Celebrating the Worst in Athletics
by Jeff Hause
Never let anybody say this column in hypocritical.
This column's Poor Sport is me. This is about my comeuppance.
As a jokewriter working for Jay Leno or Jim Rome or Gabe Kaplan's "Sportsnuts," car racing has always been an easy target. Why? Because the drivers are called "athletes," despite never having to stand up, let alone run. And in NASCAR they never even have to turn RIGHT.
So I'm in Long Beach last week to interview contestants in the Toyota Grand Prix for this site. It's a CART event, but they have a Pro/Celebrity race, so I'm there asking "racers" like William Shatner, Piper Perabo, and Erik Palladino about movies, TV shows, and basically making fun of the race.
They're typical SportsHollywood interviews: Ask the celebrities nice questions, slowly get more offensive, and then they motion their publicist over to shoo you away, and you move on to the next interview.
So as soon as my new buddy "Bill" Shatner gets tired of racing jokes about Mr. Sulu and going warp speed, I have some free time. And one of the organizers tells me that members of the press can get a free tour of the race track in a pace car with a pro driver. (You know -- the "athletes.")
Guess what -- they're really athletes.
My first sign of trouble is when they make me sign a release form in the event of my death. Most "tours" that I've been on don't involve signing a legal statement that my family won't sue if my head is crushed.
|What is it about restraining gear that makes you feel LESS safe?|
Then the pace car pulls up to give me the "tour." There are no side windows. Why? "You can't have glass flying everywhere when the door caves in," my helper explains. As the nice lady shackles me to the passenger seat, she says, "Don't lean your head too far. Last year the drivers had a bet who could get closest to the walls on turns. They scraped all the side view mirrors off." One of the drivers had actually flipped his car with a member of the press inside.
I meet my driver... Paul Tracy. He was the racer who won the actual Grand Prix the year before. And guess what... he's the guy who flipped the pace car giving tours the year before.
And he's grinning.
The best way to describe what happens next is to say that if I wet myself from fear, we're going too fast for me to soil myself -- it'll landed miles behind me.
When you're going 150 miles an hour not a lot races through your mind... except to say "Wall! Wall!!!" over and over, because a Grand Prix track is basically a line of concrete slabs placed along city streets do keep your mangled body from flying through a store window and upsetting the customers. The turns are almost 90% in places so usually it just looks like you're barreling straight ahead into concrete faster than James Dean and Jayne Mansfield COMBINED.
But then as "acceptance" level of the death process takes over in your mind, you realize what athletes these racers really are. Their hand-eye coordination has to be better-tuned than a baseball player's, because not only is the velocity twice as fast, it's extended to your FEET to work the pedals (except the brake -- we won't be using the brake), and there are a dozen other cars around you that are going just as fast.
Their brains work faster than ours, too. Their reaction time is astounding. They have to recognize the tiny man hanging over the wall a couple hundred yards away, waving a flag to tell them that a driver has crashed around the next corner and he is about to turn his vehicle right into a pile of flaming metal. And even if there is no car crash, there's still the next turn. If you take THIS turn wrong they'll be peeling you off the concrete on the next one with a paint scraper. Now try to do that AND pass the other cars, and you start to see how amazing these drivers really are.
So I'm not worried about Paul Tracy... but the drivers he's passing? I'm TERRIFIED of them. Do I know how Elisa Donovan is going to react when this guy angles around her at this speed? SHE JUST TOLD ME SHE'S NEVER USED A CLUTCH BEFORE THIS!!!
(Photo courtesy of Toyota Motorsports)
Well, I survive. It's actually the most fun I've had in years. And three days later I'm in a VIP seat for the Lakers/Knicks game at the Staples Center to see a one-point barn-burner, but the Grand Prix is all I can talk about.
Forget basketball playersI'd rather watch ATHLETES!!!
|MY CHAUFFEUR: Paul Anthony Tracy is known by the nicknames "PT" and "the Thrill from West Hill". Tracy competed in his first IndyCar event at Long Beach in 1991, renting a vehicle from Dale Coyne Racing for $105,000. His first full year of IndyCar competition came in 1993, where he won five times with his first win coming at Long Beach and the others at Cleveland, Toronto, Road America and Laguna Seca. In 1999, Tracy recorded seven podium finishes and was third in the championship.|
||Jeffrey C. Hause has written professionally (in a very amateur fashion) for entertainers like Jay Leno, Jim Carrey, Rodney Dangerfield, Gabe Kaplan, Rick Dees and people he'd rather not tell you about. He's also written screenplays at Warner Brothers, Disney, Universal, Columbia, Franchise Pictures, the Samuel Goldwyn Co., and Interscope. Here's his résumé. E-mail: email@example.com.