A hand touches my shoulder from behind as I hear, “Are you ready?”
I turn to see legendary rally driver John Buffum standing with two race helmets, sizes large and medium.
Before I can open my mouth to answer, the calm, crisp 27-degree Wisconsin winter air is violently filled with the Subaru race team’s rally car firing to life.
“Probably large,” I said as I grabbed the helmet from Buffum’s hand.
I wasn’t on frozen Dollar Lake in Eagle River, Wisconsin to ride in a rally race car. I came here for Subaru’s 2018 Winter Sporting event, a new winter driving school in its inaugural season.
There’s no shortage of talent and plenty to learn from the school. Professional driver Patrik Sandell is here. Professional driver David Higgins is a hired gun for this event too.
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I’d met David before today, but had only ridden in a car with his brother Mark, and that was on hot tarmac in California.
I look into the car’s completely gutted interior—basically a white roll cage bolted to a shell of a vehicle—and see Higgins strapped into the driver seat. He motions to the passenger seat: “Get in.”
I spot two buttons, red and yellow, next to the top of the front shock on the front cowl below the windshield, but decide not to ask what they are for. I contort my body and slide through the full roll cage and into the passenger seat.
Looking around quickly to get my bearings before strapping in my nostrils are instantly full of partially burned race fuel, my body vibrates in the tight Sparco race seat, and I’m sitting back in the car far enough to be Shaquille O’Neal. Our torsos are near the B-pillars as the seats were mounted in the middle of the car for better weight balance.
I can see all the wiring in the car, I can see the brake booster’s fluid sitting, vibrating, in a clear plastic reservoir in front of Higgins’ feet, and there’s a massive metal gear shifter and E-brake bar in between us.
Buffum helps strap me in and tighten the five-point safety harness before giving me the thumbs up to silently confirm I was ready for what was next.