Jerry Seinfeld, Mario Andretti, and me – Racing at 120 mph
- Posted by James Altucher
I’ll tell you a sure way to die. Get in a half million dollar car, go up to 120 miles per hour and weave and turn around a 4 mile racetrack as I did in mid-2008. Oh, and start off without telling the person who lent you the car that not only you don’t have a license but that you regularly have very visceral hallucinations when behind a wheel.
Throw in the fact that you are about to get divorced, that once again you are losing a ton of money, that you have a lot of people you are angry at and who actually wouldn’t mind if you were dead, and on top of it you had semi-suicidal tendencies. Altogether you might end up at least crippled, brain damaged, or with several limbs sliced off in emergency roadside surgery.
I don’t have a driver’s license. It’s been taken away from me more than once. One time, I almost killed a 70 year old man when I went right through a stop sign while daydreaming about a chess lesson when I was 17 years old. I had just beaten the US champion in a game of blitz chess. I had sacrificed my queen and three moves later it was mate. He laughed and shook my hand. So, naturally, I was daydreaming about it while cruising past a stop sign at sixty miles an hour.
Four white picket fences on all four corners were destroyed and the 70 year old man in the station wagon that happened to find himself that split second in the same intersection as me (but he got there first), broke his leg, barely surviving. I went straight through the glass of the car window but was miraculously unscathed. Supposedly when you go through a glass window your penis and testicles get sliced to shreds. God wanted my daughters to be born, however, so somehow this fate was spared me.
Which starts to tell the story of how I ended up in mid 2008 going 120 miles per hour on a racetrack in the new Ferrari 527M Maranello. My passenger was a professional race car driver and instructor with thick arms that I could see tense as he held to the side of the passenger seat, as if he had a better chance of jumping out in a worst-case scenario than risking whatever death I was getting ready to plunge into.
We were at the Monticello Motor Club, where for reasons known only to God and the angels that had abandoned him I had decided to become a member despite not having even driven a car for the prior 4 years.
Well, I take that back. I had driven. I had to move two cars in my driveway in early January, 2008, and right there in the driveway I ended up smashing both cars and causing thousands of dollars in damage. I then neglected to tell my ex-wife what happened and I walked to the train station and went into the city, completely avoiding the potentially nuclear situation that could occur. One car was a PT Cruiser that has held on now for a good ten years. The other was a Chrysler Pacifica. Buy American.
Now I had the honor of being the first member ever to go on the Monticello Motor Club racetrack because my friend Ari Straus, an owner and now-CEO of the club, called me to tell me they had just laid the asphalt down and the track was finally ready after years of planning and building. Did I want to come be the first non-employee of the club to drive on it?
The track is 4.1 miles. My passenger was Tony Funicello, a former diplomat who retired, switched careers and then became the chief instructor of the Ferrari Club before joining the team of the Monticello Motor Club. I was terrified to drive because I don’t like going fast, even when I’m a passenger, and quite frankly, I have a horrible tendency to hallucinate at critical moments behind the wheel. This is part of my problem when driving.
In my ego-driven moments I conclude that the hallucinations are visions of the future. i.e. eventually another car will, in fact, occupy the intersection that I am currently at. So of course I’m seeing it right on my car, forcing me to swerve uncontrollably to avoid it. But to outside observers it simply appears that I’m mentally ill and should never be allowed behind a wheel.
We drove around the track a couple of times while Tony showed me the basics: how to keep my hands on the steering wheel in the right way so I never have to go hand over hand. How to get wide before the turn before then hugging the edge of the turn. How to start accelerating before the turn is over. Finally, right before the straight which is close to a mile long he said, “ok, slam on the accelerator” and I did. I got up to 70 miles per hour before feeling my heart start beating fast to the point of exhaustion and I had to slow it down. But by the time I went around the track on the eighth or ninth time I was a little more comfortable and ready to really gun it. I hit 120 miles per hour, although Bill McMichael, the then-CEO of the club blew past me at almost 200 miles per hour.
It was just a few weeks earlier that Ari called me to tell me to check out the racetrack. For years Ari had been my 6am Scrabble opponent before my daytrading day began but then Ari disappeared for all of 2007 to build what I thought was “his toy”, the racetrack. “You have to come check it out,” he said, “we’re going to have a 5000 sq ft spa, it’s the largest private racetrack in the country, we’re going to have 5 star facilities for a restaurant, hotel, race car instructors, a helipad. It’s the only exclusive private racetrack in the country and we’re limiting the membership to 500 members. You should definitely join. Jerry Seinfeld is a member, Mario Andretti is a member, a ton of hedge fund managers, billionaires,etc are joining.”
“But Ari, I don’t drive. I don’t like to drive. The last time I drove a car I got stopped for driving the wrong way down a one way street with a suspended license and no paperwork for the car.” But Ari is very persuasive and so I, along with my good friends Jerry Seinfeld and Mario Andretti, became a member of the largest private racetrack in the country. Despite no interest in cars, racing, driving, or 5 star restaurants for that matter.
Later that Saturday afternoon after my lesson, Ari called me to tell me what Tony, the instructor said about our lesson: “In my 20 year history as a senior racing instructor and chief instructor for Ferrarri club, I’ve never had a worse student behind the wheel, but he has potential because he has absolutely no driving habits to unlearn.”
Last week, and three years after this driving experience almost to the day, Ari calls me again. “You haven’t been here in three years and you’re a full-fledged member,” he said. “You have to come down and try out the track again. Come on a Thursday, the track is not so busy and we’ll set you up with lessons.”
I don’t think I have the same suicide wishes I once had. But I guess I’ll find out.
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