As he watched 9-year-old Brigg White tool around a virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway at well over 100 mph, Craig Johnson wondered if he might have discovered a future NASCAR star.
Hes pretty good, Johnson said. Hes doing better than I did.
For the opening of his new Nationwide Insurance office on Vineville Avenue, Johnson had a Nationwide Series NASCAR simulator for people to try Saturday. Its not entirely realistic, mostly because the simulator car is an automatic transmission, but its operator, Marty Whicker, said in most ways its close to real.
The steering and braking are quite similar, he said, and there is even a spotters voice giving direction.
After Brigg climbed out of the simulator, he said he does, in fact, want to be a NASCAR driver.
I liked it, Brigg said. It was harder than I thought it would be.
Not many people, even adults, seemed to be able to get around the track any better than Brigg. Most crashed, hit the wall frequently, and generally zig-zagged around like they might have had a few too many to drink. The driver sees the track on a screen in the simulator, but theres another screen outside for spectators that shows the same view.
One challenge NASCAR may have in luring new fans is that few people who watch it actually have any firsthand experience to relate to or appreciate the skill that it takes. Many people who watch sports like basketball, football or baseball have played those sports to some degree or another, but few people know what its like to drive 150 mph through a turn.
Whicker said the simulator helps bridge that gap.
They get a sense and feel of how it is out on the track and how fast the speed is, he said. You get a sense of the track and banking. They get a realistic view of what the drivers see when they are sitting in the car.
He travels around the country with the simulator, and he can load it with any track on the NASCAR circuit. Short tracks such as Dover of Martinsville give people the most trouble.
The simulator isnt really much less sophisticated than those used by NASCAR drivers, Whicker said.w
They primarily use it to find their spots for braking for whatever track they are going to, he said.
The event Saturday also featured an actual Nationwide Series car, as well as free hot dogs and window chip repair. While he did it for the opening of his new office, Johnson said he is considering making it an annual event.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.