The Joy Of Driving Slow

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Today's sports cars make 100 MPH feel like you're standing still. Boring. It's much more fun to edge towards the century mark in a car that makes you feel like you're about to die.


I've driven an Audi R8 prototype through Manhattan traffic and can therefore confirm the following automotive maxim: "It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow." If you don't believe me, watch a NASCAR race where average speeds bump up against 200 MPH, and then go watch a random European touring-car race. Lower speeds plus slower cars equals more action. Period.

As much thrill as a fast car imparts on the track, driving one on the street is usually an exercise in asceticism. You make yourself slow down, avoiding speed for fear of getting a ticket or causing an accident. You become a magnet for cops and would-be racers. It's no fun.

At the other end of the spectrum is my Volvo 240. Pushing the limits in a dog-slow station wagon, I warrant no close looks from the police and no taunting revs from stoplight racers. And even when I'm not moving with pedal-to-the-floor bravado, driving a slow car slowly is also enjoyable. I got a license to drive, not commute, and most people's experience with hasty driving is limited to being late to the office. Not fun. Not joyful. Not for me.

As a teenager, cruising my hometown in a big Mercedes-Benz 300D with the sunroof open and wind in my hair, I felt more a part of my car and the world around me than I have in most of the sports cars I drive today. For reference, the Benz was powered by a five-cylinder diesel that would've been more at home in a tractor. By comparison, the current Chevrolet Camaro is faster, but it also leaves me feeling detached from my surroundings. The windows are tiny. The sounds of nature are muffled. It's claustrophobic. It's like driving around in a port-a-john.

Fittingly, slow is also the best way to see the world. Crossing a country on a purposefully extended road trip is how we learn about others, and how we learn about ourselves. John Steinbeck once traveled this great land in a six-cylinder GMC truck with a camper on it. It was a vehicle with what he called "ready goodness," and he gladly admitted to ignoring it, the better to focus on the America around him. The result of his trip was the book Travels With Charley, one of the best things ever written about gazing into America's soul. Alex Roy traversed the country in much less time than Steinbeck, but his book doesn't teach you much about what the latter called our "monstrous land."

Do I enjoy driving fast, and will I continue to love speed? Yes. But I also don't care that my car isn't the fastest around the 'Ring or even the fastest around my block. There's a joy to driving slowly, and it's a joy best experienced in a slow car. As the poet once said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."



This is the right way to drive slow. Be still, my heart.