The “Need for Speed” we didn’t even know we needed

On the way to Cholla Bay, just past the stop sign near the Reef a few colorful signs announce the “Driving Experience – Drive or Ride” at the Rocky Point Speedway.  Offering thrill experiences pretty much every Friday and Saturday, between 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Darren Dodd of the Speedway also welcomes groups, walk-ins, plus invites folk to make reservations. Let’s have Moka tell you about our own experience with the race car….

She removed her headphones, took a deep breath, stretched, and as she walked by the coffee maker to refill her cup Sami blurted, “How about for tomorrow’s coffee break we speed things up?”

I blinked, trying to decipher the content of the sentence, disconnecting my mini-speakers where Brandon Flowers had just been belting one out. When I couldn’t make nor heads nor tails of what she said (I imagined a scene of everyone drinking coffee at an accelerated pace, Mister Bean style), I asked, “Come again?”

“Would you like to take a spin in a race car?” she reformulated the question.

Obviously that combination of words was also somewhat unusual for a Thursday afternoon.

“Now? Did you fix the car and want to head out…where?”

“Well,” she clarified, “we were invited to go to Rocky Point Speedway tomorrow so we can either drive or ride along in a desert race car. Well, there are some things to chat about but basically that’s it. How about it? I’m going, do you want to?”

“Seriously?”

“Yes!”

“Oh wow! Great! What time?” I was obviously more than ready. “I don’t know about driving, but definitely out for a ride.”

“Well, around coffee break time – noon?”

“We’re on.” And with that, the date was set.

The next day, two Rocky Point 360 chicks, who were also looking to take in the honey rays of the sun, headed out to try something a little stronger than coffee to shake our nerves.

We hopped in Sami’s car though quite frankly neither of us knew what to expect. Sami cranked up “I can’t sleep at night” by The Black Moods to set the tone….adrenaline, off-road, rock, speed, and the fresh smell of sea air tend to make the perfect combination.

We drove across town, toward Wrecked, and then a few meters beyond to the entrance of Rocky Point Speedway at the opening along a chain-link fence – where they’ve also been holding biannual Mud Runs. We entered, cautiously.

“In the end,” noted Sami, “if they’re not here, or we can’t do it, (since we didn’t really reconfirm earlier in the week), we’ll do it some other time and go out for coffee.”

We headed down and at first couldn’t see anything. Then we saw it – a large oval track and two large trailer containers in the center appeared, along with a pick-up, the intense sun, a blue sky, golden sand, and a sign at the entrance that read “Run for your life.”

“Sami,” I muttered, “…you know a lot of horror films begin this way…”

“Come again?”

“…with warning signs,” I pointed to the obstacle wall.

“Oh! Ha! Relax,” she leaned over the steering wheel, looking both ways, and added, “well, if somebody comes out with a chainsaw we’ll take off, ok?”

Seemed fair; improbable, but fair. A sign wasn’t going to scare us off (I insist, that’s how horror films start). But, Darren Dodd was already waiting for us and greeted Sami warmly.

There we were. He told us it’s the ideal spot for racing because there are no walls surrounding the track (1/3 mile track by the way). There’s sand, no rocks, and no obstacles – open air – and if one loses control (just in case, not necessarily), there’s lots of room to recover.

In the meantime, Fred was busy with getting a car out of one of the containers. He put in some air, checked over I don’t know how many things and suddenly gave a signal – Darren got in the other side of the trailer, unhooked the line and – viola – gave a push and the car slid out. And then there it was, a modified car, sporting two #78 signs.

“This is special for ride-alongs, you see, as usually there’s no room for passengers,” Darren commented.

Sami and I glanced at each other with nervous looks of “who’s first?” As we were quietly deciding, the question arose…who’s driving? Darren smiled. And then the next question, how much experience did Darren have before trusting him with my lovely body inside that contraption? Let me just say, a lot, with nearly 150 races during his time as race car pilot – and multiple placements in the top categories.

