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Reb lands ride in Gibbs Motorsports car


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Reb auditions for Gibbs Motorsports @ Texas Motor Speedway..............

Or will Bruton and Eddie charge me if I knock down a wall?

By J M Hallas

Ok, so I guess you’re all wondering where the heck I’m going with this, right? After a year and half of delays, rain outs, I got the opportunity to drive the Gibbs Racing car of Tony Stewart. How is this possible that a no name, part time racer, turned reporter would get a ride in Tony Stewart’s car? Alright, time to come clean, a gift given to me by my father, through the Team Texas Driving School at Texas Motor Speedway.

 

The following will be a time line, recap and highlights of the weekend trip;

 

Sat. 20th 5:30AM. Wake up call. Drag my butt out of bed. S/S/S

6:00AM. Pack car.

6:35AM. Leave house to take my dog to the sitter.

7:00AM. Finally hit the road. TMS or bust! Wait maybe that’s a poor choice of words.

8:45AM. Lampasas. Pit Stop, Fuel only($2.58/Gal.) 3 Minute stop, damn I need a new pit crew.

10:03AM. Stephenville. Pit stop, at least I’ll spell it with a “T” and save Nick some editing. Also picked up a 12 pack of Dublin Dr. Pepper. The original DP, good stuff!

11:05AM. Tarrant County line. Traffic slow down, Ford F-350 flipped over in bar ditch after blowing a front tire. Must have happened recently, no police or EMS on site yet. Driver out talking to others stopped on roadside. All of a sudden I’m having these bad visions..... ....nah, this can’t be an omen.

12:00 Arrive at hotel in Grapevine. Meet my father in lobby of hotel. First time I’ve seen him in about 20 years. Still we recognized each other. Spent some time talking the upcoming evening and schedule at the track. The first time my father has been to a race track in about 40 years. My father was the first one to introduce me to racing at Illiana Speedway and US 30 Dragstrip back in Indiana 40 years ago.

1:20PM. Take father to lunch at a Texas tradition, Whataburger. None of those in Wisconsin! After seeing the size of the burger, he got it.....What a burger!

1:50PM. After a five hour drive and hearty lunch, time for a short nap.

3:00PM. Get up and get ready to head to track.

3:30PM. Leave for track.

4:00PM. Arrive at track and give father the two dollar tour, myself. The Speedway Store/ticket office, the dirt track, the “lil” Texas Motor Speedway(watched some Legend, Bandelero and Thunder Roaster qualifying, then around to the front stretch. Walked in and checked out the Corvette club show and out to the front straightaway.

During that time Team Texas had a car on the track running practice laps. Interestingly enough it turned out to be “someone” getting some practice in for the USRA race coming up in June. After driving around to the Team Texas part of the garage, I just happened to find out who was in the car. Met and talked to Matt Merrell and his father for several minutes before going to the Team Texas trailer to sign in.

While reading over the Team Texas disclaimer sheet, that you are required to initial and sign, I had to chuckle at one of the line items. “You must be in good physical condition and mental health....” Hmmmm, some would say mine is questionable at best, and not the physical part either!!! Now that I’m signed in and there’s no turning back now, a little nervousness is starting. Where’s my smokes!!

6:00PM. Meeting called to order by Mike Starr. A group of over 50 there to drive along with numerous others there for the ride alongs and limo rides. What a crowd. Starr helped take the edge off anyone, like me, injecting humor into his lecture that included, proper way to enter/exit the track, line, mandatory lift off points, the one and only passing zone(EIRI) and the list of his “idiots”, the co-drivers brought in to ride with us. Starr continuously reminded us that we are here to have fun.

6:38PM. Meeting adjourned and we’re taken out on the track in vans where we are once again reminded of the do’s and don’t’s in a two lap refresher of what we had just been told.

6:45PM. We are broken up into groups of ten, by size/weight to get the right cars to fit us. Needless to say, I’m one of the smaller ones of the entire class. But that works out well in the end. I’m selected for group 5. So now I have time to kill after finding a drivers suit to fit my skinny butt.

7:00PM. Check out the first group on the track. Man, they look slow after watching NASCAR and IRL from pit road before. Oh wait, we’re expected to be slow. The car has a rev limiter chip in it to begin with and most of the group has little to no experience. Group two looks a little faster. Group three is getting to speed quicker. Now the nerves are starting to get a little ‘edgy’ again as my group draws nearer.

8:00PM Finally my group is called to the drivers tent. An instructor gives us the final list of right’s and wrong’s. But no “last rights.” Whew! Although I have noticed a flock of buzzards circling the track! After he being assigned a car number, woohoo Tony Stewarts car, it’s time to find a helmet and get ready to mount up.

8:10PM. OK, it’s time to go...............An instructor helps make sure you get in without injury, belts you in and puts up the window net. Deep breath! Wait, there’s no co-driver and the inside lane is already rolling. Are they expecting me to do this solo? Alright here comes a co-driver after getting out of one the ride along cars. What a relief. Introduce myself to the co-driver, Paul Rogers.(Doesn’t he sing for Bad Company?) We get pushed off, let the clutch out and 650 horsepower roars to life. Adrenaline now overcomes nerves. We roll down pit road and around the apron to enter in turn two.

