(This is an archive written by the late Leslie Centanni. March, 2005) Let me entertain you with a personal encounter between myself and the seductive world of fast cars and racing.
My car died recently (the header gasket blew), and the rental guy only had one vehicle on short notice...a big, shiny, fire-engine red V-8 4-door pickup. Year: 2005. The thing was immense, a machine of larger than life proportions, built exactly at least twice the size of the average truck. I immediately protested. "I am NOT driving a WIND-UP toy to the office. I can't possibly park it. You must have something else." To which four salespersons, my husband in the lead, responded, "Take it.. just for the day. We'll get something else tomorrow. It goes fast, Les, I'm telling you. You will not be sorry!" Then, they unanimously agreed I'd "look hot" driving it. Deciding vanity was the better part of valor, I gritted my teeth, signed the paper, and stepped out into the bright sunlight to meet my maker.
The fire engine redness of the machine was stunning, blinding. It was very tall and very long, and would certainly be impossible to park. I held my breath at the feeling of power emanating from its presence. There was something compelling about its very largeness; the blunt lines and curves of its design drew the eye, and the hard, candy-shell finish begged to be touched. It was extreme and exciting, and my pulse started to pound ever so slightly at the thought that I'd soon be driving it. My husband and the rental guy exchanged a man-smile of insider recognition, as he wisecracked "she'll keep it.. you'll be getting the call in the morning. Trust me." Hissing something only a spouse could understand, I turned my back on them both, swung open the massive door, hauled my mother-of-four backside up into the driver's seat.
The first thing I saw was everything. We were twice as high as every other car, and nothing was blocked from our view. I refused to look at my husband, but could feel his eyes burning holes in me as he struggled to keep from laughing out loud. Muttering to myself, I affixed the massive mirrors, wrapped the hefty seatbelt around my body, pressed the gas pedal, and started the engine. The muffled roar of the engine rumbling to life raised the hair on the back of my neck. Like an animal that senses a storm coming, every nerve came alive. Taking a deep breath, I depressed the brake, put it in drive. As soon as I hit the gas, rocks sprayed from the tires, and the truck zoomed forward, quickly ramping up it's speed to match the pressure on the accelerator. Too late, I realized it was too much, and in that panicked second, braked to a halt at the end of the driveway, dramatically spraying rocks in the opposite direction and onto the highway.
Oh my god. My heart was pounding. Of all the vehicles I'd driven in my life, this was the most powerful. The heaviness and size made for an intimidating moment, when I wondered if we'd stop in time or become a smear on the highway. I looked down. The speedometer had a top level of 140mph. Why would a truck have to go that fast? This is NOT a vehicle for someone prone to fits of road rage. Like me. I looked at my husband, strapped in and calmly smoking a cigarette, waiting for me to admit I liked the big truck. But since he was apparently prepared to die to be proven right, I simply mumbled "sorry.. guess it got away from me" and eased the big shiny machine out onto the highway. Praying that everyone else would just drive around us, I lumbered home, my heart in my throat, as I studiously avoided curbs, signs, and people. Grateful for the early morning absence of traffic, I left my smirking spouse at our doorstep, and headed off to the office in the big, red truck.
Being alone with the beast let me relax enough to realize something I never really understood - that is, why does every man in the universe wants to drive a big, powerful machine? It was simply irresistible. Touch the gas pedal, just barely, and the beast hums with anticipation. Tap the gas, and it springs into action. Hold down the accelerator, and the big engine responds with a muffled roar of delight.. if you persist, it surges forward, leaving a hole in the pit of your stomach. It was wildly exciting, and I struggled to focus on the traffic building around me. The beast eagerly awaited my every movement, purring contentedly as we rolled along, readily answering my inelegant maneuvers with speed and sureness. People got quickly out of our way, staring at our large beauty with equal parts awe and aggravation. I saw how they avoided confrontations with me, and felt the satisfying thrill of exercising the intimidation factor. No one tailgated, crowded, cut off, or jumped in front of us. I watched merrily as eyes darting into rearview mirrors when our huge headlights loomed into view, and enjoyed the sheer pleasure of feeling like, for once, I was king of the road. It was euphoric. It was extreme. And there was no way I was giving this truck back.
