Need for speed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Woman lives dream by attending racing school

By Dale James / Selma Times – Journal

Frances Turner has done scarier things than to drive a Winston Cup race car at speeds of more than 140 miles per hour.

A few years back she left her comfort zone as a teacher and guidance counselor and entered the macho world of automotive sales. That, she’ll tell you, took real courage.

Turner and her brother, Milam Turner III, own and operate the Turner Chevrolet-Buick dealership. Their father and his father before him followed the same path.

Earlier this year Turner Chevrolet won a national Chevrolet sales contest. They competed with over 60 dealerships throughout the Southeast and placed first in their division. The winners got to travel to Las Vegas at company expense.

They were also offered the chance to attend the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The &uot;experience&uot; involves driving an actual Winston Cup race car around a 1.5-mile track in three sessions of eight laps each. The cars reach speeds far in excess of what most participants had previously thought possible for any vehicle with four wheels still on the ground.

The experience began with an alarmingly short period of classroom instruction. Recalls Turner, &uot;They taught you the basics of driving a race car &045;&045; all in about 30 minutes.&uot;

From there it was out to the track to don what Turner glibly refers to as &uot;your firesuit or whatever.&uot; It was about that time that she began to get premonitions that she may have signed on for more than she bargained.

The firesuit consists of overalls, shoes, helmet and a fireproof mesh skullcap that fits under the helmet.

First came a quick once around the track in a van to point out the recommended path the cars should follow. &uot;They have a trail you’re supposed to follow to keep you from going into the wall,&uot; Turner says.

Participants were then shown to their cars and strapped in.

At that point it would have been difficult to determine which was racing faster, the monster engine under the hood of the Chevy Monte Carlo she was strapped into or Turner’s heart.

Participants had been instructed to follow two to four car lengths behind the pace car. That, Turner says, is where things really began to get dicey.

Turner suddenly found herself traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour, trying not to look at the wall (&uot;you got really close to that wall on the backstretch&uot;), and trying to follow the trail laid out on the track – all while trying to stay within two to four car lengths behind the pace car.

Even more distressing for Turner was the discovery that Winston Cup cars are designed to handle better in the curves at higher speeds. At slower speeds, they actually display a disturbing tendency to shake ominously.

Only those participants who were able to overcome their fear of the &uot;rough&uot; handling at lower speeds experienced the exhilaration that accompanied the much smoother handling at higher speeds.

After completing the initial set of eight laps, Turner admits, &uot;I didn’t want to go back. All the men were so fired up, high-fiving each other…. I just thought to myself that I have no need for more speed.&uot;

But she did go back. She did find the courage. Ultimately, she posted a highly respectable lap speed of 145.8 miles per hour.

Reflecting back on the whole experience, Turner finds some everyday analogies.

Just as each NASCAR team consists of an owner, driver, engine crew and pit crew, Turner points out, a dealership team consists of a sales department, service department, body shop, finance manager and business manager.

And watch out for that wall.