By: Kathryn Larson
Forget fad diets, ladies. You want to know the simple, secret easy way to weight loss? Two minutes with the racing legend Mario Andretti.
Andretti greets me in a white flame retardant logo crested suit.
The weather for our ride is a balmy 72 degrees. My 72-year-old race car driver is sporting Ray Ban’s. I pinch myself — of course he’s rocking Ray Bans! He’s a race car driver! He flashes an easy smile. I sheepishly grin.
We talk. He tells me we’re going to do some crazy things — at some absurd speeds. I gulp. We’re standing on the Belle Isle Grand Prix Race Track. I’m about to go on the ride of my life.
I ask how fast we’ll go.
“Just 200 to 300 miles an hour,” my race-man says with a glimmer that peaks through his sunglass covered eyes. A laughing smile crosses his lips. I weakly smile back. My palms are sweating.
Dear reader, I’m out of my league. THIS is crazy. I’m a rules of the road kinda girl. My biggest offense? Truth time — I’m a simple nine you’re fine, 10 your mine sort of speeder. I tell Andretti all this — he just keeps laughing at me.
“Suit up. You’ll see.” His eyes are smiling again.
This man and his Italian charm! How can I say no to possible death when Mario Andretti is behind the wheel?
OK. This is real. My chips are all in. Someone hands me a pen. I look down. Holy cow. This is a lot of paperwork. I sign in a blur. Why read the fine print when your life is about to get that much faster?
I’m suddenly inside Mario Andretti’s trailer. Wow — double wow! He’s got tons of different suits. I secretly wonder if he does this for all the girls. His assistant finds me an outfit. She tells me I’d make a perfect Danica. I blush. To think, me a race car driver?!?
I step out. Surprisingly, I totally own the look. Donning a crested black-canvas fire resistant get-up — my 5’2 figure feels, well, flattered. Some really soft black leather high-tops find their way to my feet. I’m fashion-forward and ready to vroom.
In the distance, I hear my race-man! I peer out of the trailer. The vroom of the car’s engine is electric. He’s in the car — oh my — he’s revving the engine!
Before I know it, Guy – Andretti’s lead mechanic is indulging me. He has a soothing voice — his calm words are a delivered gently, offering a perfect distraction from all the noise bouncing around the extreme track.
Guy shows me a few helmets — we decide on the one with the snuggest fit. You’d think that’d be enough for this one lap ride. But, oh no — here comes a cream-colored ski-mask. It’s going over my head. I’m suffocating! This thing is hot.
Now comes the helmet — even hotter. Guy helps put on the black fire-retardant gloves before telling me it’s all for my protection, in case I burn up. I’m already burning up. I can’t imagine this getting any hotter.
The sound of Andretti’s engine disarms me. It’s blasting with energy. He’s ready to take me. (Dear reader, not like that. Come on! This is CBSDetroit.com — seriously!)
Andretti’s wasting no time. He revs the Indy Car’s motor — beckoning me closer to the car. This is really happening. I can’t breathe! Well, I can — but not in any normal way. Riding with Andretti isn’t normal. I keep telling myself — this is beyond real.
The pit crew is assisting me into my race man’s IndyCar, and I’m sitting shotgun to the God of the racing world. Insane!
The visor comes down. Andretti’s wasting no time. Two crew men push us off. Suddenly were climbing to alarming speeds. We’re fast. We’re too fast. We’re braking — I’m bracing myself. Half way through the turns on the track, I understand that a race car driver’s life is always in extremes. We’re careening from side to side. My heart is thudding out of my chest!
Everything is bumpy. My fanny is just inches from the cement. I’m feeling every shift. One wrong move and my equilibrium tilts. This is what G-force feels like. At first, it’s exhilarating. It’s hot — seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this faint! I look around, the track scenery is all a blur. I try to focus on what’s in front of me. Andretti taking me on another spin. My ski mask falls in my eyes. I panic. I can’t see a thing!
Frustrated, I use my flame retardant gloves to push up my helmet. I can’t push that stupid ski mask back up cause I have that stupid visor closed shut. I feel trapped. My breathing becomes labored. This really is a tight spot. I realize my body barely fits in the seat. I close my eyes and try to wiggle around in the chair. I tilt my helmet, once again. This time, success, the ski mask goes up! Sight returns!
This is a rush, and right as I’m beginning to really get into the whole experience, Andretti takes around the final bend before pulling us onto the finish line.
My equilibrium is shaken, I feel listless. Raw — out of body. The pit crew comes to my rescue.
First thing I notice as they heave my unwilling body out of the car’s frame is that Andretti is perfectly calm. Steel eyed, hands gripping the wheel. He’s still focused on the road. I’m putty. I’m trying to figure out if I’ll ever get my land legs. After a few awkward attempts, I’m back on land. I can’t wait to get out of this hot suit!
Guy senses my despair. He steps in and helps me remove the helmet. He starts yanking at the tightly woven ski mask that clings to my face and hair. Eventually — with a group effort — we tug it off. Phew! I’m feeling much more like myself.
Minutes later, Andretti joins me in the trailer. He’s fresh eyed and completely at ease. It’s amazing to watch. One minute he’s totally focused – in the zone – in the hot seat. The next he’s back to his smiley, happy-go-lucky self.
I’m on an adrenaline high. I’m soaring. He tells me every time he drives on the track, he gets that feeling.
“Once you’re not feeling it, it’s no longer worth doing.” I doubt he’ll ever outgrow the feeling.
We chat some more — joke about creating cooling helmets.
I realize our time is coming to a close and sensing my sadness, he pulls out a Sharpie and writes me a message that I will cherish forever.
“To Kathryn, You can co-drive with me any time,” – Mario Andretti.
I sigh, I call my mom. I’m on a high all day.
I awake next morning to a huge surprise. First of all, dear reader, I should say I woke super thirsty. Orange juice beckons me. Before I know it, I’ve gulped down two cups. I put a hand on my lower back! Whoa! My muffin top! It’s missing! I immediately head to the scale.
Four pounds lost. I’m incomplete shock. I immediately think about what I was doing. My only real exercise was two minutes being driven around the Grand Prix Track! Seriously, could this be?!? Nobody told me most race car drivers typically lose 15 pounds a race.
So, dear reader, I have found the perfect way to get a head start on that summer body. All you need is a race car — and Mario Andretti.