Publisher’s Note: Speed of Sound


I’ve been interested in cars since I was a kid. I’m not skilled mechanically, although I once managed to replace a clutch in a Datsun B210, fracturing my big toe in the process (a story for another time).

My fascination was fueled in part by a 19-year-old car fanatic who I met when I was 12, and he opened my eyes to the coolness of cars. During my sophomore year at UCLA, he once let me have his Porsche Cabriolet for a weekend while he was on a business trip. I had a phenomenal time driving the pristine four-speed from Santa Monica to San Diego and nearly everywhere in between, covering 400 miles in two days. Five years later, when both of us lived in Incline Village, he often let me drive his early 1960s Ferrari 250GT.

Car love also runs deep in my son, Sean, who has owned several high-performance vehicles and has attended Indy 500 and NASCAR races. NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, draws millions of fans to its annual races around the United States.

The pinnacle of auto racing, however, is Formula 1, a series of 20 races held around the world every year. Formula 1 cars are special, costing millions of dollars and using the latest technologies that push the limits of speed and suspension. Despite my aversion to large-crowd events, Sean persuaded me to journey with him this past November to the F1 race in Austin, Texas, at the just-built $200 million, 3.4-mile Circuit of The Americas track with seating for more than 100,000 spectators.

Austin rolled out the red carpet. Our visit, especially the track experience, was flawless. On the three days we were there, crowds exceeding 60,000, 80,000 and 110,000 attended. Still, movement was easy and viewing comfortable and spectacular. Despite $12 Bloody Marys and $50 hats, we had a fantastic time enjoying Texas barbecue, exploring downtown Austin and taking in F1 racing.

Adequately describing an F1 experience is hard. Witnessing these million-dollar cars reach speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour is as much an auditory experience as a visual one. Their engines can turn at up to 18,000 revolutions per minute, creating a hornetlike buzz that makes you feel as if your ears are about to bleed. Earplugs or sound-reducing headphones are necessary, although, like many, I found the sound so deliciously pleasant I often took them off to hear the engines as the cars screamed by. The drivers have to be superb athletes to endure the excess G-forces as they accelerate and then brake for turns, downshifting engines to produce sounds akin to shotgun blasts. I’m glad I went..