~ by Daniel Demaras ~

This year, I’ve had a lot of firsts in racing. New Speed Motorsports helped me earn my first pole position, first win and first series championship. I also had my first opportunity to drive performance cars on a race track. At Toronto Motorsports Park I drove both a Ferrari F430 in August and a Reynard F2000 open wheel racecar in early October. However, the most exciting opportunity is one I’ve been waiting for since February, and it finally happened last week. A test in a NASCAR racecar at Shannonville Motorsports Park.

New Speed Motorsports press release before the start of the kart racing season spelled out the opportunity. To help promote the new team, top drivers in the TRAK Series and KartStars Series would get a one day test in Anthony Simone’s NASCAR Pinty’s Series racecar.

On Friday, October 23 2020, Jake Cowden (Briggs Senior), Zach Boam (KartStars Senior) Nolan Bower (ROK Junior) and myself (Briggs Masters) took on the challenge of stepping into a 3,500 pound, 600+ HP, V8-powered stock car and attacking Shannonville Motorsports Park’s road course. This was something new to all of us, and would take some figuring out.

After watching the other three drivers, I anxiously awaited my first session in the racecar. I climbed in through the window and squeezed myself into the seat for the first time. Anthony helped tighten up the seatbelts and put the steering wheel back on. Then, I started the car, put it into gear and headed out on track.

My first few laps were very tentative. I cruised around the track, figuring out how to properly shift and brake, feeling how much input the steering required. There was so much more to do than in my No. 412 Briggs & Stratton kart. As my session continued, I became more confident in my ability. Downshifting required briefly putting the car in neutral and rev-matching (without using the clutch pedal) before putting it into a lower gear. It was so much to do at this stage that I just kept my shifts to a minimum, mostly running in 2nd and 3rd gear. I was occupied enough just navigating the massive NASCAR around the twisty road course and trying not to lock up the brakes. I gained confidence towards the end of my session and pushed my braking zone even later going into the high-speed Turn 1 corner…and I ran wide into the grass. No major damage was done, but I understood the unforgiving nature of the car.

The feeling of driving the car was absolutely mind blowing. The V8 engine was deafeningly loud, I could feel my ears ringing as I drove the car, and there was no escape from the sound. Even off throttle, the engine was screaming. The G-forces through the corners surprised me. While I was strapped in tight enough not to move under braking, I found myself trying to hold onto the wheel or the shifter through the high-load corners. This car was a monster.

As I watched the other drivers, I became aware of how sensitive the brakes could be, and how crucial it was not to lock them up. When I went out for my next session, I drove faster while still remaining cautious. I had some oversteer in the tighter corners as a result of carrying too much speed, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

Just when I was feeling more in control, I was met with a new challenge. The car began losing power, only going when I absolutely floored the throttle. I tried to go through the gears to see if I had damaged one of them in some way, but it was the same is issue in every gear. I knew I had to pit, but the car lost power and I just coasted in. Once my panic dissipated I realized…I ran out of gas. I was so scared that I’d broken Anthony’s $200,000 racecar!

My third session was the best one of the day. One of the other racers got aggressive in Turn 1, jumped the curb and popped a tire, so Simone’s crew retrieved the car, bolted on a new set of slicks and sent me out on track. I was more proficient and confident in driving the car quickly. I was smoother with my inputs to the steering wheel and more aggressive with the gearbox. Although I triggered some nasty wheelspin a couple times, I kept it going as fast as I could. Compared to the other two sessions where I was just holding on, this time I felt I was in control. The pit board went up, signaling me to come in. I brought the car back into the pits and my dad walked over to the window to tell me I’d just set the fastest time of the day!

For my fourth and final session, I knew everyone’s times were getting quicker and I had to make one last push.

I knew that going out last would give me an advantage. With all the rubber laid down on track, I’d get the best track conditions…but I went too fast into the second last corner and spun off into the grass, ending my day early. That was going to be a monster lap time if I could have held it for two more corners.

Though I wasn’t perfect, the experience to test a real NASCAR racecar was unlike any driving experience I’ve had. Compared to my racing kart, visibility in the NASCAR is extremely limited, with huge A-pillars blocking your view. The Ferrari I drove at TMP was so easy by comparison; it had paddle shifters and even doors! The F2000 car was cool, but with only 200 HP, it was nothing compared to this fire breathing NASCAR that could spin the tires in third gear.

I spent a whole day with three other drivers that I normally see at the track each weekend during the summer. We’re friendly with each other, but after this day, its different. There were no egos. Nobody hid how scared they were, or how hard it was to drive the car. We all got to live out a dream together, while pushing each other to be as fast and smooth as possible.

I know what you’re thinking. Who was the best? That’s easy.

The star of the show was, of course, Anthony Simone. He dreamed up this entire experience and had the will to make it happen. Few people would allow a bunch of teenagers to borrow their car, let alone drive their NASCAR on a racetrack! But Anthony was both generous and trusting enough to give us this opportunity.

For that, I will always be grateful.

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