I’ve always had fun driving fast cars on racetracks: Lime Rock in Connecticut, Pocono in Pennsylvania, Road Atlanta in Georgia, Talledaga in Alabama. But the most fun I’ve had with clothes on was taking the “Green Car Challenge
” on Jay Leno’s track outside his studio in Burbank. Here’s a look on video, featuring Justin Bell, the highly decorated race driver who coaches the celebrities on the track:
Carved out of Leno’s parking lot and colorfully painted, the track is just 1,100 feet long, with seven twisty turns and chicanes. Summoning my best Mario Andretti, I negotiated the two laps in 59 seconds. Bell told me I could likely shave a couple seconds with a little more behind-the-wheel time. The car, a Ford Focus-based EV closely related to the civilian version that will be on our roads in 2011
, was a bit slower off the mark than I’d anticipated. But with a racing suspension and rear tires inflated to 60 pounds per square inch, the Ford handled very well and made satisfying squealing noises.
It’s time to banish any lingering thoughts that EVs are pokey little things that struggle to reach the speed limit. Electric motors have 100 percent torque at zero revolutions per minute, so as soon as you hit the accelerator pedal (don’t call it “the gas”) you’re off. There’s no V-8 roar, but otherwise the experience is wonderfully visceral. It’s not surprising that EV drag racers are competitive.
So far, Drew Barrymore holds the course record at 57 seconds, and that includes three one-second penalties for clipping corners. Steve Carell of The Office came close to beating her time, but sportscaster Bob Costas wasn’t competitive, nor was Rush Limbaugh, who had so much fun running into the Al Gore cardboard cutout that he backed up and hit it a second time. Ed Begley, Jr. got creamed, too.
Bell told me that Limbaugh was “the worst,” with a time well over a minute, but he made his point. Begley himself is likely to take to the track in due course, so perhaps he’ll want to chose a different obstacle. Leno had predicted that women would be competitive because “they listen,” and that was the case with Barrymore. “She told me she hadn’t driven in five months, then she got out there and terrified me,” Bell said. “She was very competent.”