Tachometer Logo: Men and Speed:  A Wild Ride Through NASCAR's Breakout Season
Garage Pass
Insider's Diary
Order the Book
Racing Links
Preface: Speed

         Until one day in the spring of 2001, I thought I understood speed. For more than a year, I'd been traveling NASCAR's elite Winston Cup circuit, which features some of America's most exciting automobile racing. I'd experienced the sensation of racecars whizzing by at over 200 miles per hour. I'd gotten to know drivers, mechanics, and builders of cars. I'd spent many days with Jack Roush, an engineer, ex-racer, and racecar owner who had built a $250-million empire on speed. Roush raced four cars in Winston Cup competition, more than anyone.
         That spring day, Jack handed me the keys to one of the Stage 3 Mustang convertibles he sells on the open market. It wasn't a racecar -- but it was close, a low-slung, super-charged street machine that top ends at some 170 miles per hour and hits sixty in an astonishing 4.3 seconds. The sedan I ordinarily drove was a slug compared to it, a fact that was evident from the moment I gave it the gas.

The car handled like the proverbial dream, and I experienced a flutter inside my chest whenever I passed someone.  


         One touch and the Mustang rocketed forward, pushing me back into my seat. It felt good, and inviting: what would this car do if I put the pedal to the floor? Perhaps I would learn. I had joined Jack on an early leg of The History Channel's Great American Race, a cross-country competition involving antique cars. His new Mustang obviously couldn't enter, but Jack was sending it along as a VIP vehicle -- and he'd given me the wheel for an entire day, a trip that would take us on a winding route from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Lexington, Kentucky.
         Tempted though I was, I exercised caution as we started off through the morning commute. I didn't want to risk damaging Jack's car, which retails for more than $50,000 -- nor embarrass myself with a man who had won many championships. But the sun shone, the traffic thinned, and we started down a long stretch of open highway. Almost unconsciously, I began to lean into the gas, until we were doing eighty. The car handled like the proverbial dream, and I experienced a flutter inside my chest whenever I passed someone. And even if they were booking it, I passed, without a whisper of protest from Jack's 360-horsepower V-8 engine.
         Our route took us from highway to narrow mountain roads. This was wild country: steep inclines, precipitous ravines, deadman's curves, a place better suited to moonshining than automobiling. We came up behind one of the antique cars, traveling at a sober speed, and I backed off; the road hooked abruptly to the left, and I had only about a hundred yards of clearance. Anything could have been around that corner.
         "You can pass him, you know," said Jack, a twinkle in his eye. His friend, Victor Vojcek, another ex-racer, who was riding in back, agreed.
         I stood on the gas. We shot from twenty to sixty in about two seconds -- and blew by the old classic with room to spare. The flutter intensified to an adrenaline rush and I craved more. I was entering the zone.
         I had a few close calls on those mountain roads, including nearly running us into a ditch -- but instead of slowing me down, flirting with disaster produced the opposite effect. By now, I felt invincible. Other defining characteristics of my life (a wife and three dependent children, for example) had lost relevance. My world now was a cool car and blacktop, and what a glorious world it was.
         Late afternoon found us on the highway again: specifically, an interstate that leads into Lexington. Rush hour traffic was building. I asked Jack, who married a Kentucky woman, if the state police here were tough -- and he said they were worse than in Ohio, notorious for its speeding tickets. Deciding to be vigilant but not dawdling, I started passing again. I was back in the zone.
         Suddenly, we were alongside a shiny black Pontiac Firebird -- a fast car, but surely no match for a Roush Stage 3. A man in his early twenties was driving, and he grinned over at us. Jack surmised that he was a street racer who probably had something other than an assembly-line engine under his innocent-looking hood. I only knew that when I attempted to pass, he powered up.
         I stood on the gas. For an instant, we led -- but the young man roared ahead. I leaned into the gas a little deeper and we took him. Back and forth, trading the lead, until we'd hit 90. I'd reached my limit. I eased off, and the young man disappeared in the traffic ahead of me.
         "You didn't have to let him take you," Jack said. "You had fifty horsepower on him."
  I was totally in the zone now -- knuckles white, sweat on my forehead, the flutter in my chest a narcotic pounding.

         I was humiliated. We were about ten miles outside of Lexington now and the highway was clogged, but I silently vowed to hunt down that Firebird -- I couldn't get the image of the young man's triumphant smile as he'd zoomed away out of my head. Jack could see what I was up to, but he figured we were done.
         Jack was wrong. Taking chances a man of forty-seven never should, I tore through the traffic -- and there was the Firebird, on my right door.
         I punched the gas and we shot ahead. Caught off guard, the young man lagged -- but only momentarily. I wove through the commuters, now left, now right, the young man all the while gaining. Damn if he didn't have some kind of engine under his hood.
         I was totally in the zone now -- knuckles white, sweat on my forehead, the flutter in my chest a narcotic pounding. I could see with a clarity I'd never before experienced, and my reflexes were dangerously sharp -- but sound had virtually ceased, as if they'd dropped the soundtrack out of the movie. I think Jack said something about showing no mercy now, but I didn't need Jack to light the way. I punched the pedal to the floor, and we finally smoked the Firebird. The speedometer read 120, or so Jack later informed me.
         Thank God the Stage 3 was equipped with race brakes and race suspension -- traffic had slowed to a clot, and I was about to wreck us. I slammed on the brakes, and we came back from 120 faster than we'd gotten there, with nary a wiggle. Jack gave me a high-five, and I allowed as how you'd become a millionaire if you could bottle the feeling I had right then. I hadn't just gone fast -- I'd won, and the high of winning was more blissful than any drug.
         We exited the highway shortly thereafter, and as we stopped at a red light like the good citizens we were once again, the Firebird pulled up next to us. As it happened, the young man had his teenage brother along for the ride, and they both congratulated me on an excellent race. I asked if they were into NASCAR, and they said they were. But they hadn't made careful note of the man sitting beside me -- and when I introduced Jack Roush, they went crazy. "No way!" shouted the brother. "We raced Jack Roush!" said the driver. Turns out the boys liked Mark Martin, Jack's most popular Winston Cup driver.
         Jack invited them to follow us into downtown Lexington, where a crowd of several thousand awaited the Great American Race cars. The twenty-four-year-old driver, Jeremiah Staab, told us about his Firebird, which he had indeed configured to street race, and his eighteen-year-old brother, Jakob, let on as how he'd just graduated from high school. Jack autographed some Roush Racing hats for the boys, who lived in the hills of eastern Kentucky, and then we all posed for pictures. I was a calm and rational being once again, but I could still feel a trace of something mighty good inside my body. I later asked Jack about the effect of introducing such a substance into a young person's veins.
         "When the sap is high in the tree, oh man!" he said. "It's something that really drives you. It's just incredible. It spins you off into that business."
         Speed entices, and for the characters in this book, it proved a potent addiction from the earliest taste.

          G. Wayne Miller
          Pascoag, Rhode Island
          January 7, 2002

Use of this excerpt from MEN AND SPEED by G. Wayne Miller may be made only for purposes of reviewing or promoting the book, with no changes, editing or additions whatsoever and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2002 by G. Wayne Miller. Please check this version, from the manuscript, against the proofread pages.

Contents Copyright © 2001-2007 by G. Wayne Miller | Web site design by Timothy C. Barmann