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Driven by a dream: Dearstone takes a NASCAR spin

Doug Dearstone deals with paint and other hardware products during his job every single day at the Culpepper Lumber Ace Hardware Store in Thomson. But he recently had a brake from all that.

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Thomson resident Doug Dearstone won the chance to drive a race car and topped out at 128 mph at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

He got the ride of a lifetime at the Richard Petty Driving Experience this past October.

After winning a drawing at Cushman's grand opening that his wife Janet entered him into, Mr. Dearstone went to Atlanta Motor Speedway for a chance to learn the ins and outs of driving a NASCAR racing machine.

"As you went out on the track, the adrenaline was flowing like crazy," Mr. Dearstone said. "It's an experience that you'll never forget. I'd go back in a quick minute."

The experience was something the life-long racing fan had been dreaming of since he was 16 years old. He grew up near Bristol Motor Speedway, driving on dirt tracks as a child. He's still such a fan that he collects models of the race cars.

Mr. Dearstone said after the initial instructions, he was taken in a van around the track at 80 mph. The instructors showed the students where to let off the gas in the turns and where to speed up.

He also said they were shown all of the safety features which are a key component of the experience. For example he remembers listening for two clicks, the safety belt and the steering wheel connecting to the column.

"Safety is the main thing they deal with," Mr. Dearstone said. "They don't want anybody hurt."

Next Mr. Dearstone -- and his wife -- went on what is called the "ride along." He sat in the passenger seat for three laps at speeds near 170 mph.

dearstone_driver2.jpg

Mr. Dearstone climbs into the car.

"You're glued to the seat to say the least," he said.

After riding at full speed, the next step was to allow the students to drive the cars themselves. After struggling to climb in through the window, Mr. Dearstone was ready to ride.

Mr. Dearstone drove eight laps in one of Casey Kahne's number nine cars. During his time in the driver's seat, he increased his speed on each consecutive lap, reaching 128 mph on his final trip around the track.

"Which for a 60-year-old man, ain't too bad," he said.

The instructors had a competition between the four groups of students for fastest average speed. The winning group received its picture taken with one of the race cars.

"Our group was the group that was the fastest, even with my 128 mph," Mr. Dearstone said.

Accounting for his love of racing, Mr. Dearstone believes the trip was a gift from God. The drawing was something that he probably shouldn't have been registered for.

"My wife...doesn't normally listen to what's being said on the radio, but the Lord perked her ears up for that," he said. "It was on her way home so she stopped in and registered."



Web posted on Thursday, December 2, 2004











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