You don’t just jump into an IndyCar and compete in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Getting to that level of driving takes a ton of skill and training.
“I think the Go-Karts are a basic school," two-time Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz said. "Like when you’re a kid, you go to Kindergarten. That’s a basic school.”
That sounds like a good starting point for us media folks who wanted to get behind the wheel and learn what it’s like to race.
IndyCar gave us that chance as an early gift less than three weeks before the IndyCar series comes to St. Pete for its opening races of the season.
Luckily, I had rising young IndyCar driver Conor Daly as one of my teammates.
“It takes a lot more than people think," Daly said. "You get out there in the Go-Kart and you’ll be like, man, I’m warn out after like five or 10 laps if you’re really driving it hard. So, that’s what I like to see is people get surprised by how much it takes to actually drive these things fast."
The drivers and crew all gave us tips on how to succeed.
One thing we didn’t need training on was trash talk.
"Rishi, how embarrassing is it going to be when I beat you at a sporting event?” Bay News 9 reporter Sara Belsole asked after I told her she and the rest of her team were in trouble.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman had his mouth running, too, before taking part in the mayor’s race against other local dignitaries, including St. Pete Beach Mayor Deborah Schechner and Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.
“You’re talking about elected officials- all of whom have egos," Kriseman said. "There’s probably nothing friendly about this. It’s a lot of fun. We all go out there and have a great time. And it’s nice if I can bring the cup back to St. Pete.”
Kriseman took the checkered flag to win that portion of the competition for the third straight year.
“It’s really just reading the track and learning the lines of the track that you want to drive on that keep your speed at the maximum," Kriseman said.
That bit of advice would come in handy when it was time for us to gear up for the main event.
“Always keep going forward," Daly joked. "If you’re spinning, that’s a problem.”
Maybe I should’ve listened to Conor.
I got a little too aggressive, getting into a crash on the first lap, and putting us back in last place.
The ride was thrilling, but the deficit was too much for Conor and the rest of our team to overcome.
Munoz's team won, while we finished outside the top five.
Daly was a good sport about our less-than-stellar performance.
"It’s awesome, man," Daly said. To get everyone out here and have a good time before the race, which is fast approaching, it gets everyone sort of in gear- no pun intended.
Daly and the rest of IndyCar's best drivers will be cruising through Downtown St. Pete soon.
And they'll be going a lot faster than we did.