SEMA’s annual trade show is on the bucket list of every self-respecting gearhead (or petrolhead). I was lucky to have a pair of eyes inside this year’s show and they belonged to Sacramento-based writer and marketing designer, Kristin Berkery. She feasted her eyes on amazing vehicles of all shapes and sizes, which she shared with us in her last guest post, What does SEMA stand for? However, Kristin also had an experience that many rallycross fans worldwide would give their baby toes for.
I Got a Ticket to Ride
by Kristin Berkery
I always thought it would be cool to do a ride-along with a race car driver, I just didn’t think it was in my future. At this year’s SEMA I saw drivers like Vaughn Gittin Jr., Tanner Foust, and Brian Deegan giving ride-alongs in their race cars in the Ford Out Front lot, but I figured they were for people with special connections. Then I overheard a security guard telling a fan to sign a liability waiver at the booth nearby, get a wristband, and wait in line.
I rushed over, took care of the formalities, and headed to the line. After a long wait, I got the turn I’d been hoping for. I began to feel pretty nervous. One of the Ford officials asked me who I wanted to ride with and I could barely squeak out, “Tanner.” I took a quick photo of myself in my ride-along helmet and posted it on Facebook, which I was told made me look “googly-eyed.” I didn’t know anything about that. I just knew I was a little scared inside.
I carefully stepped into the car, hoping I wouldn’t trip over the lower bar of the roll cage and fall in. Not only would I look like a total dork, but the fall would hurt. Parts of those rallycross cars get really hot inside. Just to make sure I didn’t burn myself, a Ford official put my feet on a spot directly in front of me and gave me a signal not to move them.
I didn’t realize it until later but Ford was recording video of every ride-along, and I got a copy of my own experience. When I watch the video, I can see what my nervousness looked like from the outside. But what was I scared of? I knew what the rallycross cars were capable of — 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than two seconds. A few Gs when the car goes into a drift or a spin. As a passenger, I knew I’d be at the mercy of a race car driver. I could throw up, pee my pants, or worse.
Sitting in the driver’s seat was Tanner Foust. While I got help with my racing harness, Tanner was studying Brian Deegan closely as he slid and spun around the lot with his own meek passenger on board. At that moment I could see Tanner’s passion for cars and the amazing things they do with a talented driver behind the wheel.
Tanner turned to me and said hi. I asked him if it was normal to be scared. He simply said yes. OK, I thought, then let’s do this. He explained that we’d launch and do some fast stuff, then some slow laps around the lot. I prepared myself as he flipped some switches, moved forward a few feet, and hit launch control.
Half a second later, we flew forward so fast that the concrete K rails on the other side of the lot were suddenly in front of us. It was like being shot out of a cannon. It felt surreal, terrifying, and exhilarating at the same time. Then we began a series of high speed drifts and spins all over the lot. There was a corner that Tanner liked to do a lot of spinning and drifting because it put the action right next to the fans on the rail. We spent some time over there thrilling the audience. Throughout the whole ride I was laughing like I haven’t laughed in years!
We slowed down and did a couple of laps, with me trying to compose myself and Tanner waving and giving a thumbs-up to the crowds. That was a pretty cool moment because I was processing what had just happened and I could see and hear the fans cheering all around us. We weren’t going really fast, but as we approached the unloading area, Tanner slammed on the brakes for a jarring stop. He said, “That’s pretty fun, isn’t it.” I laughed and replied, “I’ve never done anything like that in my life!”
I was shaking, my legs felt like jelly, and I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. A Ford official had to help me out of the car because my fingers wouldn’t work on the harness button and I could barely stand up. In the video I can see Tanner enjoy a laugh as I stumbled out of the car and a Ford guy asked me, “You wanna do it again??” All I could reply was, “Let me recover from this one first.”
It wasn’t until after the ride that I realized I was too busy being tossed around the car to get nauseous and throw up. Thank goodness for that. What a thrill!