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Rich: For some, local roads are still a race track

POSTED: December 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Should the opportunity ever arise for you to deal with a bona fide race car driver on anything having to with driving a car, you might benefit from lessons I've learned. Let me share them.

A) Never drive with a professional driver as a passenger in your car

B) Never allow a racer to follow you in a car

C) Never attempt to follow a racer in your car

D) Buckle up tight when riding with one

Having spent many years in the sport of NASCAR, I have personally learned these lessons. One time many years ago, I picked up my friend Tim Richmond - at the time one of the best drivers in the world - at the Charlotte, N.C., airport.

He screamed at me from the moment we pulled out of the airport. Everything I did was wrong. We got five miles down the interstate and he threw a patented Richmond fit.

"Stop this car! Stop it now!" He gestured wildly. "Pull over right here." Agitated, he motioned to the side of the road. "I'm driving because you're gonna kill us."

Trust me, this will push you to a nervous breakdown faster than bankruptcy or wild children will. No professional race car driver wants to ride with anyone else who doesn't get paid to go 200 mph.

That was the last time I ever drove with one in the car with me. It ruined my driver's self esteem. Though I will say that Tim was the best driver I ever rode with. He was smooth as silk.

Dale Earnhardt, on the other hand, nearly killed me in Daytona in a lap around the track. My head was four inches from the wall as we zipped around. He laughed gleefully as my life flashed before me in the first turn.

Now, having one follow you or you follow him is almost as bad. If he follows you, you're likely to look in your review mirror and see that he's drafting off your tail end, two inches from your bumper. Yep. Had that happen one time, too.

Following him is no better. A race car driver is used to zipping in and out of traffic at high speeds and nothing intimidates him. Such maneuvers, though, are not for the faint-of-heart or the lack-of-skilled. That would be me.

For a long time, Stevie and Darrell Waltrip had offered me the use of their lake house in a remote area of Tennessee. When I needed to go into seclusion and work for a couple of weeks on my new book, I called them.

"We'd be delighted for you to use the house," they assured me. Since it was remotely located, they assured me that I would never find it on my own. So, they invited me to Nashville, Tenn., to spend the night at their house and then they'd take me to the lake. When we got up the next morning, Darrell, a Daytona 500 champ, went to run errands and Stevie and I went shopping. We all met up for lunch and as we were leaving from the restaurant, Darrell pulled us into a huddle.

"OK, here's the plan," he said. "I'm not gonna follow y'all and y'all aren't gonna follow me. We'll go separately and just get there on our own."

Stevie and I nodded eagerly. We liked that plan. After all, we have both learned A, B, C and D the hard way. We arrived a while after Darrell got there but we all arrived happy. And that's what counts.

As the Waltrips prepared to leave that afternoon, Stevie said, "Now, listen, if anything happens or you need us for anything, call. We can be here in an hour and 15 minutes."

Darrell grinned confidently. "I can be here in 55 minutes." He winked and Stevie and I looked at each other and shook our heads.

To completely understand, please see D.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter



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