From the February/March 2021 issue of Car and Driver.
You never forget where you were when a Very Bad Idea first popped into your head. For me, it was in Virginia during a glowing October sunset as I was riding in the bed of a Jeep Gladiator. K.C. Colwell, our deputy director of testing, was giving a tour of Virginia International Raceway’s 4.1-mile Grand Course. K.C. has been one of our Lightning Lap drivers for the past 11 years and knows every bump, tar patch, and inch of curbing at VIR. His tour reminded me of a scene in Free Solo, where Alex Honnold is prepping for his ropes-free climb up El Capitan by going over every handhold and foothold he’ll need to escape death. K.C. takes lapping just as seriously.
In that moment, and as someone who, since March, has taken up roller skating, guitar, baking, Among Us, German, Spanish, and Irish, I decided I was going to learn enough about performance driving to keep up with our Lightning Lap testers next year. Then I said that out loud and tried to gauge if people thought it was a dumb idea or a smart idea. The consensus seemed to be that it was a dumb idea that could make a good story. Sold.
Later, Eric Tingwall, our print director and another Lightning Lap driver, rode along as I set a baseline time around VIR in a Cadillac CT4-V. I was calm, except for a couple of times when I wasn’t. Coincidentally, those were also the times Eric thought I was going to kill him. The map of the Grand Course on page 32 does not adequately convey how gnarly it is. There are blind corners and drops and one place where you’re supposed to fix your turn by sighting a tree that no longer exists.
Do I regret this challenge I invented for myself? Yes, especially since it is now 2021 and I haven’t done a thing to get better. Is it too late to turn back? Also yes, because I yabbered on about it to people and then wrote these words. I bet this is how Diana felt when, days before the royal wedding, her sister told her she couldn’t back out now; her face was already printed on the commemorative tea towels. That marriage turned out okay, right?
For the record, Eric is fine, and my untrained lap was a 4:02.9. The work starts now. Wish me luck.
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