05/23/12 — Chance email leads man back to racetrack

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Chance email leads man back to racetrack

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 23, 2012 1:46 PM

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Mick O'Donnell of Goldsboro gets ready to take three laps around the NASCAR track in Charlotte recently with the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. The 72-year-old decided to take advantage of the ride-along after getting a random email, and now vows to return next year to do it again.

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Mick O'Donnell, center, gets fitted for a helmet as he prepares to take three laps around the NASCAR track in Charlotte.

As a youth, Mick O'Donnell enjoyed racing go-karts and later sports cars.

But that was more than 50 years ago.

It never occurred to him to take another lap around the track, until about a month ago when he received a random email advertising 50 percent off a NASCAR ride-along.

"My family physician said, 'You're too old and your reflexes have slowed down,'" he said.

That only served to spark his interest more, he said.

"I decided that growing old is unavoidable but acting old is inexcusable," said the 72-year-old. "I told somebody, I'm going up there and I'm going to see what it's like."

On Saturday, May 12, he made the trip to Charlotte with his wife, Karen, and three of their five grandchildren.

The Mario Andretti Racing Experience is available anywhere there is a NASCAR track, he said.

"They have a quasi-program that they give you and it's tightly controlled," he explained of the 30-minute training practice. "It shows you exactly what to do, then they turn you loose for three laps. ...

"They give you a full-fledged helmet, strap you in the car and go."

According to the certificate he was issued afterward, his top speed in the ride-along was 180 miles per hour.

"It was awesome. It was a blast," he said. "When I was out there, the three laps probably went by in two minutes.

"The centrifugal force going around the curves is unreal."

For the perpetual student -- retired from the Air Force in 1984 after 21 years as a flier, he spent several years as an educator with the Navy -- the racetrack now beckons.

He is already making plans to return to the track again next year.

"I decided to go into an exercise program to increase my upper body strength," he said. "I'm getting myself in condition so I can do it safely."