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High Speed Dreams

Cigar Aficionado's Contributing Editor Drives One of the World's Hottest Race Cars--and Survives
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 3)

We're ready to race.

Honsowetz instructs me to flip the ignition switch. A light goes on. Nothing happens.

He tells me to push a little button labeled "starter." Neither watching auto racing on television, nor even witnessing the spectacle in person, can prepare you for the roar that you hear inside a race car when the engine comes to life.

It is loud. Gloriously loud.

With crew members pushing the car from the rear, I move the thumb-sized shifter knob into first gear and slowly squeeze the accelerator while delicately letting out the clutch. (In a recurring nightmare, I am unable to get the car out of the pits, alternately stalling the engine and lurching forward like a coughing jalopy.) Mercifully, the car pulls away smoothly, like a colt on new legs. Following O'Connell's guidance, I "scrub" the tires a few times, quickly turning them right and left to build heat. Running down a mental checklist, worried that I may have forgotten something--lights? parking brake?--I realize it is now too late. The first turn is staring me in the face.

I throw the shifter to second, where it engages with a pronounced crunch. Lacking the synchronizer (a device that allows the easy selection of gears) of a normal street car, the Nissan IMSA Z does not shift smoothly. In fact, O'Connell says he often shifts without using the clutch. On my first change of gears I can feel a weighty transfer of metal, eerily akin to prison doors slamming shut.

Coming out of the first turn, a sharp right-hander, I give the car its first taste of octane. For a fraction of a second, it accelerates demonically, like Porsches I've been in, wildly fast, but nothing beyond physical comprehension. Then the turbos kick in.

The car leaps up the track, as though it were momentarily airborne. I can hear myself yell "Holy shit!" as the back end searches for traction, propelling me into what seems like another dimension of time. One blink and I'm 100 yards down the track.

The whole experience takes about a second.

Approaching the third turn the car is screaming for third gear. I comply, and the transmission heaves heavily. One more inch of throttle equals a violent burst of turbo-charging, bringing the car up to speeds I don't want to know about.

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