Fans at Chicagoland Speedway get ride in NASCAR race car
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org October 11, 2012 10:38PM
Downers Grove resident Larry Colletti (at left) climbs into a car during the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Chicagoland Speedway Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:28AM
JOLIET — The NASCAR racer thunders out of the pit and begins a 165 mph whirlwind run, ascending to the top of the turn near the skyline terrace at Chicagoland Speedway.
Rocketing high up on the slope, the car tilts sideways at an 18-degree angle. Powerful g-forces push the passenger upward and outward toward the secure righthand door.
If the car were to stop here, the occupants would sink downward, toward the middle of the track. With those “big g’s,” however, the driver and passenger are in a surreal and suddenly quiet orbit above the infield. At this far-flung height, at this breathtaking speed, you can almost hear the echoes of fans, tens of thousands of voices and cheers, from September’s Geico 400 race.
Then the car slings into the backstretch, the roar returns, and the engine is screaming like the sky opening up and fury breaking through.
On Thursday — during Chicago Ideas Week — the Richard Petty Driving Experience gave fans the thrill of being passengers in race cars roaring around the track at Chicagoland Speedway. This 1.5-mile, D-shaped, tri-oval track is Joliet’s very own, and the largest sporting facility in Illinois.
Fans also learned about advances in racing technology during a discussion with Scott Paddock, speedway president, and David Zucker, chairman of Petty Holdings.
Then the fans, dressed in racing suits, ventured out to Pit Road, where they put on helmets and rode as passengers in the loud and sleek NASCAR machines. Sammy Hagar’s song “I Can’t Drive 55” played on the speakers.
“I thought it was exhilarating,” Randy Stella, of Downers Grove, said of the NASCAR ride. “When you hit that first corner, it was unbelievable. That was a rush and a half. Then as we hit the second corner, he started going faster, and the g-forces just push you up against the car. I thought that was the best part.”
Randy and his wife, Kathy, spoke from the Pit Road area, where the race cars zoomed off in sets of three on Thursday. The cars started in the pit box — the same place where pit crews go over the wall during a NASCAR race.
These crews can refuel a car and change all four tires in 11 to 13 seconds. As the cars depart, their tires spin out, leaving large black streaks on the road.
Driver Craig Dori took a Herald-News reporter on 40-second laps around the track in a NASCAR racer that has a Ford Fusion body and a 650-horsepower, 358-cubic-inch Chevrolet V8 engine.
Week of innovation
Chicago Ideas Week — Oct. 10 through 16 — brings together people from a variety of professions: artists, engineers, technologists, inventors, scientists, musicians, economists, explorers and more. Thursday’s discussion at Chicagoland Speedway was just one of many events where professionals spoke to audiences about innovations and ideas.
For more information, visit www.chicago
The Richard Petty Driving Experience was founded in 1992 and now operates 150 cars at 26 tracks around the nation. More than 1 million people have had the thrill of the driving experience.
And fans can take the ride-along Friday and Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway. Visit www.drivepetty.com.
If you ever have watched a NASCAR race at this speedway, you know that the infield essentially is a small city — with a population greater than most towns surrounding Joliet. With its many campers, crews, media folk and party-goers from all across America, the infield is also a culture, a civilization teeming with excitement and spontaneity.
To orbit this place at high speed — frozen in time — is like being a satellite, silently watching, seeing multitudes in the mind’s eye, capturing a vast idea.