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Reporter gets a lesson in racing at BIR

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sports Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd Dispatch
customer support
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

My fire suit smelled of stale sweat. My helmet smelled of what I imagined were the tears of racers before me.

I stood on the track at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR) Thursday, about to get my first taste of high-speed driving.

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It was part of the 67th annual Governor’s Fishing Opener. Media from across the Midwest were invited to take an introduction of BIR’s Performance Driving School and then get behind the wheel of a shiny red Spec Racer and drive a few laps.

Well, those of us who knew how to drive a stick shift were allowed in the Spec Racer.

For me, the only one in the class who’d only ever driven an automatic, would get to test out a retired police cruiser.

I felt like the odd one out being the only one at the track who didn’t know how to drive a stick shift.

The judgment started (at least in my head) when I picked up my fire suit and helmet.

“Are you driving the Spec?” the worker asked me.

“No, I don’t know how to drive stick,” I sheepishly replied.

Why, oh why, did I never learn?

My next shame came with my helmet.

First, a little family background: Every member on my dad’s side is notorious for having a big head. Literally.

It’s a sore subject for me. I even go as far as to stand a step behind people in photos, just to make our heads look the same size.

I told the BIR guy to give me the biggest size helmet he had. He laughed.

“Here’s an XXL, but I don’t think it will fit,” he said.

It did.

I zipped up my snazzy red and black fire-resistant suit, grabbed my helmet and headed to class.

My black ballet flat shoes added that extra touch to the wardrobe.

Our class’ first lesson was the most important, said Gary Curtis, an instructor with the driving school. We had to know what each color flag meant.

Green, of course meant the course is clear. Yellow, slow down. The famous checkered flag, head to the pits.

The 2.5 mile track was a lot more intimidating than I thought it would be. There were so many terms and foot and hand maneuvers to learn.

One slip up could mean a crash.

“Common sense is the key word out there,” Curtis said.

My confidence dwindled. Common sense? Everyone in that class seemed to know more about racing than me. At most, I’ve watched about 10 seconds of a competition. I got a speeding ticket once when I was a teenager. Does that count as racing knowledge?

My pre-racing anxiety level was rising.

In the 22 years the driving school has been operating, it has passed thousands of students through the doors. Last year was the first time there were crashes.

I would be the first crash this year, I convinced myself.

Curtis’ lesson continued and so did my stress.

Finally, it was time to get behind the wheel.

I put on my brave face and grabbed my helmet.

I’m going to do this, I told myself. And I’m not going to rollover or spinout.

A loud clap of thunder. Rain pounded on the roof. Just as our class finished up, the rain started.

We waited around for 45 minutes before the drive was called off.

In full disclosure, part of me was relieved. But the other part of me, the thrill-seeking mountain biker in me, was pretty disappointed.

I’ll eventually get behind that Spec racer, though. First, I have to recruit someone to teach me stick shift.

JESSIE PERRINE may be reached at jessie.perrine@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews.

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