When ex-Champ Car President Dick Eidswick
asked me at the Cleveland GP if I wanted a ride in the
Minardi F1x2 Champ Car 2-seat car at the next race in
Mont-Tremblant, Canada I could not say yes fast enough.
Who would not want a ride in these wonderful ex-Minardi F1
2-seat cars that are as close to the ultimate performance of
a Champ Car as anything on this planet, and to do it on the
undulating, high-speed Mont-Tremblant track was the icing on
Imagine then my disappointment when I had to
email Dick and tell him I had to forego my trip to
Mont-Tremblant because my father, who was fighting to stay
alive from cancer, had taken a turn for the worse.
Sometimes even my love for racing has to take a backseat to
more pressing issues.
Dad would die a couple of days later and,
because I was able to be at his bedside in his last days, I
never regretted canceling that trip.
Because of this tragic event and all the
post-funeral logistics to address I missed the Toronto and
Edmonton races too. So it wasn't until the San Jose GP that I
was back at the race track and Dick was kind enough to offer
me a ride the first time he saw me on Friday. OK, this
wasn't a track as spectacular as Mont-Tremblant, but
it would be a day I would never forget.
A fast call by Dick to Brandi Latimer (last
year's Face of Champ Car) who schedules the time of the rides
and my time was set for 11:45 Sunday morning. Dick
said to get
there by 11:00 to get your medical exam and suited up.
Because I could not wait, I arrived at the staging compound
outside the last turn of the short 1.4-mile San Jose street
circuit at 10:45, a full hour before I was due to be in the
A large gathering of thrill seekers had surrounded the tent
that housed the two orange and white cars, lured there by
the sound of the ear piercing F1 engines warming up.
The sound is unique to racing, an intoxicating crescendo of
music that screams out the exhaust headers of the short
stroke naturally aspirated V10.
The first order of business was to sign in
and John Hancock all the lawsuit waivers. Next was a
visit with the doctor who asked me a few questions about my
medical history and checked my blood pressure. I was
given a clean bill of health.
There were a total of eight of us taking a
ride that day. Two people had won the rides at a
charity auction the night before. Miss San Jose Grand
Prix, Marivel Salgado, was getting a ride as part of her
reward for winning the title the previous night, and there
was even a businessman from Japan.
I was in the second group to go out so I had
to wait in the hot drivers uniform until the cars returned
from their first run. The full outfit, including Nomex
underwear, a balaclava, drivers suit, shoes and helmet are
toasty warm under the hot California sunshine.
Paul Stoddart, the man behind these
wonderful 2-seat cars, came over to shake my hand. He
said to me, "You're up next. Time is short so we need
to get you in the car quickly."
Now I know what those sports car drivers go
through when they make a driver change during a pitstop.
OK, so they didn't get me in the car that
quickly because at 5'-11" and over 200 pounds getting me
into the passenger seat wasn't the easiest thing but once I
got my knees past the bulkhead I slid right down with no
problem. Everyone was doing their job with haste and I was
ready to go in several minutes.
They buckled my seat belts and Zsolt
Baumgartner, my pilot this day, lit the engine. It was
time to go.
Hold on tight
Others who had gone before me warned to watch out for the
braking, you'll bang your head on the bulkhead in front of
Zsolt dropped it into first and we were away.
As soon as he made the left onto the track's main straight
he nailed the throttle.
No warm-up, nothing. 100% throttle for
a good half a mile down Almaden Blvd. This
wasn't you're typical Sunday drive that's for sure.
Now I know why the doctor wanted to know what I had for
breakfast. "Damn," I remember saying to myself,
"This baby could get it on," the engine pulled hard all the
way to Turn 1.
The acceleration was incredible. I had to
stick my head out around the side of the bulkhead separating
Zsolt and I so I could see just how fast we were going.
There was no way I was missing anything.
As the engine ran up to 19,000 RPM after
each gear change I could feel the piercing sound of the
engine right behind me. Despite having earplugs in I
still felt a twinge of pain.
As we approached the first turn hairpin I
pinned my head backwards against the headrest in
anticipation of more braking force than I had ever
experienced. We passed the No. 3 braking marker and
then Zsolt hit the brakes. I managed to keep my head
upright but indeed, these cars really 'honker' down in a
I got the sense Zsolt went easy on me in Turn
1 so I could get used to what was to come. Although I
didn't see much down the straight I distinctly remember
seeing the fans taking pictures out the side of my eye as we
rounded the 180-degree hairpin.
The braking for Turn 2 and 3 was fairly tame
compared to Turn 1, but I still had to force my head
backwards to overcome the deceleration. Although I
could not see his feet my guess is Zsolt was left foot
braking because he went from full throttle to full braking
almost instantaneously. There was no transition period for
my head. It went from being pinned against the
headrest to wanting to slam forward against the bulkhead at
what seemed like the same time.
As we blasted down the backstraight (Market
Street) it was full throttle through the esses, not even a blip
of the throttle, and then another hard braking zone for the
The short spurt down Balbach St. took all of a couple of
seconds before we broke for the final right-hander which put
us back on the main straight for the start of lap 2.
With the tires even warmer Zsolt was ready to
go even faster. As we hit the braking zone for the
Turn 1 hairpin this time he went all the way to the No. 2
braking marker before slamming the brakes. Massive
deceleration I remember saying to myself as I fought to hold
my head upright.
How difficult it really must be to pass in
F1. The braking zone felt like it was no more than 75
feet from over 180 mph down to about 35 mph.
Zsolt clicked off the final two laps without
fanfare, each lap faster than the previous one. Then
it was back to the pits and the end of the ride of a
By this time I was beginning to feel rather
hot in the confined cockpit on this warm sunny day.
Anyone who says race drivers are not athletes needs to take
a ride in one of these cars. Between the constant
pounding of your body over the bumps, to the longitudinal
and lateral g-forces, and the heat, it really is quite
Getting out of the car was a lot easier than
getting in. Talking to the other lucky passengers and
hearing what they thought, the reaction was the same.
Everyone was thrilled. It will be a day we all will
Note: Rides go for $5,000 to $10,000,
depending on the day, so if your company wants to buy one
for one of its valued customers, or you want to buy your
spouse their very own ride of a lifetime, you can.
The author can be contacted at