Alton, Va. — (NOTE: The above video with this article was shot in 360, which means you can use your mouse to toggle the video and see it from all angles. This function is not available on mobile.)
Last week, I went 140 mph in the rain with a man named John Edwards behind the wheel. No, it wasn't politician and lawyer John Edwards. It was a 25-year-old BMW factory driver who makes a living driving luxury race cars.
When I agreed to do a race car ride along during media day at Virginia International Raceway, I knew it would be thrilling. As I drove the 90 minutes to Alton, Va., I started to get a little anxious. I was signed up for a ride-along in a luxury race car (BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc.) and a motorcycle two-up ride (which means I'd be on the back of a bike holding on for dear life). I have only gotten a few speeding tickets in my life, and I have never been on a motorcycle. This was going to be a day of firsts.
A rainy day prevented the motorcycle ride, but the luxury and stock cars were cleared for laps around VIR's winding track.
I was first up for the luxury car ride, and I soon met my driver, John Edwards. Now, Edwards doesn't look 25. He looks about 18. But he assured me he's been driving since he was 12, so I was in good hands.
Edwards races for the BMW Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team, which is co-owned by former Late Show host David Letterman. At the age of 12, he was the youngest winner in open-wheel road racing history. Oh and he is also an instrument-rated aviation pilot, which means he can fly in the air really fast too. You can see him Aug. 19-21 at The Oak Tree Grand Prix, part of the United SportsCar Championship, at VIR.
Edwards took a few laps to get comfortable with the BMW M3 on the VIR track. The car handled pretty much the same as the M5 he races in, but he did note that the M5 had street brakes on it, so he had to take that into account when going really fast in the rain.
During that test lap, Edwards hit a bird. The poor bird, which he thought was probably a cardinal, was splattered all over the white race car's front bumper. Crews attempted to clean it up before I hopped into the car.
When I got in, Edwards said we had to be careful due to the wet roads. Then, he floored it and we peeled out. During those two laps, we winded through the track, hydroplaning, fishtailing and hitting speeds up to 140 mph. The reporter in me wanted to get some questions in, so I asked about his racing career, what car he typically drives and if he gets pulled over a lot. Turns out he uses cruise control a lot when he's not racing. And I find talking makes me much less nervous, especially when a baby-faced driver is flooring it.
It was like being on a roller coaster. At first, I was scared and wanted to tell him to slow down and let me out. Then, I got comfortable with flying across the road at insane speeds. I ended up actually enjoying it. At one point on the track, he said that if it wasn't raining, we'd be going fast enough to have two of the tires come off the road and catch air.
Would I ride with Edwards again? Yes! Just not in the rain. I want to see what it feels like to catch some air.
The Oak Tree Grand Prix is one of many races coming up this year at Virginia International Raceway. Stock cars, motorcycles and more will hit the track. Check out their website for more info about races and accommodations.