It’s like standing in the wings on opening night of a play. Pensive excitement and still air, tight fists and clenched teeth, satisfaction and anxiety. They’re all accounted for under the blinding lights of one of the world’s premier racing venues. We look out on the grandstands in their multicolored grandeur, a view we’ve all seen before, but empty, waiting. Because this time, race cars aren’t heading up the banking and past the start/finish. We are.
We'll be driving the new NSX Type S. The cars are all being pored over and prepped before the run on track, their turbocharged V-6 idle the kickdrum of my heart’s frantic rhythm. Honda factory shoe Ryan Eversley waits patiently in the cockpit of the lead Indy Yellow car as the rest of us stand trying to pretend that we’re ready. Quiet, maybe, for the first time all day, we twiddle our thumbs or whisper not out of necessity but reverence. Even for the group of jaded journalists assembled here, this is a big one.
Daytona is, after all, a name that needs no introduction. The self-proclaimed “WORLD CENTER OF RACING” splayed across the top of the towering glass suite and broadcast building may be overly ambitious, yet Daytona gets closer to that title than most. You won’t find a more famous American track wherever you look, so long as you don’t look in Indiana.
The legend here reaches far beyond the walled garden of motorsports enthusiasm. From Days of Thunder to Dale’s crash, Daytona has brought moments that put NASCAR in the minds of millions that have never seen a race. The 500 is one of three races that I’d bet the average American could name. Hallowed doesn’t quite cover it.
It’s at the front of the mind because it’s unavoidable, this week in particular. Four hours ago we mingled in the garages with Hélio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Alex Rossi. We saw thousands of fans set up in the infield with campers and TVs, watched as MX-5 Cups blasted around the banking. We steeped ourselves in excitement and spectacle, all in the lead up to what isn’t even the flagship event of this paved coliseum. Tomorrow night Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Rossi will have their turn on the floodlit course. But the handlers are waving us in. Tonight, it’s ours.
The first wave goes out. We’re split in three, each group getting two laps during this hurried, 30-minute session Acura’s team has been able to carve out. Of course, that's both not enough time and also far more than I ever expected to get during the Rolex weekend, further still from how much time I feel like I deserve. This is a place for Dale Earnhardts and Jimmie Johnsons, not Mack Hogans. I’ve spent the day ignoring that this was even happening, for fear of timing or happenstance ripping it away. The NSXs roaring by the pit make clear that it’s happening regardless. On return the next group goes out, which means I’m on deck.
My headsock goes on and my jacket comes off, hot as I’m already feeling in the 45-degree twilight. As more unfathomable opportunities fall into my lap I’m getting more familiar, but not more comfortable, with doing things so incomprehensible and momentous that they’re bound to claim serious airtime in my mental highlight reel. When you admit something matters, you must admit that doing it right matters, too. Stories have stakes, and there’s no story if you don’t drive like you mean it. Worse, everyone else will tell the story for you if you get it wrong. Just 350 production Type S’s will be built, and it’d be best if none of them ended up crumpled in the wall with an editor behind the wheel.
So I’m sweating the small stuff. I can’t get the seat right and I can’t spend so much time on this seat and I can’t hear the instructor radio and it’s almost time to go and I should be in gear wait but he’s opening the door to turn on the GoPro and I didn’t have time to adjust the side mirrors but when I look to the control the car in front moves and now it’s time and son of a bitch the seat isn’t right. I make two quick adjustments as I trundle through pit lane and finally get it right. We slip through the exit past the wall of champions, where better men than me have bruised their reputations. Everything I’m doing feels small and stupid because that’s how things feel when I’m anxious.
Then we pull out onto the horseshoe and free ourselves briefly from the shackles of sense. The world is big and silly again as the electrons and fuel vapors combine through alchemy into something I’m told sums to 600 hp. We’re barely on throttle for two or four seconds, but time speeds up when I’m fretting and slows down when I’m driving, so the flip has me like molasses in the cold. We brake through turn four as Eversley reminds us that real ones in real cars take it flat, but it’s hard to care that you’re far from the limit when you’re diving into Turn 5 at Daytona 18 hours before the start of the 24.
Before I can internalize it all, I’m rolling onto throttle out of Turn 7, rising up the banking like a tide. My foot is buried in the carpet, the chest pressure a familiar friend, but this time arriving with a new component force. Instead of only being pushed back I am pushed down, greeted by the positive G-forces that come with the impossibly banked terrain. Speeds climb past 100, 120, 140, and then halt at 145. Eversley has backed off, seeing no reason to find himself responsible for my untimely demise, granting reprieve from the dizzying speed without shame. I’ve done faster on flat ground, but banking is a new beast.
As I lift off I expect my line to tighten. It doesn’t. The NSX's torque-vectoring front axle diverts its electrons to the outside wheel in cornering, keeping things tidy in the high-speed banking. Taking away power takes away its ability to assist. The pits move by in a blur, the gigantic straight stretch a mere blip in my mind. We brake early and hard, moving slowly until we reacquaint ourselves with the horseshoe.
Now on familiar ground, we are freed to explore a bit closer to the edge of the NSX’s performance envelope. I’m on throttle sooner and braking later in the stretch to Turn 5, leaning on the solid, predictable, linear action of what I can barely believe is a brake-by-wire system. The steering in Sport+ is quick and precise, offering up more intel on the ground than many a less complicated car, giving me the confidence to pile on power early and feel the front tires pawing for grip through the new bespoke Pirellis. No car this complicated and advanced should feel so friendly, should communicate this clearly, but the NSX does. Blowoff noises and a serious top-end windrush add to the theater.
Where it really lives up to its $171,495 starting price in the tight spots like Turn 6, where the low-end grunt of the three electric motors, the supernatural torque-vectoring cleverness, and the best hybrid braking system ever develop all combine for a pace and confidence unseen in any conventional car. I’ve found no supercar better suited to low-speed turns, no chassis more eager to slingshot around U-bends. I want to keep this car and this track, to learn from them both, but the wanting is in vain. The track has bigger aspirations and the car is sold out, with all 350 Type S models accounted for and the standard car out of production. This is the only time I’ve got.
Eversley punctuates the point. “This’ll be your last time to really get on it,” he says over the radio as we leap up the banking and then slide back down to the double yellow. Nuance and analysis escapes my brain and for a second it’s just a movie scene and gasoline. Nothing exists but the lights flicking in and out of my periphery and sound of V-6 charging behind me.
Brake lights snap me back into reality. A second later I’m flying over the curbing on the entrance to the bus stop, bones rattling and heart singing. I never thought I’d be here, I think as I dodge the next curb and blast through the next one. One more time I feel the NSX cramming every bit of its power down the wires and through the wheels, one more time I feel my gut pulling itself toward the floor. We lift and coast into the pits, the world resuming its natural pace.
I clamber out of the car in a haze, trying to summon a big grin or a sly smirk, but it doesn’t come. I look out on Daytona in its unflinching scale, dazzled by the harshness of the lights. I’ve barely sampled it, kept far from the reach of its apathetic deadliness, and not come near to conquer it. But in its light and in my awe, I have taken just the tiniest piece of it with me.