by A.J. Baime
Reprinted from Playboy Magazine, January 2011
A Formula One car is the world's most heralded mechanical athlete, the brainchild of the finest engineers working at the top level of international speed competition. Driving one of these machines is like making love to Marilyn Monroe, or walking on the moon - one of those things on every man's bucket list that will never get crossed off. Or will it?
On a bright Sunday in September, eight other disciples of the adrenaline gods and I arrived at the Monticello Motor Club's 4.1 mile track, where the Jersey-based company World Class Driving was holding it's Formula One Experience ($6,995, worldclassdriving.com). An Arrow A18 Formula One car awaited.
After signing Bible-thick blocks of legal disclaimers, we got to pilot the car through the track's sweeping curves and elevation changes. About the Arrow: 720HP, 220MPH top speed, zero to 100 in about 5 seconds. The car placed second in the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix, in the hands of world champion Damon Hill. It was the real thing.
The first "customer" today was the CEO of a defense-contracting outfit who had spent a lot of time in Iraq. He stalled a few times (normal, given the idiosyncratic clutch), then spun off the track. The second driver stalled a few times, then spun off the track.
When it was my turn, I climbed into the cockpit, wearing full-body fireproof coveralls and a helmet. Once strapped in, I lay horizontally as if in a coffin, the belts so tight across I could barely breathe. No stalling for this guy. On the track I let those 720 horses go, only to hear mortality speak to me over the glorious hellcat roar of the engine.
What's it like to drive a Formula One car? Probably like having sex with Marilyn Monroe: a timeless inimitable thrill, and yet a deeply humbling experience. To get the most out of that machine would require a man with bigger balls and a hell of a lot more skill.