You know the feeling; you and your machine, acting as one as you flow smoothly from one apex to the next. Twisting the grip and feathering in the brakes as needed. It is the reason we ride. It is the feeling we seek and the freedom we crave. It is a choice and skillset to act as one with our machines. We aren’t strapped in or surrounded by a cage. Our machines and we are one by choice and skill. If there is one word that is identified with motorcycling it’s freedom.
I was recently reminded of that when I signed up for a stock-car racing dirt-track experience. I’ve driven race cars before but this trip was to be a family fun day. No pressure, no expectations. I’d signed up to drive a sprint car, a V-8 powered, open-wheeled rocket ship on wheels. Part of my mental preparation for the drive was watching others do it. Where did they get on the gas? Where did they let off? I was ready, eager even, then as soon as it was my turn, the sprinter was decommissioned for the day due to mechanical issues.
I quickly sprang into action making the necessary arrangements to drive one of the modified stock cars instead. I hadn’t invested my entire day, baking in the bleachers waiting my turn, for nothing. I was driving something. The driving experience staff was very agreeable and made the switch for us. As soon as I did, I became very disoriented. I hadn’t made any mental preparations for driving the modified—an open-wheel racer with a full roof, roll cage and driver’s compartment. It was quite different from the sprint car I’d been mentally preparing to drive. It sounds silly, but it’s true. After donning my one-piece, oversized fire suit, I awkwardly climbed into the cockpit of the modified feet first and settled into the seat. After putting in my earpiece, presumably so I could hear the spotter’s instructions, on went my huge full-face helmet, complete with lifesaving Hann’s device to keep my neck from stretching. Of course, now the earpiece was on the verge of falling out, but there was no time for fixing that. I was currently focused on getting strapped into the confining driver’s compartment with a belt over each shoulder, one lap belt and one strap between my legs. The crew helped snug them up.
Movement options were now limited to being able to shift my eyes from side to side and extend my arms. The next step was locking the steering wheel in place and flipping three switches to breathe life into the beast that surrounded me. The V-8 bellowed and the crewman put the window net up to keep me inside the car in the event of misfortune. Then the spotter commanded me to “go on to the track”—or maybe he said “don’t go on to the track.” I can’t be sure. But I was on my way to see what the half-mile dirt track held in store for me.
As I mashed the gas, it occurred to me that in an entirely different way than on a motorcycle, I actually was one with this machine! I had no other choice. I had become a part of it. Bolted in, just like an engine or a sway bar. There was no longer any free will involved. As I found my speed and became a little more comfortable with my extremely limiting surroundings, another car quickly appeared on the horizon, followed by another message in my earpiece, which was now an earpiece in name only since it wasn’t actually in my ear at all. “Car 28,”—that was my car number—“28 crackle crackle crackle something PASS!” Since I was gaining on the car in front of me and I couldn’t see behind, I went with the “he was asking me to pass the car in front of me” option and took the appropriate action to do so. I thoroughly enjoyed that.
The entire experience was a good time, but couldn’t have been more different from riding a motorcycle. That point was emphasized a few weeks later during a family dirt-bike outing. I don’t know how you ride on the street, but I’m no wheelie rider. I do enjoy doing the occasional wheelie in the dirt though and am sometimes reminded that although my presence on the bike is requested, it is not necessary. The vulnerability and freedom we enjoy on a motorcycle are not shared by very many other activities in life and to have that freedom, you must have the vulnerability lurking. It’s what makes it rewarding. My risk in the race car was realistically limited to the thousand-dollar crash deposit; not much different from my insurance deductible on a bike. My risks on a bike are higher, but the joy of flowing from apex to apex, at one with a machine that you are not bolted into, can’t be beat.