I’m honestly surprised I haven’t been banned from Carmax by now. I use Carmax like I use Best Buy: a place to try out new toys before I inevitably buy them for a better price somewhere else, or don’t buy them at all. Actually that’s not really fair…I sometimes buy things at Best Buy.
Carmax is like a shopping mall for car enthusiasts. Where a mall has different stores for different consumer goods, Carmax has different sections for different cars. The mall is open all day to customers and window shoppers alike, just like Carmax. When you walk through the mall you get assaulted by foreign nationals asking you to try their lotion, when you walk through Carmax those friendly blue polo wearing salespeople ask you to take a test drive.
I always pass on the lotion. I never pass on a test drive.
When I’m bored at work I’ll sometimes go check my local Carmax’s inventory. I don’t do this because I need to buy a car, I do this because I need to drive them. All of them. Okay, not the SUVs. Last summer I was browsing the local Carmax inventory when I came across something interesting: A Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
Zee. Arr. One. At Carmax. In Wichita, Kansas. As soon as I got off work I drove straight to Carmax. Would they let me drive it? I don’t care, I just want to look at it. Sit in it. Touch it. Lick it.
No, I didn’t lick it. But I did drive it. I drove it hard.
“What are you looking for today?” Anthony, my salesman, my hero, asked in an excited tone; like a puppy about to get a treat. “I saw you have a Corvette ZR1 online”, I replied. “I was hoping to get a test drive”, I said quietly, carefully.
Let me frame this moment a bit: I was at Carmax about 6 months earlier test driving a Fiat 500 Abarth when I spotted a Camaro ZL1. I asked for a test drive, but was told that they don’t let just anyone test drive the $50,000 and up cars. The ZR1 was listed at $60,000. If the salesman knew what it was, I was hosed. But he didn’t. When I asked for a test drive I was prepared for rejection, but instead was simply asked to hand over my ID and he’d go get a plate.
I was about to drive a ZR1. The ultimate version of the best sports car money can buy. My favorite car. 640 supercharged horsepower of American fury. Not gonna lie, I had a bit of a chub going on.
Anthony starts to drive the car off the lot. I asked him if he’s ever bummed that’s all he gets to do, and he didn’t understand the question. This was just another car to him. He was in for a treat. We swapped seats and I tried to contain my excitement as I started to let out the clutch and drive a Corvette ZR1.
I turned onto the big open road in front of the lot, gave the gas a light touch, and fell in love. The car instantly leaped forward, growling in anger. I instantly knew this was something special. A few miles down the road there’s a big circular ramp entering a freeway. I dropped down into second gear, took the corner with gusto, and nailed it when it straightened out.
How can I describe acceleration? The scientific definition is rate of change of velocity of an object. Physically acceleration has a feeling. A feeling of being pushed into the seat, of the car rushing forward and gaining momentum. I thought I knew what acceleration felt like, but this was something else. Something I’d never experienced before. Something I hope I can experience again someday.
The ZR1 is unbelievably fast. There are no words to describe it. It’s just raw, visceral power. It feels…American. Like shooting a gun with one hand while chugging a PBR with the other as a Bald Eagle flies overhead, with a lifted diesel truck doing smokey coal fired donuts behind you. The sound it makes is the sound of freedom: 640 roaring, rumbling horses screaming at full volume with the supercharger’s siren song wailing above it.
I looked down an instant later and saw the heads up display reading a number that was more than double the speed limit. I was still in second gear! I glanced over at Anthony, who was now bracing himself with both hands, his eager puppy dog face with eyes as big as an owls. I let off, whispered ‘holy shit’ to myself, and felt my cheeks start to burn from the grin that wouldn’t go away for days.
From that moment on my definition of speed has been forever ruined. Cars I once thought were fast now felt pedestrian. I knew at that moment I had just driven undoubtedly the best car in the world, a car that will haunt my dreams for decades to come. I need one.
At the end of the test drive, Anthony asked if I was ready to buy. “Yes”, I said, “Will you take a kidney on trade?”