Once out on the track he gives me the signal to pick up speed. Cool! He gives a little tug on the steering wheel to get me over closer to the wall as we go down the back stretch. Hit the lift point in turn 3 and back off, ease back in after the pick up point and out of turn 4 to the dogleg. Pass under the flagstand and take the green flag(which counts as lap 1). We motor on down to turn 1 and lift again. Pick the throttle back up and down the back stretch a little faster this time. Once again he gives the wheel a little tug to get me closer to the wall. (Closer than I want to be anyway.)

We pick up a little more speed the next lap and on lap 3 we catch a slower car in turn 1. Out of turn 2 we duck inside and pass the 11 car on the back stretch. Lap 4, he’s still giving me the faster signal as I hang on to the 40 car ahead of me. Lap 5 we catch a slower car going into turn 3. I back off, but the co-driver is signaling, go, go. The 5 car moves up in turn 3 as the 40 car and I pass in one of the EIRI(except in rare instances) zones.

Lap 6, I run the 40 car back down and the co-driver wants me closer to front stretch wall through the double dogleg now. (I still think I’m close enough) Lap 7, I think I finally take a breath as I become more comfortable with myself and the car. Lap 8, I’m still on the bumper of the 40 car as we come up on another slower car. We catch the car in turn 2 and get by cleanly. As we come around to the flagstand I noticed the checkered flag waving. Geez, where’d I miss the white flag?? They instruct us to keep going until you get out of turn 2 before slowing and rolling onto the apron. Instinctively I downshift to third, the co-driver bumps it into neutral and kills the power. We roll silently around to pit road where I fall in line, still behind the 40 car, and come to a stop.

The co-driver commends me on a good job of driving and I want more. I wonder how much of it was driver and how much was the car???? Unfortunately the 10 laps went by so fast, and I was so intensely focused, I hardly had time to enjoy the drive. As I sit there, I think, cool, I’ve done something only a few can say they’ve ever done, turn laps in a NASCAR stock car on Texas Motor Speedway. Better yet I didn’t hit anything!!!!!

I’m unbuckled and helped from the car and retreat to the pit walkway to unsuit. “Dad, where’s my smokes!” I look up Mike Starr and complimented him and his crew on the entire experience. They keep things rolling along with limo rides and ride alongs between driver changes. Even my father was impressed by the way the operation was run.

9:00PM. Stop on the way back at Chili’s for a late dinner and rerun the entire 10 laps for my father and myself.

9:50PM. Back at the motel, and my father is ready for bed. Me, I’m still running on adrenaline and nowhere near ready to try to sleep.

Sun. 21st, 12:30AM. At my fathers urging I finally turn off the TV and crawl into bed, still slightly abuzz.

6:00AM. Phone alarm goes off. Time to give a friend her wake-up call for work.

6:18AM. She finally answers. Back to sleep.

8:00AM. Hear the door close and wake up. My father’s already packed and headed to the lobby to catch the airport shuttle. I jump out of bed, get dressed and run downstairs. Look through lobby and my father is nowhere to be found. Damn, did I miss saying good-bye? Go out for a smoke(darn non-smoking hotels), but find him out in the courtyard. We talk until it’s time for the shuttle to leave.

8:30AM. Tell my father good-bye and walk away thinking that this may be the last time I see my father until........... Quite a sinking feeling I might add.

8:40AM. Lay back down thinking, did I say the right things, did I say enough....... Restless sleep finally comes again until the phone rings.

10:00AM. WAKE UP CALL. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Roll out of bed and hit the breakfast buffet in lobby before they close it down.

10:35AM. Get back to room, shower, pack and get loaded up.

11:45AM. Back on the road again. (I’ll spare y’all the singing)

12:50PM. Hillsboro, short pit for enough fuel to get me to my last stop window in Lampasas, hoping to pick up track position.

1:10PM Catch a string of traffic, this must be National NDF day(non driving, ummm fools) Get stuck behind some dipstick in a Ford Expolder going 60-65 in the passing lane. Every time he gets a chance to get out the lane, he speeds up instead. By the time we hit West, the line is 25-30 deep behind him and we’re all getting pissed. Finally in Elm Mott he goes from the fast lane to the exit ramp.(AHHH, a Houston driving maneuver) Numerous drivers, including myself tell the guy he’s #1. He responds by telling all of us that we are ALL #1. Go figure!!

3:45PM. Roll into Lampasas for the final fuel stop and driver relief stop. From Lampasas all the way to Fredericksburg I get a treat watching about 75 old coupes coming from a car show in Fredericksburg. Way cool!

4:50PM. Pick up dog from sitters house and head home.

5:15PM. Back home again. First thing I do is rewind my Team Texas tape and watch how I really did. Not too shabby for someone that’s never been on track bigger than San Antonio Speedway during Media Day hot lapping Rodney Rodriguez’ car.

 

I highly recommend if you’re ever the get the chance to take one of the Team Texas driving courses. It was well worth the money spent and usually around Christmas they run a $50 off special deal.

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