He made a gesture for us to follow him, pointing to photos hung on the trailer the #78 had just rolled out of. The photos included his first car, second, plus modifications done to change the look or make it lighter, faster…

“I notice each car in the photo sported the number 77,” I remarked.

“Curious you should mention that, the story behind the 77 is interesting,” explained Darren. “I bought the car and it was already painted with the number 17. We spent time fixing it up, and had spent quite a bit but when we went to register it in the race, there was already a car with that number. We looked around and realized the fastest and easiest thing would be to paint a line and bam, ready! 17 was then 77, which became my number, basically by chance or luck.”

“Then came 78,” he says, pointing to the other car, “..and my son had 76 as an asphalt car. The number became a family thing. It even serves well logistically, like if the 78 needs tires, the 77 parts, and 76 this, that, or the other.”

Darren grabbed a helmet as Sami and I exchanged our final questioning looks. I was about to suggest a good round of “rock, paper, scissors,” when Darren said, “Who’s going first…Sami, you ready?”

She stuttered a bit, “Hmmm, yes, let’s go… No problem I´m wearing flip-flops?”

“No,” he shrugged, “no problem at all.”

“I’m about to fulfill a junior high dream,” she sighed.

“Racing dangerous cars James Dean style?” I said, excitedly.

“No,” she smirked, lifting one leg through the car window, “getting in Dukes of Hazard style.”

“Just wait till you jump,” I believe Darren heard our collective gulp as he added, “…it’s a joke. Well there are little jumps, but they’re small. We could really jump, but that’s something else. In fact, see that hill?” pointing to a mound of sand 20 meters away, “that’s what that’s for when we build it up,” in fact there was a small tractor parked nearby.

“Sometimes we do jumping contests, but not today.”

Darren hits the roof of the car twice as Fred shows us how to fasten the seat belt, or rather system of seat belts (like a child’s car-seat). Sami puts on her helmet, adjusts her sunglasses, and smiles nervously.

Now, ready to go, Darren instructs Sami to turn on the Go-Pro in front of her – right about eye level – and she lets out a chuckle.

Darren puts on his helmet and makes a sign to Fred, who hops in basically a big hefty golf cart and pushes the car to help it get started. Then suddenly, vroom, VROOOM! The air vibrated with the roar of the engine, and my senses were on! Pupils growing, the harshness of the sun permeating, the blue sky fluorescent, smells of sweat, salt, gasoline, leather, and iron.

They start with two warm-up laps and then the green flag gives me goose bumps. I felt the weight of the pedal, the engine going full throttle, resulting in noise and speed.

I’m not sure what look Sami had on her face when the change came, but I’d see it in the video later.

They flew by like a bullet, blowing sand around the close corners. I tried to take pictures until Fred waved the checkered flag and they pulled back in “to the pits”. Sami’s jaw was clenched, but she remembered to turn off the Go-Pro.

“Wow! I’m shaking!” she exclaimed, holding up her hand as proof, “Wow!” She couldn’t even unhook the seat belt. “That was better than coffee! Oh my God!”

She got out, limp and pulsating, but happy – and exfoliated.

She sputtered, dusting the sand off her face; yes, I believe she may have eaten a bit.

“Oh, I forgot,” shouted Darren, “It’s also a spa!”

“A douse of energy, a vibrating massage, and exfoliation with natural sand; ideal for Mother’s Day,” added Sami.

Sure! Why not? Feel young again!

“It’s really exciting,” she passed me the helmet, “I didn’t think it would be like that, with someone else driving I thought there’d be less… I don’t know… punch.”

I then heard the sentence, “NEXT!” That would be me.

I got into the car before “sensibility” could do its thing. I strapped myself into the seat, and felt safe and secure after hearing the “click”. Helmet.

“Can you turn on the camera?” Darren instructed.

I would also be given my dose of reality. Whatever I could say after the experience would be invalidated completely if I went against my own gestures captured on camera.

