Rubin: What’s the wildest thing you’ve done in a car?

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

There is something inherently nutty about driving wheel-to-wheel amid a pack of speeding motorcars that tend to get airborne when their progress is impeded.

Yes, these are superb athletes operating brilliantly advanced machinery. But by any logical measure, the stability of the drivers and cars are questionable — and by extension, what does that say about the people who pay to watch them?

That’s not to insult the fans at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. You get noise, you get excitement, you get every permutation of fried food. When can we do it again?

Still, I had to wonder what the patrons themselves were capable of. If this is what you do for recreation, what do you do when you’re the driver? So I went to Belle Isle and asked ...

What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done behind the wheel?

A popular answer was the same one you’d get if you asked a similar question about airplanes, though ideally not from pilots. But beyond the unprintably obvious, would you believe changing clothes?

Or playing the bugle?

Or ripping across I-696 at 160 mph, with the car’s owner passed out in the passenger seat?

Sure, why not. And we haven’t even touched on the motorcycles.

Susan LaRush, of Ortonville, works in the suburbs at a bank and has a second job downtown as a massage therapist at the DAC. Between yon and hither, she says, “I have actually changed my entire outfit, from the shoes to the top.”

Off goes the suit. On go the uniform pants and the zip-up smock.

“You just have to be organized,” she explains — “and wear the right undergarments.”

At least she doesn’t speed. And neither did David Ellison, of Toledo, the day he bought a slightly dented bugle at a southwestern Michigan antique store.

He’s not a musician, mind you, but he thought it was interesting, and on the way home he decided to try it out.

“I thought I was pretty good,” says Ellison, 61. “My wife wasn’t too happy, though. She was asleep.”

Dodging Winnebagos

Also asleep: Donald Martin’s Corvette-owning friend, who realized one night in 2002 that he’d had too much to drink.

Wisely, he gave up his keys. Perhaps not so wisely, he handed them to Martin, now 58, of Madison Heights.

Martin merged onto eastbound I-696 from Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills. “Next thing I knew, he was passed out, so I took a shot.”

Martin has a Chevrolet of his own these days, a Cruze. He says he tops out at 70. But because it’s a small world, the helper at the Verizon booth where he was charging his phone has also driven 160 mph — on the autobahn.

Former Staff Sgt. Paul Irvin, 51, of Sterling Heights, was in Germany at the strong suggestion of the U.S. Army.

“Once you get used to it,” he says — meaning the speed, not the military, though it might apply to both — “you don’t really think about it anymore.”

Stateside, the fastest he has driven is 130 — on a Kawasaki Ninja. But wildness is not always measured with a speedometer, even on two wheels.

John Erickson of Troy sells Indian and Victory bikes at MotorCity Motorcycles in Bloomfield Hills, in the building where entrepreneur Roger Penske used to peddle (and practically pedal) Smart cars.

Erickson, 62, says the 78-year-old Penske has been eyeballing a new Indian Scout. As for himself, he likes riding through the Rocky Mountains or Grand Tetons, dodging Winnebagos on windy days along mountain passes with no guardrails.

“That’s fun,” he says.

Day-after thrills

In the Grand Prix’s early, less regimented years on Belle Isle, Mike Bondy, of Windsor, used to show up the day after the race and run hot laps on the track.

That’s wild and clever.

Sande Vucinaj, of Sterling Heights, turned quarter-miles at Detroit Dragway in her dad’s dragster — and also in her Chevy Celebrity.

That’s wildly optimistic.

A 50-plus woman from Clarkston ran high-speed circles as a teenager around a high school carnival in a Firebird Formula 400 — at her own high school. A 31-year-old man from Warren drove the wrong way down a one-way street in Cleveland — for a full mile — grumpily failing to recognize the context clues while he honked back at the people who were honking at him.

That’s wild and crazy, guys.

Dan Brad, of Warren, a 35-year-old automotive photographer, says he cranked his 2014 Dodge Charger up to 100 mph on I-75 when he was running late to Bay City.

It turns out that’s almost modest. But when he has a ’Vette or a Ferrari lined up in the lens of his camera, he punches the mental accelerator to the floor.

“That’s the whole idea,” he says, and in a daydream, 160 is only the beginning.