So what does this have to do with Nascar and big business? The entire incident occurred during right before the Daytona 500, which is the superbowl of stock car racing. Driving that truck made me realize, in a very personal way, just how exciting big fast cars and trucks are. To tell the truth, my life has been filled with racing fans since I was a kid.. from my dad taking my brothers and me to the clay tracks every Saturday night, to being married to a devoted Nascar enthusiast. And yes, it's true some of my best naps (or housework) have occurred when a race is on. Frankly, the endless whirr of cars circling over and over, while soft-spoken announcers discuss endless details about every engine problem, tire change, pit stop and lap, can be mind-numbing. But as a driver who likes to go fast myself, I really came to appreciate the skill and concentration it takes to keep a big speeding car on the road, especially in cutthroat traffic.
Nascar racing has come a long way since it was formed in 1948. The days of modified street cars running on clay tracks have given way to scientifically and technologically innovative machines running on sleek, aerodynamically designed tracks. Engineering designs are studied and tweaked continuously, and the introduction of changes created to make racing cars run better or faster have, over time, found their way into cars the rest of us drive. It wasn't until the late-fifties, early-sixties that automobile manufacturers realized participating in the races, especially winning them, helped sell cars. Their hard-fought decision to commit themselves to the racing industry laid the foundation for a financial empire of epic proportions that continues to grow today.
The Winston Cup brand, once the standard bearer of the ultimate stock car racing prize, is gone forever, it's brand on the golden cup now relegated to memory. Nextel's struggle has left their crystal trophy in shards, as Sprint sets aside the lesser brand and eyes the prize for itself. Nascar struggles with safety issues, rule changes, aggressive young drivers who become testy at the slightest incursion, and crews that are always trying to find an edge for their guy.
Cars once marked plainly with a simple number have given way to cars covered with stickers, pictures, and other assorted works of art. Jeans and t-shirts have been replaced with futuristic jumpsuits, all of which are covered with logos and signs of various sponsors and advertisers. Theracing industry has become the most popular spectator sport in the world, a corporate bonanza, and a major source of revenue for hundreds of industries. None of the overt advertising offends me. Racing is a dangerously fun, exciting and colorful sport full of colorful people, and the perfect environment for grand gestures and big, splashy events.
In fact, due to the vicarious nature of sports as relates to the human cndition in general, some terminologies have found their way into the business world, feeding into our desire to appear vibrant and competitive while avoiding any real physical interaction. We want to come as close as we can to the actual experience without actually getting out of our chairs. The desire to experience surges of adrenalin-pumping excitement has frankly overwhelmed guys trapped in boardrooms or cubicles, so they employ racing terms in the same manner that they employ football, basketball, or hockey terms. Like most women, I found it amusing. But now that I've experienced the joy of driving a big, powerful, exciting machine myself -- intimidating other drivers, speeding in and out of traffic, ruling from the heights, feeling the deep-flowing energy of a powerful engine vibrating around me - my view has forever changed.
When someone says "where the rubber meets the road" ..it is the point of decision. If we're going "flat out" ..we're going as fast as we can with everything we've got. A racecar is sticky if the tires hold to the track, a product is "sticky" if it stays with a buyer. Crossing the finish line is making the sale. A hole-in-one is a successful negotiation, a home run is a winning presentation, and tackling the opposition is getting the naysayers to see it your way.
I hereby embrace my newfound relationship with the real nitty-gritty of life's more adrenalin pumping aspects, and encourage all you armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers to let your inner animal have it's moment in the sun, too.
In the meantime, the nice car salesman tells us he has a low mileage, 24-valve V-6 with a Jag engine that a little old lady drove to church. What's a girl to do?
Boogity-boogity-boogity...let's go racing, boys!!