The fast & the furious

Using stray planks of wood, a skateboard and once an old baby bathtub, a series of prototypes for a Formula 1 racing car were developed in a small town just outside Oxford. Admittedly these early models lacked a few of the later luxuries such as ... breaks ... or indeed, steering. The engine also consisted of a small seven year old girl, as indeed did the unfortunate driver. None of this, however, stopped said prototype being test run on every street in the housing estate with quite genuinely zero thoughts for the consequences.

Nowadays our parents would probably be arrested by Social Services for allowing small hands near exposed, probably tetanus-covered, nails. Back then, it merely added a point of interest to the dinner time conversation.

At some point in the intervening years, go-karting lost its intense appeal. I think it was around the time I acquired a driver's license. So quite sometime had passed between my last outing in a kart/bathtub and the one I was about to have at San Diego's indoor kart racing track. I was in California for a computer code development meeting and this was how our group had decided to interpret the scheduled item "benchmarking". There were eight of us racing, one of whom had been before but the rest of us had a similar collection of 7 year old memories to work with. Then there were the two other guys who joined us, both of whom brought their own helmets and one who also brought his own whiplash support. I eyed the kart and my concept of 'what's the worst that can happen?' rose several notches.

The karts themselves had only two pedals -- stop and go -- and could reach speeds of up to 40 mph. Although bumping into both the barriers and other karts was a frequent occurrence, you were not allowed to do the latter on purpose.

Perhaps in the same way that running a race is fun even though you walk everyday, kart racing turned out to be great. The end results revealed that I had a much higher regard for life than anyone else at this conference, since they all out stripped me by five laps. This was fine though; they had done all the code development work so if it was only me left to run the simulations and reap MEEEEELLLLLIONS of research papers, well what could you do?

At the end, I came in last with a fastest lap time of 49.8 seconds. The top two racers were our new friends with their own helmets who got 30.9s and 31.4s respectively. Our final view was of them speeding out of the car park ... in their smart car. Suddenly, much became clear.