Fast Trackin'

May 5, 1999 at 12:00 am

Ask my insurance agent if learning to drive by tooling around in a go-cart was a good tutorial for my future highway and byway habits and she’ll probably just shake her head.

One thing’s for certain, though. Whenever I feel the need to get some perspective on road rage, I can find it at the nearest go-cart track. There’s nothing quite like squeezing yourself into a miniature car and whipping around crowded hairpin turns at 20 mph with 15 other drivers – no helmet, windshield or seatbelt to give any illusion of safety – to put your workday commute in its proper place.

Add to the equation the intoxicating smell of gasoline, the sputtering hum-roar of a dozen little tiny racecars, the anticipation brought on by waiting in line with three dozen amped-up teenagers wasted on caffeine and hormones and the carnylike ambivalence with which you are greeted by the "raceway" employees ("gas is on your right, brake is on your left, no bumping, no ramming, thank you for choosing Sport Way"). What you have, to paraphrase Will Smith, is a recipe for summer madness.

Scouting out the fastest car becomes an exercise in Darwinian survival (not to mention in getting your money’s worth!). Get stuck with the slow car and not only will all of your "friends" mercilessly taunt and ram you, but you’ll surely detect that strange sense of emptiness you probably haven’t felt since you realized that the cars on the kiddie-go-round wouldn’t go any faster or slower, no matter how hard you wished.

Once the pedal’s to the metal, though, all of those adult worries disappear and you’re in the zone, baby. Careening willy-nilly and – minimum-wage punk be damned – bouncing off your fellow racers, giving your innards a mild rattling and giggling your ass off the whole time becomes your gloriously narrow window on the world.

Like civilized bumper cars that make forward progress, these little motorized mechanisms of temporary nirvana can tap the primal urge of even the most militant car-loathing bus rider.

Then, inevitably, the racetrack baby sitters wave you in and the buzz fades as you brake into "pit row." Your body’s still humming from the ride but you know, sooner rather than later, you’re going to have to get in line for another quick fix.

Worse still, eventually, you’re gonna have to drive home.