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Unhinged: When The Nerves Really Set In Before You Hammer Down

Unhinged: When The Nerves Really Set In Before You Hammer Down

Saturday was not a hot day. In fact, cool and cloudy conditions in Wilmington provided the racers with good air to run in and kept the course workers from the usual routine of roasting out on the runway. But here I sat, inside the Chrysler, sweating my ass off with the kind of nervous squirming in my stomach that I last remember getting minutes before driving across the Kuwait/Iraq border as I waited to be sent down the runway. What the hell was going on here?

I’m no stranger to racing. I’ve done plenty of it and I love and hold dear each and every second that I get the opportunity to do what I love most. I’m fully aware of the dangers of racing, and I accept them, and in the wide scope of things, hoofing a family sedan with a speed limiter down a runway that is wider than most Interstates is pretty low on the danger scale. I had prepared the car, gone over every little system with a fine-toothed comb, fully upgraded the brakes, and yet here I was, sweating like I was in a sauna, wondering if I had lost my damn mind. It made no sense, especially since I’ve been a lot faster in much more dangerous conditions. I’ve seen 172 MPH in a 2002 Corvette Z51 with it’s targa roof off on a major interstate, and I wasn’t even in control of the car, and I’ve done 135 mph in Utah with the A/C on and the stereo blasting in a 2006 Monte Carlo SS, and neither time was I concerned or scared. Both of those stories are proof that I survived the “young and dumb” phase, but putting myself into the safest possible situation, with people who go a lot faster, at an airport that has a rescue service available, made me think twice.

Was it anticipation? I doubt it. If I had never driven the Chrysler in anger before, I’d be more inclined to think so, but between drag racing the car and throwing it around NCM Motorsports Park in less than ideal conditions, I’m pretty used to what the car will and won’t do. I’m fairly used to speeds under 150 mph, so I don’t think that was the issue either. I wasn’t running the air conditioning and I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in June, but that wasn’t the only reason I was sweating at the starting line. What it reminded me of, if I’m honest, was the first time I went hammer-down on a car for any length of time: in the middle of a summer night in 2000, I took the 1987 Monte Carlo SS I owned out to Marksheffel Road in Colorado Springs. Back then, there was really nothing that far east except for utility shops and a ton of grassland to spin off in, and the Chevy was a worn-out stocker. Once the light turned green at Marksheffel and Constitution, I matted the throttle and held on. I got out of it when the needle was somewhere between 115 MPH indicated and the trip reset button. I was scared half to death and was busy making lists of what had to have been broken in the front end for the car to shake like that, but I had done it.

Is it just me? Have any of you felt the same thing, or something similar? Is it adrenaline kicking in, or that final moment of questioning everything before you hammer down? I’m trying to come to terms with it, because it makes no sense. If I was Craig Breedlove just before making a run at Bonneville, I’d understand a little bit better. This makes little to no sense to me as it is.

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6 thoughts on “Unhinged: When The Nerves Really Set In Before You Hammer Down

  1. Dan Stokes


    When I’m next in line time slows down and I get really calm. The very first time I ran at Maxton I got a little wound up but as soon as I started rolling I got the calm thing.

    Don’t worry – when Al’s there he’ll do your best to rile you up! But hopefully you’ll get used to it all will feel normal again.

    BTW – Great to see you and your Sweetie there.


    1. catchmeblue70

      Dan, it was great to finally meet you in person! Hopefully we’ll see you in Wilmington again sometime this year!


    Yes, my first and all other passes I’ve made at the strip I get butterflies. I’ve made countless redlight to redling passes but I get on a track and all of a sudden I get the butterflies…

  3. Scott Liggett

    I have. But, it usually happens when I am racing my car hundreds of miles from home. I guess I am worried what would happen if something major broke on the car so far from home.

  4. Josh Frias

    I only have like 5 passes down the strip in general. The first time I was nervous as hell just in general and rolled through the staging beams. Combination of rookie mistake and nerves. Luckily the starter let me back it up and try again. I didn’t make a good pass at all, but I think that rid me of the first time jitters. The next times were better, after I launch the car I’m not nervous at all. Ever since I left the track I’ve been wanting to go back. My 60 foots got better each pass I made, and my reaction times were always excellent and improving. It was always about half track my car would break loose and overev the motor which scared the hell out of me. I think with some setup changing and more seat time I’ll be much less nervous.

  5. jerry z

    Usually I get a little jittery when I start going rounds at the strip. The more rounds I went it gets worse. How I managed to win a few races is beyond me!

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