Childhood's End?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

“You’re not like other adults. You’re like a big kid.” My nephew made this observation after I’d guided my Porsche C4 through an impossibly tight corner, accompanied by a rebel yell. Max’s assessment of my temperament was not entirely correct. In my forty-seven years, I’ve met a few souls who also experience frequent bursts of child-like enthusiasm. In fact, one of the main reasons I love cars is that I love people whose love of cars keeps them young. Of course, the flipside of that ‘tude is that it can kill you dead.

I learned this lesson in The Land of Hope and Glory. Back in the day, sports car ownership was booming. Nigel Mansell (and then Damon Hill) were tearing up F1 racing. Evo magazine had just launched. The UK government had decided that the world’s second safest roadway system required thousands of hidden speed cameras and an armada of unmarked “Talivans.” And companies had discovered that hooning about on a race track qualified as a tax-deductible “team building” exercise.

There was plenty of scope for said hoonery. As one of motor racing's original homes, the UK is lousy with racetracks. The majority of these automotive arenas pre-date the Jackie Stewart-inspired safety era by a considerable margin; run off areas are conspicuous by their absence while cement "barriers" abound. Speaking of which, most of these competitive crucibles hadn’t been properly paved since the Korean war– if ever.

Inexperienced owners of overpowered automobiles drove to these ramshackle racetracks in droves. As did F1 aficionados, desperate to live out their Walter Mitty fantasies. And purist pistonheads questing for the perfect racing line. And chronic speeders. And testosterone-crazed corporate slaves, trying to bolster their water cooler status. The end result was fairly predictable: a smorgasbord of barely controlled speed, with a side table of crumpled metal.

The “open track day” was the ultimate expression of the UK’s petrol-powered amateur hour. After watching a Ferrari slam into a guardrail, I began the morning in question with a track familiarization session.

So there we were, Speed Racer and three helmeted acolytes, banging around a racetrack in a, wait for it, Ford Mondeo. The fact that Speed was driving a bog standard family saloon didn’t fool me for a second. I wedged myself into the door and hung on.

The first couple of laps were placid enough, filled with a barrage of barely comprehensible instructions: “Turn in here. Use that tree for a braking point. Don’t overcook it through this turn.” Etc. And then Speed shut up and did what failed race car drivers do best: scare the shit out of civilians.

Actually, given my ability to make peace with the possibility of death, I wasn’t scared. But I was nauseous. When Speed finally turned off the track, I felt like I’d just stepped off the Pepsi Max Big One roller coaster.

The training session did nothing to curb my enthusiasm. Obviously, I drove my F355 around that track with none of Speed’s skill; missing braking points and stringing together corners like a two-year-old describing her day. But I had a hundred times more fun. I mean, Speed hadn’t cackled once. And I bet he never dove into a corner with Little Feat’s Fat Man in the Bathtub blaring out of his radio.

To make a long story 800 words, I parked the Ferrari (slipping clutch and all) and went looking for a ride. The possibilities were mind-blowing. Ferrari F50, lightweight Jaguar E-Type, Lamborghini Diablo, Porsche Turbo, TVR Chimera, AC Cobra– ALL the cars of my adrenal dreams were there, lining up for action. I was hopping up and down like a little kid.

For some reason, the effete owners of these mad machines were reluctant to accommodate a rabid American with a bad case of helmet hair. And then a dentist offered me a ride in his Lotus Esprit V8.

From the moment we took off, I knew I was in the hands of an expert. I’m not exactly sure how he did it, but we were passing everyone. Oh my Lord, it was fun. And then we powered into the straight for the second time.

Actually, it was more like a 185mph corner. And somewhere in the middle of the “bend” the Lotus twitched. Badly. The dentist swore. “That was close,” he pronounced. And that was it: fun gone.

In that single instant, I grew up. I suddenly realized that race tracks are NOT all fun and games. That putting my inner child behind the wheel was a direct route to infanticide.

I still get excited about cars and driving fast and driving fast cars fast. But I now have an inner parent. I’m not saying I always listen to it, but it’s there. Well, some of the time.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
2 of 47 comments
  • Allegro con moto-car Allegro con moto-car on Feb 17, 2007

    There have been three times in my life when I came very close to ending it all right then and there. Not once was I racing or speeding, just not paying attention. I want to believe that I am a safer driver for it. (Sometimes, you do not have to be regressing to your inner child to be scared straight.)

  • Evohappy9 Evohappy9 on Apr 08, 2007
    The greatest drivers in racing, achieved what they did - and do - because they never think too much of what the consequences might be to running at 200 mph - or if they do, they make damn sure it doesn’t happen. When travelling at those speeds no human being has the reflexes to master the machine once its dynamic limits have been overreached. There is no racing driver that will equal or break records on any course while driving a car whose dynamic limits he is unaware of. The drivers ability to win is his knowledge of the machine's limits and how close he can bring the machine to those limits with consistancy. The driver that can drive closest to the limit will win. Driving skill will not recover the vehicle while at speed. It could possibly mitigate the effects of a collision though.
  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...