At midnight I stood in the parking lot in front of a big box store and a friend said, “Let’s go for a ride.” Before I knew it, we were driving down the highway, the wind blowing all around the car. The only noise apart from the wind was a constant whoosh as the turbo coupe sucked in air. I looked at my friend as he drove. He said nothing. His eyes stared straight ahead, never leaving the road. I asked him a question. He didn’t respond. Few would have understand the place his mind had gone. I thought of the scene in Ghost in the Shell where the cyborg connects with the car and the only thing left in the cabin is her physical body.
Another car approached. We waited for a signal. Suddenly time began to bed. My mind could no longer process the information my senses were absorbing. The thrust and the forces of gravity overwhelmed me. But in a matter of seconds, it was over. We returned to just cruising down the highway, re-assimilating into the social order of the road. I looked over at my friend. “How fast do you think we just traveled?” he asked. “Fast enough,” I told him. He smiled. We didn’t talk any more.
We arrived back at the parking lot. I stepped out of the car and felt the ground. I knew I’d never forget what had just happened. The physical sensations and accompanying emotions and anxieties lingered for days. Part of me never wanted to get back in the car ever again because of those feelings. But I knew I would.
On the next ride, my body and mind were more prepared. The sensations, while still strong, weren’t overwhelming. However, the logical side of my brain still protested and wanted me to get out of the car as soon as possible. For the most part, though, I was calm and knew I was stuck for at least a little while. My body became comfortable with the sensations and my mind began to think of roller coasters, which is interesting because roller coasters terrify me, even though I know they’re not going to fall off their rails. My mind’s ability to process and make sense out of situations like this fascinates me. Nevertheless, given my personal history of anxiety and high blood pressure, the experience is still a mentally and physically draining ordeal.
I do see how the speed and rush can become addicting. I have experienced random urges to call my friend and ask about going for another ride. I have spoken to others who’ve ridden in his car as well, and everyone has an opinion about it. Regardless of whether or not they were seasoned street racers or novices, nearly all agreed that it was a terrifying experience that thoroughly scared them, and yet they also confessed to enjoying it. Only two people have ever told me that they loved riding in the car and felt no fear when moving at such a great speed. However, both of these people also noted their natural desire for taking risks and their enjoyment of thrill-seeking activities, which I feel goes a long way to explaining their reaction to riding in my friend’s car.
A common element in the reactions of the people to whom I spoke was a tendency to worry about their safety and the safety of others. I feel this element contributes greatly to what makes cars like the one my friend drives so deceiving. The car actually exceeds normal street safety requirements; for example, it has upgraded brakes and seats, and a fire extinguisher. However, if he were to attempt to drive the car in a racing competition, it would fail the safety inspection, because a car capable of going as fast as his would require a full racing cage, fire suppression system, and a driver wearing a flame retardant suit. When I realized this, it reminded me of the very big risks many high speed street racers take by not having such safety equipment (I’ve noticed that those who do have the equipment are usually people who go to the track).
Of course, even with safety equipment, there’s always a high level of risk when operating a high-speed vehicle, regardless of whether it’s on the street or on a strip, though many argue that risk is assumed by unsuspecting onlookers and innocent drivers in a street scenario, something my own observations have at times confirmed.
Despite these risks, however, I don’t feel the high speed street racers pose as much of a risk, to themselves or others, as the ricers. In many ways, the street racers’ proclivities for straight roads and non-entrance stretches of roads keeps them safe, though no one is immune from mechanical failures, environmental variables, or driver breakdowns, and these scenarios can quickly become very serious problems. While I’ve heard about past incidents involving those elements, both on the track and on the street, I’ve yet to witness one myself.
From my own observation, what separates street racers from ricers is a respect for the road that correlates to the level of risk. I have noticed this with track racers as well. If a driver is well-trained and conditioned, they will often be able to cope with diverse terrains and unexpected situations, which in turn creates a safer driving environment. A driver with the ability to recognize their own physical and mental limitations and the limitations of their car will also often drive in a safer, more mature way.
I think that some of the fear I experienced while riding with my friend in his car stemmed from the fact that, while I knew both my friend and his car were sophisticated enough to handle the high speeds at which we were driving, I was less certain of their ability to deal with the unexpected, and this lack of certainty weighed heavily on my mind.