Once more Fred lined up the cart behind us and pushed the race car into position. I imagined I’d feel a surprise jolt when the engine kicked on, but the transition from off to on and then onto the track was smooth as velvet.

This time there were no warm up laps. Green flag from the get go! Darren’s foot fell on the pedal with no remorse while the contraption roared and gained speed.

Vision deepened, senses sharpened. Intuition draws an image on your mind of the careful movements of the pilot as he maneuvers the track. The gestures, smiles, winking below the helmet. You can sense rocks, vibrations, the shake and stir of the wheels, the proximity to the ground with each turn, your feet and body reacting to the movement; ears ringing with the sound coming in.

Then you feel the freedom and all the possibilities. No one in front, no one behind, and a track without limits. That moment of sleekness in the midst of rough mechanics in the inclement desert.

With no rhyme or reason, the helmet seemed to fit loose on my head. I thought I had tightened it to the point of affecting my voice, but during the ride I could feel it bounce. Even with a net in front serving as a type of windshield, the sand flying up came right on in. Still, on the last lap, with Darren’s foot on the pedal, all I could think was I wanted to go faster, go further, do more laps!

As he slowed down, Sami was already curiously waiting. I heard my own voice, “That was freakin’ awesome!” That was the most PG rated phrase I could think of at the time. Any other appellative would have been riddled with a conjugation of glory and filth expressing pure admiration, emotions, surprise and joy!

I climbed out of the car and, just as Sami had done, posed with the checkered flag. It was then that Darren and Fred pulled out the mythical #77 from its trailer and asked if either of us wanted to drive.

I blinked, weighing the options, but didn’t think it was the right time to make a fool of myself. Sami also declined the temptation, although she seemed more interested than I. Maybe next time.

If she hadn’t turned to anxiously look at the time, I might have even jumped in to drive… I peaked in at the pedals and gears.

“Is it easy to drive?” I inquired.

“Yes,” Darren responded.

“Are there any special instructions?”

“No, after a practice lap you get the hang of it.”

“What if something happens?”

“It straightens out and/or you recover control and go on.”

“What is the minimum – or maximum speed?”

“There’s no minimum, or maximum. That depends on each person. Since you’re not racing against anyway, there’s no pressure. We take your times and then give you the best one, that’s it,” he explained.

“There have been people who have come to drive, who thinking they are going really fast but actually it’s like they’re out for a leisurely drive. But for them, that’s fast and when they’re done they’re relaxed and less stressed,” he went on, “There are others that take off like lighting!” He shrugs his shoulders and smiles, “We don’t judge anyone. As long as people are having fun, that’s what’s important.”

Maybe next time.

“What are your hours?”

11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on weekends, mostly Fridays and Saturdays.

“Is the track open to any ATV or 4×4?”

No, just when we do special events and then there’s a registration process. But as far as people who rent ATVS etc., no we’re not open for just that.

“Cost?”

$50 US – and you can either ride along, as you did, or drive. We also welcome groups and invite folk to make reservations.

We chatted a bit more about race cars, events, the upcoming Memorial Weekend Dirty Beach Mud Run to be held at the same Rocky Point Speedway (May 23rd), and of course Rocky Point 360.

“You know, we almost didn’t drive down after seeing that sign at the entrance,” Sami jokes as we make our way back to the car.

“What sign?” asks Darren.

“The ‘Run for your Life’ one.”

Darren’s face breaks out into the largest grin, as he corrects us… “it’s RUM…. Rum for your life” for the Mud Run.

We laughed. Well, if that’s the case we would’ve gotten here earlier.

After the thrill ride, the only thing I regret is not having earplugs to pop in while in the car. Seems like I could barely hear on the ride back to the office after our “coffee break”, while my eardrums rang.

For more information on the Rocky Point Speedway, contact Darren Dodd at darrendodd77@msn.com   Find them on Facebook: Rocky Point Speedway plus, check out their upcoming Dirty Beach Mud Run dates (May 23rd & Oct 31st) at:  www.dirtybeachmudrun.com

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