"So what's the fastest car you've been in?"
I've heard this question a hundred times. Typically, it's followed by a list of cars like the Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari FXX, Ruf Porsche, SLR McLaren, etc. I've had the opportunity to drive a few of the aforementioned and, yes, they are hella-fast.
I've been in faster, though.
During my stint with sister publication Super Chevy, I followed its Super Chevy Show around the country, working in places like Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania, Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas and Sears Point in Northern California. I was young and cocky and said something to the effect that a 911 Turbo could kick the ass of every car here.
Twenty minutes later, I was strapped into a 'Shoebox' Chevy, a racecar based loosely on a 1955 Bel Air. Sitting on what appeared to be a converted lawn chair, I listened as its 502 cubic inch engine purged the first of three stages of nitrous oxide. I tried to look bored, flicking away non-existent dirt from my fingernails.
"OK, city-boy," said my burly driver. "You might want to grab something."
The next 10 seconds went something like this... First gear: we launch and my head is thrown against the rollbar, leaving me staring at the roof, then slammed forward so I'm looking at the floor. Second gear: my head is thrown against the rollbar, leaving me staring at the roof, then slammed forward so I'm looking at the floor. Third gear: my head is thrown against the rollbar, leaving me staring at the roof, then slammed forward so I'm looking at the floor... get the idea?
The ride ended as the chute deployed, giving me a great view of the floor. Again.
We thundered through the traps at 157 mph, about the same speed a jumbo jet needs for lift-off. We covered the quarter-mile in 8.987 seconds; zero-to-60 mph was calculated at 2.1 seconds.
I didn't so much leap from the car but was more 'poured' out-legs rubbery, face pale. I was going to say something witty and defiant; all I could manage were a few guttural moans and flailing hands.
"You're welcome," said my driver.
So yeah, that was the fastest car I've experienced. In Pennsylvania, no less.
Fifteen years later, I'm back in the Keystone State, bribing a plant manager with a case of Yuengling Lager (apparently, it's the only beer worth drinking in these parts). I'm here with the crew from AWE, taking pictures in a quarry some 300 feet deep, a primordial location mined for more than a century. It's still too early to shoot, so everyone is just hanging out talking about cars. AWE's 911 Turbo is unguarded, the keys in the ignition. Nobody's looking and the road is clear. I am so gone.
Given its fairly docile tone, I leave the quarry unnoticed and enter the frontal road. Pennsylvania in springtime is gorgeous; this stretch of pavement looks like an ad for the Department of Tourism. I pause for a moment just to make sure everything's cool, find first gear and start rolling. I figure 40 mph is a safe launch speed-no need to spin tires and gain unwanted attention.
I figured wrong.
My head snaps against the seat in a frightening case of dj vu. The next three gears are just as entertaining as the canopy of trees become a smeared mess of green. I have to use considerable force to hang onto the steering wheel, the Porsche doing its best to squash me into the rear seat. The ride ends abruptly when I stand on the big Brembos. And then I turn around and do it the other way, no chutes to repack, no plugs to replace, just flip a U-ee and do it again.
As I write this, AWE is at Pocono Raceway, flogging the bejesus out of its 911 Turbo. Hopes are for the mid-to-upper 10s in the quarter-mile, a feat that would leave the car the fastest street Porsche we've ever driven. It would also be firmly placed in the upper echelon of the world's fastest cars.
I still love drag cars and have a huge appreciation of what people do in the name of saving one-tenth of a second. However, I think cars that can go fast in a straight line and turn are even better. Throw in a few nice seats, AC and a radio and you've got something special.
If you've ever made a quarter-mile pass in the eight- or even nine-second range, you won't soon forget it. Cars that quick are usually purpose-built, cantankerous machines with explosive personalities. Typically, you get one chance for those numbers-if everything goes just perfect. On the other hand, the AWE Porsche will continue to cut impressive times until it runs out of gas.
Anyway, that's the story of the fastest car I've experienced. Thanks to technological advancements, I'm certain those Shoebox Chevys are even faster. Good for them. I'll be cheering at the end of the track, the part where it becomes all twisty.
Then it will be my turn.