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el 2013: In which an electric vehicle event comes of age and I live to tell about it

I was making soul-swapping deals with whatever entity might be listening as we entered the very first turn.

The corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s probably the most famous single element of any racetrack in the United States. Nay, the world. I expected my first plunge through its twisting coils to be a revelation, perhaps even a full-blown religious experience. I was mistaken. Strapped into the passenger bucket of the EV West BMW M3 electric conversion, I found myself sending a multitude of prayers up to the heavens well before we reached that anticipated nirvana. In fact, I was making soul-swapping deals with whatever entity might be listening as we entered the very first turn.

It was the last session of the day at the 2013 edition of Refuel – an electric vehicle event put on by Speed Ventures that allows EV builders and buyers to become intimately acquainted with this top-notch race track – and, had my mind been able to process anything besides sheer terror as we approached turn three after leaving the relative safety of the pit lane, I might have been comforted by the fact that I was receiving a bit of top quality education. It is, after all, one thing to casually jot down figures like 850 lb-ft of torque while seated at a desk, and quite another to feel it rearrange all your internal organs.

Likewise, one can watch video footage demonstrating ridiculous cornering ability all day long and still not fully comprehend what it’s like to seemingly confound Newton’s laws of motion until you find your hand welded to the nearest bit of roll bar in an attempt to brace yourself, just in case science wins its argument with the massively meaty slicks clawing at the asphalt.

Several minutes earlier, I had been getting buckled into the six-point harness, excited to finally have a chance to get on the track. In the driver’s seat was EV West’s Matt Hauber. We had just formally met earlier that afternoon, but having watched him on many episodes of EVTV a few years back, I felt like I’d known him for far longer. He’d always seemed calm and easy going, not at all given to crazy, risk-taking behavior.

Cheers of “Shake and bake!” and others from Talladega Nights should have thrown up a caution flag.

Perhaps the cheers of “Shake and bake!” and other humorous quotes from the movie Talladega Nights traded with his business partner Michael Bream, standing alongside the race-prepared Bimmer, should have thrown up a caution flag, but I remained blissfully ignorant of what was about to happen. This was, after all, the first time he’d had the opportunity to drive the car on the track and so I expected he would take a measured, yet perhaps brisk, approach to his initial laps. I was wrong. So, so wrong.

When the line of assorted Tesla Model S sedans and Roadsters started rolling – all the vehicles with lesser batteries were either being charged or trailered for the drive back to their respective homes – we followed, and it didn’t take long for me to realize this was not going to be a Sunday drive. As Hauber’s foot depressed the go pedal, the 1.2-megawatt Soliton Shiva controller under the hood started shoveling screaming electrons from the batteries into the NetGain Warp HV11 DC motor. The initial acceleration snapped my helmet back, my stomach wrapped around my spine and the warning bells in my head started sounding off like it was the Christmas in Paris at the Notre Dame Cathedral. We were off.


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