In loving memory of my father. Thank you for taking me to all those races growing up. Thank you for making me a driver.
It’s winter in Cleveland, Ohio. I stand in a mixture of salt and snow at the dealership while they finish my car’s service. I’m 17 years old and have never known true power beneath my foot. Earlier that year, my father surprised me with my first car. I had walked out of the house to see him standing in the driveway grinning ear to ear, car keys dangling from his finger. Behind him was what would later become the best part of my teenage years, a Mercedes C280. I ran to him, shouting in disbelief like I was being filmed for some low-budget teen-drama. He dropped the keys into my hand, spared me the lecture he probably should have given, and I was off. I had nowhere to go, no one to see, but I had a car. It was more than that, though. It was freedom.
Everyone has their road. The winding forest street, that strip of highway that’s perfectly paved, the parking lot you did your first donut in, we all have one. Mine was always the winding road through undeveloped land that it seemed no one knew about. That’s where I went. That’s where I took my new love first. In that moment, as I took each turn with more and more speed, I was at Le Mans. I was at Spa, Monaco, all of them. I was a winner, a champion, I was a driver. This didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t become a driver when I got my first car, and it wasn’t when I got my license. I’d been a driver for a long time before any of that.
You’re ten years old again. You twist and pull carpet between your fingers while you sit, cross-legged on the floor, completely entranced by sights and sounds. In front of you, the family television fills your eyes with turns, straights, overtakes and of course, that glorious checkered flag. You see your idol cross that line and imagine it’s you. You can hear the crowd cheer for you. You can feel the heat of the engine and hear the tires fight for grip while you take every turn as hard as possible. That’s how I grew up and if you’re reading this, you probably grew up a lot like this too. This is who we are. We are children, fans, dreamers, and speed demons. We are the noise complaint late at night, we are the smell of burning rubber and brake dust.
We are drivers.
Fast forward, now, and I’m back in the snow. I do that slow walk that we’ve all done, looking through the dealership with only half-interest. Then you see it. It stares at you and for a second, you could swear it called your name. For some, it’s a JDM that beckons them closer. Others feel their hairs stand on end at the sight of true American muscle. In my case, it was a 2011 Audi R8 that gave me the chills. Mind you, I’ve seen cars like this plenty in my life. Every time I go to get my car serviced, they’re scattered around me. I always get a little tingle when I look and, sometimes, sit in one. I’d never driven one, only looked and touched. So that’s what I did, I looked. I did the same type of looking I’d always done, knowing I could only dream. Maybe I’d done some good deed that year, or maybe the planets were in line. I don’t know what happened, but something possessed the manager of the dealership, to walk up behind me. I’d never met him before, never said hello to him, nothing. All I knew was he knew my parents, but not me. I’m just some kid getting his car serviced.
I turned around to a friendly hello and a smile. He was young but formal, and he looked a bit like a stiff. He asked if he could help me and I explained I was just looking while they did my car. He walked up a little closer, stood next to me, and we both turned back to the R8. He talked about it for a minute, giving me basic details that were already printed on the sticker, and then he said it. Words I truly didn’t expect to hear. “Let me go get the keys”.
I am that ten-year-old boy again.
At this point, I’m thinking “cool, he’s going to take me for a ride and probably rev the engine up a bit for me. This should be fun”. I guess he had different plans. When he came back I smiled like an idiot and walked towards to passenger door. He unlocked it and got in the driver’s seat and started it up. Once I got in, he ran me through the basic workings of the car. Gear shift, paddle shifters, traction control and all sorts of technical stuff. I listened intently, eager to learn more about exactly what was going on inside the car. Then he asked if I wanted to drive. He asked a 17-year-old kid if he wanted to drive an Audi R8 in the winter in Ohio… He must be crazy. My eyes lit up with joy and disbelief, and I eagerly accepted his generous offer. I got out of the passenger seat, my hands shaking with excitement, as he held open the driver-side door. I was in.
I can’t hear what he’s saying anymore. In fact, it was as if he wasn’t even there. All I could hear was the engine. All I could see was the flawless interior. Next thing I knew, he was in the passenger seat, buckled up, and directing me out of the dealership. My foot had never known that power before. My hands had never held that precision before. I had never known that feeling before. My oh my, what a feeling. We’re on the road now, a city street with a depressing speed limit. He continues directing me around, all the while telling me more about that incredible piece of machinery I was controlling. “Go ahead and get on the highway”. Those words excited me to an entirely new level. Did he know what he was doing? Did he care?
The entrance ramp was a long banked loop, perfect. I’m in the merge lane now and it’s time. Pedal down. I was raised to be polite, so I resisted to urge to mash the throttle and opted for a smooth, but quick acceleration. I’m driving safely, and that’s enough to make me happy. Right then and there, it wasn’t about the speed, it was about the moment. He told me to get in the left lane and speed up a little. Of course I complied, how could I not? When I didn’t think it could get any better, I found out something new about the man next to me. He was a driver.
“Open it up”.
Did he really say that? I couldn’t help but look at him for reassurance. He looked back at me, smiled, and nodded at the wheel. I was off in a heartbeat. 100 mph, we’re moving now. 110, oh that’s quick. The next thing I knew, I was passing 130 mph on the speedometer and he was laughing like he’d just unleashed the devil upon the world. My heart was pounding, adrenaline coursing through my veins. It was so effortless, it handled like a dream, it was perfect.
I am not a car reviewer. I won’t tell you ratios or torque, I can’t give you facts and figures. All I can give you is the feeling. All I can tell you of is joy. An Audi R8 stole my heart that day. Does this mean that’s my dream car? Does this mean people can’t tell me there are flaws? No. This means that, for a moment, I saw my childhood dreams come true. Five years later now and I’ve been behind the wheel of numerous other sports cars. They have all given me immense joy, they have all been fantastic works of engineering genius. I have had fun in every sports car that I have been lucky enough to drive, but only one can be my first.