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Editor needs more speed, fewer turns in IndyCar

By Walter Middlebrook, The Detroit News
Walter Middlebrook is ready for some racing Thursday on Belle Isle.

Detroit -- Where do I put my hands? Of all the things to consider, that's what was on my mind as I was strapped into the IndyCar two-seater for this opportunity to experience the Belle Isle Grand Prix.

After all the conversations, all the concerns that had been raised for signing up to sit in the cockpit-like seat of the car, my biggest concern had been about what to do with my hands.

"You can put them on your knees or you can hold on to the next brace," one crew member suggested.

He had a point. My knees were less than a yard's length away after being crammed into the space that the drivers occupy.

Now I was getting scared. What had I signed up for? My pride was on the line.

The Detroit News sports editor had heard my report about a racer I had seen the week earlier in the old Fashion District of west Detroit that had been set up to promote this weekend's races.

Did I want to try it out? Let's be serious. I've never watched or been to an auto race. Worse yet, my friends call me "Myrtle the Turtle" for my reluctance to push speed limits. Why should I do this? Challenge accepted.

Up to this point, the preparations had all been about safety. Sign the clearance form. Put on the full-body fire suit. ("The toes have to be covered, ma'am," one rider was told.) The dressing took all of 10 minutes and then there was a wait. The anticipation kicked in. And the conversations. One rider, a member of the track medical team, starting talking about heart beats and how the measurements taken during our projected ride would lead to immediate admission in the ER. Another joked about heading to the bathroom – just in case.

On this day, I was one of eight people who were getting strapped into these small but speedy racers. Did I say small? There was just enough room to slide my 6-foot frame into the cockpit. If I didn't know any better, it was as if the driver and I were preparing to sled down a hill.

But once into that seat, the notion of sledding was over. The helmet was secured. The seat belts tightened. The facemask pulled down and on the signal, the little car roared and we were off.

The driver put the car through its paces. The speed, the noise, no problem. But those tight turns, my goodness. Why would they do that to a driver or to that car? These cars are meant for speed, and to have to slow down for those turns just seemed to take away from the experience. But we took that track and I was king of the road for that two-minute lap. No screams, no closed eyes and none of the other things those other riders had set me up for.

If you see the video, you'll see that this was just a head-bobbing, speedy flat roller-coaster ride on the island.

Walter Middlebrook is assistant managing editor at The Detroit News.

Walter Middlebrook gets a driver's view of the Belle Isle course Thursday.