"Race car drivers aren't athletes."
You get that a lot, usually from somebody who couldn't pick out a stick shift from a stick ball in a police lineup.
I beg to differ with that premise. Vehemently.
I can say that with complete personal conviction, for I am a bad Speed Racer.
On a race track, I'm the guy with the left-turn blinkers on and the radio tuned into Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Old and deceptively slow.
The Exotic Driving Experience, staged at Daytona International Speedway recently, gave me a taste of speed. Or lack thereof.
The opportunity was too good to pass up: Take a six-lap spin on Daytona's 1.06-mile road course in an exotic dream machine like a Lamborghini, Ferrari, or Aston Martin. Before I could get my James Bond vibe on, it was gone. My randomly-selected car was a Nissan GTR, priced at $90,950. It's actually an economical drive compared to the Ferraris ($295,000) and Lamborghinis ($243,000), but it also has the best pick-me-up.
"Godzilla goes on a power trip and comes back with a 2.9-second 0-to-60 time," says the promotional brochure.
The beast and I got acquainted after a short safety and protocol briefing, and a video by Christian Fittipaldi.
Strap on a black balaclava -- think open-face ski mask -- strap on a helmet and slide into my ride. The speedometer is taped over so drivers can focus on the course. An instructor, David Cabrera, sits on the passenger side to help guide me through all the twists and turns properly.
I am now in elite company. Only about 5 percent of the nation's population sign up for this type of thrill ride, available in Daytona and the Walt Disney World Speedway, among other tracks. "I love to see the big smiles on their faces when they get out of the car," Cabrera says, pumping me up for the ride.
The hardest thing you have to do is trust the car. The handing is superb, the speed off the charts, and the course challenging. Just when you've settled into the zoom-zoom-zoom of the straightaway, you have to ease off the accelerator to take a curve.
I find that to be the most difficult part of the journey. It's a natural survival instinct to put on the brakes. It takes a few laps to get into the groove, literally.
I gradually pick up speed, going from 93 to 95 to 100 mph on consecutive laps before I get the too-quick "last lap" heads up from Cabrera. It's over way to fast. The adrenaline rush has given way to disappointment, knowing I could have pushed speedometer harder. Other drivers revved up to 110 mph on this baby.
Alas, the name "Diaz" will not join the pantheon of racing greats like Fittipaldi, Earnhardt, Petty and Andretti.
This brings us back to the original premise. Try doing this for a living. Not only do you need to worry about your own car, but dozens of other cars going the same crazy speed lap after lap after lap.
You think 100 mph is fast? Try doubling-down on Daytona's restrictor plate stock-car track for the famed Daytona 500. Now you're going close to 200 mph, three wide, with cars on either side of you.
Now throw a little science into the mix. NASCAR drivers can experience 3 Gs of force against their bodies during a race, similar to the forces felt by shuttle astronauts at liftoff. Their heart rate runs between 120 and 150 beats per minute for three hours or so. That's comparable to an experienced marathon runner.
Forget the cars. These guys are beasts in their own right. And that's why I write about the sport and not looking at it as a second career option.
"You're not going to become an [Ayrton] Senna or [Juan Pablo] Montoya in six laps," Cabrera said, trying to let me down easy.
Hey, at least I didn't hit a jet dryer.