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Race for Riley a Great Cause, But a Difficult Drive
I was given absolute assurances that no matter how fast I took my racing kart into the hairpin turns at the New Castle Motorsports Park racetrack, I wouldn’t have to worry about the kart rolling over.
You’d think these people would know me by now.
Last Wednesday I participated in the “Kroger Race for Riley,” presented by Cheerios, at Mark Dismore’s racetrack just north of Spiceland. The event was part of a fundraiser that resulted in about $1 million raised for Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
NASCAR drivers John Andretti and Tony Stewart were both there. So was the majority of the Indianapolis media, including Channel 13’s Dave Calabro, Channel 6’s Dave Furst, and Channel 8’s Chris Widlic, who all raced in the media portion of the event.
I have to admit it was pretty awesome being in the company of those famous people. I even had someone ask me for my autograph. Or maybe that was a waiver I signed.
Anyway, most of those media guys had previously raced in these lightning-quick karts that went a lot faster than I had imagined. Racing those karts requires a level of focus and concentration that, frankly, I’m just not used to maintaining.
New Castle Motorsports Park is a world-class facility that enhanced an underdeveloped area, increased property values, and literally put a previously non-existent section of Henry County on the map.
I will never understand why that track didn’t get built north of Knightstown, as it was originally planned. That’s got to be the biggest ball dropped in the history of this community, but that’s another story.
I arrived at the designated time last Wednesday and immediately sought out some media people that I knew had driven those karts before. I was looking for solid advice from experienced drivers.
New Castle Courier-Times sports editor Jeremy Hines assured me that he would finish last in the race, and all I had to do was take a Sunday drive to beat him.
Banner publisher Eric Cox and Middletown News sports guy Joey Cooper both told me those karts sit so low to the ground and the tire base is so wide that, despite the extremely sharp turns, it’s impossible to flip them over.
After getting instructions on how to don a hoodie, a racing helmet, the jacket, Hans helmet device and gloves, I joined the other media guys for five practice laps around the one-mile track, which has roughly 743 sharp turns that follow confidence-building straight-aways.
On the second practice lap, I hit the brakes as I entered one of those sharp turns and was promptly rammed from behind and shoved into the grass, nearly turning the kart over.
It was John Andretti.
I asked him after the practice laps why he hit me so hard.
“Get your foot off of the brake,” a smiling Andretti said. “You don’t need brakes on this track.”
As I pondered that advice I also realized running those five practice laps had literally worn me out. The media race would be 10 laps, and I questioned whether I would survive the challenge. That would require more than 20 minutes of intense focus, and all of my former teachers and ex-wives can tell you I’m not capable of that.
I asked Calabro, whom I had met several years ago, what his secret was. He won this event last year, and told me that Channel 13’s Operation Football would be returning to Knightstown High School this fall. He then told me he would lap me about halfway through the race, and to just emulate what he was doing from that point on.
The starting field of 15 was arranged based on good looks, and I sat in the fourth position, just ahead of Calabro, but behind Courier-Times heartthrob Hines.
Hines and I tangled in turn two, allowing Calabro to pass both of us, but I caught the field in turn 699, the one that caused me the most problems. Unlike the other turns, which were between 45 and 90 degrees, this one was a multiple 360-degree turn.
Or at least that’s what I made it.
I somehow managed to turn my kart into a Tilt-a-Whirl ride. That particular turn sent me off the track five different times, but on each detour I was able to drive back on to the pavement (with a little help) and continue racing.
Due to a caution when two guys got tangled and blocked the track momentarily, I managed to catch Andretti and Calabro, who were leading the race. Then the light inside the Chrome Dome came on, and I took Calabro’s advice and just followed those two.
I went really wide before the turns and then cut deep inside, just like Andretti. I copied every move they made, and for the next three laps, stayed right with them while they playfully bumped each other and kept the pace to a near crawl.
Unfortunately, my helmet was too small, and the blood flow to my brain was being cut off. Heading into my least favorite turn, number 699, I was still running in third position on the last lap. Then we all came upon Hines, who was about to be lapped.
Andretti and Calabro both went high to get around Hines, and as I approached the turn, it was too late to go high. I cut inside to try the pass, and Hines did too. He clipped me and sent me spinning, and then someone else T-boned me, sending the kart spiraling off the track and into the dirt on two wheels. I finished last, although technically, I didn’t even finish.
I walked away with a scrape on the side of my head, a slightly fractured rib, a really sore neck, multiple bruises, and a new respect and appreciation for people who drive race cars.
All was not lost, however. The event raised a bunch of money for Riley Hospital, and I didn’t make the kart roll over.
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