Burning Rubber

PERU, Ind. - With my seat belt cinched tightly against my waist and a helmet strapped uncomfortably snug on my head, I was by all appearances ready to complete my first Corvette autocross event. My mental state was another matter. I felt nervous. As the Corvettes ahead of me began their lap around the curvy course at the Grissom Aeroplex, I had one thought to calm myself: It's just driving. But it wasn't the kind of driving I was used to. On the tarmac, another set of rules applied. There, the speedometer didn't matter, and spinouts didn't come with dangers. There was no backing out, though.

I somehow let my father pay my $50 entry fee without much protest. I could already hear the taunts that would follow if I came all the way to the autocross only to watch. Like the other participants - who came from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska and Tennessee - my father and I readied his Corvette for the races. We checked the tire pressure and gutted our belongings from the sports car; apparently unsecured objects thrash around at high speeds. Soon, it was time to walk the course, which was outlined by dozens of orange traffic cones baring the scars of other autocrosses. The goal, my dad told me, was to go between each gate, or set of cones. Miss a gate or knock a pylon over and get penalized. Although the course included a 90-degree turn, a U-turn and a chicane, it didn't appear too difficult. Rather, it looked like an elaborate driver's education course.

Because I wasn't a member of the National Council of Corvette Clubs - the Indiana Region hosted and sanctioned the autocross - I raced in the exhibition class against a girl driving a Ford Mustang. Fortunately, that meant I could ride in the car as my dad drove in his class, which was up first. Once we got the signal to go, Dad floored the gas, making my stomach lurch as it would on a rollercoaster. I braced myself as he slammed on the brakes to make the first turn, and I tried to stay composed as, a few gates later, we spun out. Before we finished the lap, I was already thinking, “I'm definitely going slower than this.”

Tired of being jostled, I stepped out of the Corvette for Dad's last two runs and spoke with Fort Wayne, Ind., club member and veteran racer Dick Runyan. He assured me I wasn't alone in my hesitation. He recalled how he spent half the summer of 1978 psyching himself up to race. Once he did, he wondered why it took him so long. “You're among friends,” Runyan said. “Drive as fast as you're comfortable with.”

The whistle finally blew to signal the start of the ladies' class. I strapped on my helmet, cinched my seat belt and cruised to the line. So there I was, surrounded by Corvettes - and one Mustang - with no escape but the track. “It's just driving,” I thought. “It's just driving.”

And it was - at least in my first lap, when I clocked a leisurely 90 seconds compared to most people's 60 or 50. With each lap I let go of some of my inhibitions and thus cut my time to 72 seconds, 70 seconds and, on the last two laps, 69 seconds. Like most racers, I couldn't tell you the fastest speed I drove. The speedometer doesn't matter when you're trying to stay on course. And, when I did think about checking, I decided I didn't need to see what I knew would be embarrassingly slow speeds. Better to let people think I floored it.

By Ashley Rhodebeck
Daily News Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, October 11, 2008
"Reporter takes Corvette on drive down the straightaway"
(This article is Reprinted with permission from the Beloit (WI) Daily News)


Ashley is the daughter of Marlin and Anita Rhodebeck, Members of Fort Wayne Corvette Club in the Indiana Region. She is a former NCCC scholarship winner who graduated from the Indiana University School of Journalism and reports for the Beloit Daily News in Beloit, WI. She is a former NCCC and FCOA member from the Indiana Region.

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