Lisa and I were driving home from DetCon1 last evening, zipping along I-69 on cruise control at my usual 72 or 73 MPH in the right lane. The radio was playing, and we were alternating between talking and just driving. We had considerable distance between us and the cars ahead, and we had two cars in the left lane beside and behind me, and another car a comfortable distance behind in my lane. I do that, you know, I constantly keep the positions of cars around me in my mind because I view my primary goal in driving as making sure everyone gets where they’re going safely.
Up ahead, a car was stopped at the side of the road. The door swung open and as we approached their location, a woman stepped out. My mind registered she had stepped out quite boldly and without caution, and I edged over to the left. Then …
The woman literally STEPPED OUT INTO OUR LANE.
By this, I do not mean she put a leg out over the line. I mean …
SHE TOOK TWO OR THREE FULL STEPS INTO MY LANE, THEN TURNED AND STARED AT ME AS I CAME AT HER.
It was as if she wanted me to hit her. Honestly. She was maybe 50-75 yards ahead of me. She had a person with her, a man. He stood at the side of the car, but I didn’t take any real notice of him. Maybe they were arguing. Maybe she was drunk. Maybe anything. I don’t know. All I can say for certain is that she stood there, quite obviously in the middle of the right lane, feet slightly spread, in shorts and a dark tank-top as Lisa, I, and Jini (our little blue mini-Cooper decorated with fairy dust and flowers) came hurtling toward her.
Lisa began swearing. Probably screaming as far as I can guess. The words out of her mouth as I think of them now are funny, but honestly, this was a real.serious.problem, and she was saying them pretty much as anyone would say them.
The next things happened in about two seconds of real time. Here’s what I remember of my thoughts:
Glance in the mirror, I’ve got room to hit the brakes. Hit them hard enough to slow, not hard enough to lock ’em up. Pump twice to get their attention. Freeze-frame on the two cars in the left lane. I have some space between them, but I need to out-brake the guy on my direct left to give me some of his lane. Guide the wheel left. Slowly. Keep braking. Smooth. No jerky movements or you’re going to get lots of people into real trouble. Everyone is braking. Where’s the space? There. Edge left tires over the line. The woman isn’t moving further. Good. Flash to mirror. Yes, the guy behind is slowing, too. I’ve got six inches to the left, use them now. Stiffen against the gravity of our deceleration (that’s different), Further left.
Then we were past.
I rolled Jini back to the right lane. In the rear-view mirror, I saw the woman going back to the side of the road, circling her car, and getting into the passenger side.
Lisa was shaking.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I said. And I was. I didn’t feel anxious at all. I felt separated, on pure auto-pilot. Only several minutes later did it really start to sink in exactly how bad this could have been. I started thinking about all the things I could have done there that would have been … well … not good. I thought about the people in the other three cars driving, and the woman herself. And, of course, Lisa and me (and Jini, for that matter). Why hadn’t I panicked? I knew the answer right away.
“Thank goodness for GPL and iRacing,” I said when we were several miles down the road.
You see, I’ve spent a good chunk of my “hobby” time over the years racing people on the internet. Some folks would call what I did “playing a game,” but these things are not games at all. They are simulations. My favorites were Grand Prix Legends (GPL), and iRacing. While participating in them, I logged certainly thousands of hours behind the wheel of high-speed cars that were driving around with other high-speed cars in close-by proximity. As a result, I’m not unfamiliar with the sense of looming disaster, and I understand the sense of composure it takes to make it through them. Though it’s been awhile since I participated in either of these (I absolutely love them, but they take so much of my time because I can get so serious about them), I can tell you that the thought-stream and feelings I had last night were absolutely identical to the thoughts and feelings I had while dealing with high-speed traffic on the simulator.
Could I have done this without the simulator time? Who can say? Possibly. But quite possibly not. We’ll never really know, of course. But fact is that there is every possibility, I owe my life, Lisa’s life, and the lives of at least three other families to the hours and hours I spent in those simulations.
The events actually got me thinking about this article I read back a month or so ago.
So, be safe, folks. Give yourself proper space. Stay in the flow of traffic, regardless of how fast you would prefer to go, and last but not least, if your little girl or little boy wants to race on a simulator, just let them, okay?
In the meantime, I want to say thanks to the makers of these simulators, and give a virtual tip of my virtual hat to everyone I’ve ever raced with.