself with anxiety, so he shut off my engine and went over the basics with me one last time. Then he fired her up, and I was on my way to the start. My burnout was pretty lame, but not the worst of the day. Then I got up to the line and took off at the GO light. I floored it the whole way down the strip, and never even thought of steering, not really on purpose, but thankfully my car flew perfectly straight. I was stoked and so relieved that I had done it. Cruising back down the side road, cruising in front of the grandstand was euphoric. I came back around to make my second run, after a more respectable burn out, then my third. I improved my speed each time, hitting just over 100mph in 1/8th mile.
I didn’t want to get out of the car when it was all over. I absolutely loved doing what I would have missed out on if I would have followed my bail out plan. I’m so thankful for my little inner voice that tells me to just GO!
I am packing today for a trip to Machu Picchu, to check another item off my Buttkick List and I was going to include Diamox (acetazolamide), the drug I’ve taken on my mountain climbing trips to help with altitude acclimatization. Upon reading the side effects of the drug, my daughter, Mychaela, said, “Oh my God! Aplastic Anemia!” Sooo, ya, I’ll NOT be taking Diamox on this trip, and I’ll have an interesting talk with Dr. F at my next appointment!
My Buttkick List can be seen on my blog here and on my Instagram buttkicklist.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and I wish a fantastic 2019 for all!