Sometimes, there are days that far exceed my expectations for what makes a good day at work. Having worked in employee communications at Ford for nearly three years, I often find myself working during some significant moments – but there’s never been anything like April 10.
Ford had invited media to its product review center to experience Ken Block’s vehicles from the latest Gymkhana video. I went along to cover the event for @FordOnline. Block’s new Hoonitruck – a modified 1977 Ford F-150, the same model he used as a teenager for his first burnouts – has a similar engine to the Ford GT’s, but it’s specially tuned to deliver more than 900 horsepower.
Having arrived at the test track, the reality of what was about to transpire began to sink in when I was asked to sign ahead of the event. Waiting in the staging area, I tried to keep my mind focused on emails and work as I listened to the sounds of tires being shredded and detected a faint smell of smoke.
After more than an hour of trying not to think about being hurled around like a dog’s plaything, my time had come. I was summoned to don a fire safety suit and racing helmet. I watched from a shuttle van as Block whipped around the track, still doing my best to hold the adrenaline at bay. Then the Hoonitruck taxied over to the starting point and I made my way for the door.
I hoisted myself into the truck then took instructions on how to escape the four-way safety harness should an emergency arise. “No turning back now,” I thought as I reached across to shake Block’s hand and give him a thumbs-up.
The engine roared as Block slammed the truck from gear to gear – he later said we were traveling around 120 mph before slowing into the cone-marked turns. That’s when the rear of the truck, which did not have the usual flat bed of a pickup, could be felt sliding away in the opposite direction. It felt like riding a roller coaster that never left the ground.
That’s when the first of countless smoke clouds began to form, making its way into the windowless cabin and leaving my clothes smelling like smoke the rest of the day. By the end, I also had tiny bits of rubber from the tires in my lap.
After that first lap, my anxiety began to subside. Block seemed to go out of his way to hit a downed cone with the right rear tire, sending it flying noisily across the asphalt amidst more clouds of smoke, squealing tires and the roar of that supercar engine.
Much of the ride was a blur. Through the haze of smoke I could glimpse familiar buildings, while the smell of rubber was so thick you could taste it on your tongue. An array of lights flashed along the dashboard – none of it fazed Block. He continued to methodically work the pedals in his bright blue racing shoes while shifting frequently, with the screams of the engine causing my left ear to pop.
I was shaking again as I extended my hand to Block, this time as a compliment on a job well done. I sort of stumbled back to the shuttle, a combination of adrenaline, dizziness and the effects of a cold and crisp morning taking its toll.
After that, I was unable to walk past the Hoonitruck as it was parked in the lobby of Ford World Headquarters without being instantly transported back to that unforgettable moment when I got to experience something from a much closer vantage point than I’m used to. I can’t wait for next time I get to strap into a race harness and hit triple digits in the name of work.
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