My First Time Driving a Race Car Bryce Rodriguez April 17, 2024

My First Time Driving a Race Car

The first time I was in a race car came on November 2nd, 2022. Up until this point, I had been sim racing my whole life and never had the money or opportunity to go racing or even drive a race car on a circuit. I’ve always dreamed of getting behind the wheel of a real car. I just wanted to have the feeling of being behind the wheel.

In 2022 I was selected out of 200 applicants to take part in the Inaugural PT Autosport Aspiring Driver Shootout. Not only was this my first time driving a manual car it was also the first time while knew that I was competing for a $100,000 scholarship against 7 other contestants who all had racing experience. How I perform in the car could impact my future and open up the path I’ve been wanting my whole life.

The shootout took place at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville New Jersey. Before the event I’ve of course driven the (thunderbolt raceway) track hundreds of times on iRacing and Assetto Corsa, but this was for real. After completing the fitness tests, media interviews, and driver briefing I was the second group of drivers to get in the car. The car was a Mazda NA MX-5 and there were two cars. So two drivers went out onto the track at a time. I was going to be driving after the first pair finished their first runs. The cars were in the garage and the first two drivers who where driving jumped in and headed out onto the track while I watched.

They went out onto the track and I walked out to the pit lane and watched them fly by the start-finish line every time. It was a bit intimidating at first. Watching the cars go by at over 100mph knowing you were going to be driving next…

The white flag came for the two drivers on track (signaling the last lap), and I got ready, put the gloves on and waited patiently for them to come around so we could do a driver swap in the pitlane. The car finally rolled in and stopped. I hopped over the pit wall and hustled into the car. It was quite difficult to get into as there was a roll cage was there to greet me when I opened the door. I squeezed to get into the Sparco racing seat that hugged my body. The two harnesses came over my shoulders as I was being helped strapped in by my driver coach, two more harnesses came across my legs. The belts got way tighter than I imagined. It felt like I was just attached to the racing seat. My driver coach next to me started helping me move the seat forward and put the steering wheel on. We start talking about the procedures through the headset we’re connected too as I got more nervous for the big moment.

I think at this point my heart rate felt like it was close to my max heart rate (at least it felt like it). My heart was coming out of my chest and I was scared shitless. I couldn’t be though and I had a job to do. I already had a decent idea of the clutch, and gearbox because of my Logitech G29 at home but doing it on the spot with so many other things going, on was a different story. I put the clutch in and put the gear stick into first. I tried to pull away and I stalled. This was bound to happen but the second time I finally started moving (not so smoothy) and I started to drive out of the pit lane…

Coming out of the pit exit I checked my mirrors just like in the sim. “Track is clear” I said to my coach. As I merged onto the track it all felt surreal. The sound of the engine, the feeling of actually being on the track with everything feeling connected to the road, all of the sensations I never had before of what the car was doing underneath me.

In a race car you’re strapped very tight to the car, there’s no assists or modern car technology to dull down the sensations. It’s quite the opposite if you’ve ever driven a Tesla before. Everything feels so mechanical, so you can imagine you can feel much more than your standard road car.

My mind started to calm and I started to feel more connected to reality and started picking up the speed throughout my first out lap. Shifting through the gears my coach was guiding me through the corners and I was also commentating on what I was doing. By the time I knew it I was coming out of the last corner and put my foot to the floor for the font straight. I was going about 110mph down the front straight past the start finish barreling down to the first corner.

Right after I passed the start finish It hit me I had to brake. I didn’t know how hard, and my brain going a million miles a minute couldn’t compute really where to brake. I felt like I went into high alert and I came off the gas early and hit the brake pedal quite lightly but squeezing on as I got deeper into the braking zone.

I come off the brakes and turn the car in hitting the apex going back on the throttle, tracking out wide and turning in for turn 2 over the crest. At this moment everything felt like it became subconscious and It felt like I was in the flow state. Even though I wasn’t driving the fastest lap in the world, I was learning and taking everything in. It’s a moment and a feeling I won’t ever forget.

I started driving the car just like how I would in the sim. Connecting corners together, feeling the grip and the speed throughout the lap. I finally was driving a race car on the real track.

Watch Onboard My First Lap

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