Car and Driver
By P.J. O’Rourke
July 5, 2012
Speed is the greatest pleasure of driving. But speed’s essence isn’t found on the racetrack, the drag strip, or the Bonneville Salt Flats. The best expression of the joy of going fast that I’ve ever seen was at five miles per hour. I let my eight-year-old son drive the tractor.
I put it in a crawling gear. His stubby legs didn’t matter—the Kubota has a hand throttle. He gave the lever a tentative pull and rocketed forward to almost jog-trot pace. His eyes, his smile, his very soul widened in exhilaration.
There’s a misconception that driving rapidly is just a thrill. The drug called “speed” would suffice if thrills were all you wanted. When you factor in exciting ambulance rides to the ER for overdoses, exploding meth labs, and raids by DEA agents armed with automatic weapons, drugs are a more reliable source of thrills than a Bugatti Veyron.
2013 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse
Crowding the redline through an S-bend produces adrenaline. But the heart beats at a steady pace compared with the pounding it takes when you stand at the altar as your foreseeable future is marched down the aisle by her dad. And that, in turn, is nothing compared with the moment in the delivery room when your firstborn arrives—naked terror, indeed.
Lovers of adrenaline for its own sake should eschew fast driving. It’s cool nerve that’s needed, not sweating, drooling fear. If those who seek terror’s brain stimulation don’t have the guts for marriage or parenthood, let them bungee jump.
The elation of fast driving is different. There’s a calm sense of mastery over circumstance. The rest of the world may be out of control—unruly economy, runaway politics, our teenage daughters friending Whitney Houston’s ex-husband, Bobby Brown, on Facebook—but not when our hands are at 9 and 3 and our foot is deep down on the accelerator pedal. All day long, things keep coming at us; now we’re coming at them.
2012 Audi R8 GT
By driving fast, we achieve a perfect focus of the mind. There is no yoga mat like a car. Nothing is more transcendental to meditate upon than the line through a curve. Buddhists say enlightenment comes suddenly. Sudden is what we’re all about. We are the smiling fat guy, except we’d better not be sitting with our legs crossed or we’ll have a problem hitting the brakes.
Speed is Zen on wheels. Or speed is the “zone” athletes talk about getting into. Fast driving is an athletic endeavor but one with adult dignity. You can do it in a bespoke suit—no need for balloon shoes, trash-bag shorts, or funny mascara cheek smudges. And you don’t have to pause in your zone for commercials unless the dispensation of speeding tickets is considered a commercial activity, which it is.
But most of all, speed is love. The feelings we get from speed are the feelings we get when we’re falling in love—obsession, bliss, complete emotional and physical engagement. And we can experience these feelings over and over with any number of partners: Austin-Healey 3000, Shelby Cobra, Ferrari Daytona, Lamborghini Diablo, Corvette ZR1, Audi R8. It’s better to have affairs like these than to keep falling in love with new people. My wife only gets a little angry when I drive too fast.