The prayer was brief -- but effective. There I was at the Daytona International Speedway with the opportunity of a lifetime. I was invited to take a ride in one of the pace cars around the tri-oval. Sweet Mercy!
My cousin Clint --- the firefighter from Memphis and a diehard NASCAR fan -- warned me. "Cousin Todd, don't embarrass the family. Don't puke on national television."
I promised that I would do my best. My divine appointment was Friday at high noon. I wandered down to pit row at Daytona International Speedway as the Florida sun burned down on my back. I squinted into the light, catching what I thought was a buzzard circling over head.
I swallowed hard, took a few unsteady steps toward the race car and sensed regret at having eaten breakfast at Waffle House. My destiny would soon be in the hands of a NASCAR driver named Andrew.
Andrew was an affable fellow. He told me to hop into the passengers seat and buckle up. I asked to see his DMV record. He assured me he had a clean driving slate --- more or less. Before I could respond, he floored the gas and I slammed back into my seat. And let me tell you folks --- I was in for the ride of my life.
We hit Turn One at around 115 miles an hour and I came pretty close to having my scattered smothered and covered end up scattered smothered and covered.
By Turn Three we were burning some serious rubber --- 130 miles an hour. The g's were squashing me in my seat. I was trying to hoot and holler --- to cover up the shear fear that was corsing through my veins.
I tried to pray but my lips and cheeks were too busy shimmying and shaking to function properly. We were coming into Turn Four when I glanced over and noticed Andrew did not have his hands on the steering wheel. At that point I uttered something that might seem a bit unChristian.
"Sir, I feel it is my duty to inform you that Department of Motor Vehicles regulations require that you position your hands at ten o-clock and two o-clock." Well, that's what I meant to say. Instead, I said some things about his family heritage. It wasn't my greatest moment, but Andrew seemed to get a pretty good laugh out of it.
My second time around the tri-oval, I settled down a bit and sort of got the hang of things. For awhile there I imagined I was Luke Duke, hurtling around Hazard County in the General Lee, hauling moonshine, whistling at girls in daisy dukes while Waylon strummed his guitar in the back set.
Well, I must say it was pretty darned exhilerating as we crossed the finish line and pulled into pit row. It's hard to imagine going twice as fast with 42 other guys door knob to door knob, bumper to bumper for 200 laps. That takes some hardcore skill and talent.
On the way back to my hotel, I decided to put a few of my newfound skills to good use. I pulled onto Interstate 4 and let my Mazda do her thing -- 65, 70, 75. My Dale Earnhardt Junior dreams were shattered by a pair of flashing lights in my rearview mirror.
Uh oh, I thought. Something tells me that's not a pace car.