I recently had the opportunity to drive my Ferrari in a highly competitive, precisely timed, serious automotive racing event. It was a quarter mile drag strip located in the kind of place where fishin' is an acceptable destination for a honeymoon.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen of Jalopnik, you read that right: I took a Ferrari 360 Modena – known for its direct handling, excellent cornering, and precise steering – to a race track that forbids turning. I realize this was an unusual decision, but in my defense, turning can get very tiresome, what with all the moving your hands.
To be clear, I didn't go to just any drag strip. The drag strip I chose is located in the rural Southeast town of Commerce, Georgia (motto: "World's Largest Selection of Calvin Peeing Decals!"), home to approximately 6,500 residents and 47,000 cans of Skoal. Seriously: this is the kind of place where the most popular items at the local Wal-Mart are hunting rifles and pregnancy tests.
In other words: it was a very interesting night.
The evening started off around 8 p.m., when we arrived at the drag strip for "tech inspection." If you're familiar with an autocross, you know all about tech inspection: it involves a guy with a clipboard – who is an automotive expert in that he also drives a vehicle equipped with an engine – carefully perusing each car for "violations." He pokes around your car for about 20 minutes, examining highly important automotive qualities such as brake light sturdiness, before announcing that your emergency flashlight battery is out. "I'm going to let it slide this time," he says sternly. "But you should really get it changed if you ever plan on competing at a national level."
Well, it wasn't quite like that in Commerce. In Commerce, the tech inspector was a middle-aged woman whose examination consisted entirely of a) asking if I had modified the car, and b) asking if I would take a picture of her standing next to the car. She also insisted that my helmet was out of date, and told me that I should really get a new one. That was the real low point of the entire evening, because I found my helmet years ago in the trunk of a car I bought off a guy who was being deported, and I don't expect that situation to present itself again anytime soon.
So anyway: after tech inspection, we drove into the staging area, where I – and I use this term as a serious member of the drag racing community – staged.
Ha ha! I'm just kidding! I have no idea what "staging" is, or why anyone does it. But I do know, from careful observation, that "staging" appears to be what happens when several middle-aged men stand around a stripped-out Camaro with a roll cage and drink beer.
What I did, instead, was wonder why the hell there weren't any cars racing on the track. There were no noises. There was no action. What was going on?!?
As it turned out, there was a vehicle on the track: a medium-sized farm tractor moving up and down the quarter mile with approximately the same urgency as a union plumber. I later learned from fellow participants that it was there to dry the track, although no explanation was given as to why this was needed. It hadn't rained. It hadn't even sprinkled. My own guess is they have to drive the track every few hours because the spectators spit out so much Skoal that it becomes dangerous for participants.
If you're one of those people who wants to skip over all the background information and just get the facts, you're in the right place. I mean, you missed a couple of excellent Skoal jokes. But you're in the right place.
Here's what happened: after about an hour (an hour!), they had finished drying the track and I got a few passes in. You'd know this if you followed me on Twitter, where I posted one picture of the Ferrari racing a Miata – a race I easily won due to my brilliant driving abilities – and a second picture of the Ferrari racing a CTS-V Wagon, a race I lost due to a combination of factors completely beyond my control.
For those of you who dispute this claim, here's what I've learned from other drag racers: when you do well, it's because of your own excellent driving. But when you do poorly, it's because of the car, the weather, the track, the tires, the fact that it didn't "hook up," the lights, the crowd, the war in Afghanistan, asbestos, Hurricane Andrew (which destroyed your father-in-law's swimming pool in 1992), the dot-com bubble and, of course, President Obama, who takes the blame for a lot of things in Commerce, Georgia.
In my case, I lost to the CTS-V because of a missed shift: I went for third and got fifth instead. Naturally, I blame this occurrence on my burnt-out emergency flashlight battery.
In the end, my very best time came on my first run: 13.751 seconds at 103.12 miles per hour. Interestingly, my best trap speed came at the end of the night, on my last run, when I ran a 14.03-second quarter at 106.04 miles per hour. The variation here suggests that a) I have absolutely no idea what the hell I'm doing, and b) I should probably never return to the dragstrip, especially with my woefully outdated helmet.
More interesting was the local reaction to the Ferrari. Oh, sure, there were a few people who gave it angry looks, and the announcer referred to it as – this is true – "some sort of Italian stallion." But most people were genuinely nice to me and eager to check out the car. One guy in a sport bike outfit even came up to me, shook my hand, and said "You've got balls." That was a sign of ultimate respect, especially since he later ran a 9-second quarter mile on two wheels.
So what's it like to drive down a drag strip in a Ferrari? For that, I suggest you watch the video, which is exciting, and interesting, and fun, and – above all else – really poorly lit. Enjoy!
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.