Picture it: 82 degrees, the sun is shining and there’s the occasional breeze. You hear birds chirping, and then all of a sudden nnnneeeaarrrrrooommm a Formula 1 prototype ricochets by and then another, followed by another. It’s Targa 66 at Palm Beach International Raceway and for this novice car enthusiast, there’s no better place to be.
Having completed my first ride around the track in the Porsche 904 early that same morning, I was content to just vibe the rest of the day, enjoy the sounds of the cars, take some photos, and hang out with my team. However, at 2pm my friend and workshop technician, Pedro Vela, texted me to ask if I wanted a ride in the 1958 Porsche Carrera GT Speedster. The Speedster is an open top car that is entirely different from the 904 so obviously I said yes and made my way from hanging out in turn 7 back to the paddock.
Safety first: any riders must wear long sleeves and a race helmet to ride around the track. Fortunately, I had brought a sweatshirt for the day, anticipating a chilly morning. Now, let’s talk about that race helmet, shall we? No one, absolutely no one, looks good in a generic race car helmet. You could throw this helmet on Patrick Dempsey, and he’d still end up looking like a goober. The white helmet is clipped underneath the chin and the straps are pulled tight so there isn’t any wiggle room. The padding smooshes your cheeks together so intensely that you can’t help but look like a chipmunk, especially when you’re grinning as hard as I was while being slid into the corners.
My friend Jessica Bright was up first, and this was her first ride for the day, so I was thrilled for her. She strapped on the chipmunk helmet, borrowed my sweatshirt for the ride and hopped into the car with Gunnar Jeannette, race car driver extraordinaire. They made their way to the pits and that was the last I saw of them until Gunnar completed his first lap and I see Jessica’s hand shoot up into the air to wave to all of us watching on from the pit wall. It made me smile almost as wide as my smile after the Porsche 904 ride.
After two laps, Gunnar made his way back into the pits and Jessica and I quickly exchanged safety attire and I jumped into the car. This car was already completely different from the 904 as I looked in front of me to see an “oh shit” handle. I could already tell this was going to be fun.
The Speedster is a “slippy/slidey” for lack of better words; Gunnar puts that car into corners so hard that truly I thought we had gotten loose a few times as I rode around with him. (If you don’t believe me, check out his recent Instagram post where you can see him wrenching the wheel while driving around the track! @gunnarjeannette) I could actually see spectators pointing and laughing at the car as we approached corners, knowing they were getting a full show not only of Gunnar’s skilled driving, but of my silly face beaming. There were quite a few corners that I found myself actually having to shut my eyes in as I couldn’t tell if we’d make it out without incident. But then the back straight opened up and I had the foresight to actually look up and out of the car and just “be.” And that was an experience that is close to heaven. Imagine, a wide-open long straight, Gunnar’s foot to the floor on the throttle, the clouds dappling a gorgeous blue sky and the American flag waving as we approached turn 10. It was blissfully perfect, and I was so happy in that moment that nothing else mattered. Not the two and a half hour drive I was going to have to endure to get home after such a long day, not my raw sunburnt skin, not the fact that my sweatshirt was actually inside-out as I couldn’t put it on fast enough in the pits. All that mattered was the feeling of pure ease as we glided into turn 10 and headed back to the pits to give someone else a ride.
A two-and-a-half-hour drive home gives one plenty of time to reflect on the experience of riding in a historic racing car. I’m fortunate to work in Revs Institute and walk by any number of incredible cars on a day-to-day basis. But to anyone who hasn’t seen these cars race, inside of this building, the cars are just objects; beautiful objects anyone can appreciate from an aesthetic, historic, and technologic perspective, but objects, nonetheless. Having the opportunity to see these cars taken out of their displays and pushed to their limits on the track gives one a different perspective altogether. No longer static objects, these machines take on new life with their smells, sounds, and speed. Being inside of the car as it performed its true, intended function, made me appreciate all that we do at Revs Institute even more than before. Knowing that this car was raced by Bruce Jennings for a total of 67 National SCCA race victories and it was once again turning laps 64 years later, made this ride all the more special as we slid into corners and raced down the back straight. Seeing this car in the workshop as it completes its decommissioning, I have an entirely different outlook on it as I’m instantly reminded of what it felt like to ride passenger in the Carrera GT Speedster.