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Driving Like My Doppelganger

Charlie Schroeder

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Charlie Schroeder
(Drivetech Racing School)
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(Charlie Schroeder)

You know the theory that everyone has a twin, somewhere out there? For the past few years, friends, relatives, strangers on the street have been telling me that I'm a dead ringer for Jeff Gordon.

"It's glaring," says one of my high school classmates. "In every way. Facial features, stature, the way you carry yourself."

Gordon is a corn-fed, thick eyebrowed NASCAR driver. But my mom wouldn't know that. Over Christmas I sat her down for a little heart to heart. The whole "Has anyone ever told you that you look like?" thing had really started to get on my nerves and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. My mom went to college in Bristol, Va., home of the Bristol Speedway, so I asked her if, when she lived there, there was any chance she may have had a baby.

"There was nobody to date in Bristol," she said.

End of story.

I'm an actor, and, like me, Gordon shows up now and then in commercials. And also like me, he gets the occasional line or two in movies. I guess you could say we share more than just a physical resemblance. So the more people commented on our looks, the more I saw him showing up in "my world," the more I started to wonder what it would be like to be him, at least for a day. So I signed up for a NASCAR racing class.

"The main thing in the whole experience is going as fast as you've gone," says Drivetech Racing School instructor Eddie Bryan. "You've never been able to do that in a street car--I mean you could, but there are no cops out there chasing you or anything like that."

Now, I once attended a NASCAR race and found it to be, well, kind of boring. Don't get me wrong, I loved the first bit when the green flag dropped and the cars raced around an inch apart at 185 mph. The whole race to the finish and the checkered flag? I was jumping out of my seat! But the middle section, watching cars make left-hand turns for 3 hours. I mean, c'mon Jeff, how hard can it be to do that? Actually one of my classmates at the racing school, Zachary Bliss, thinks it is pretty hard.

"I've actually gone about 150 in my Nova," Bliss says. "It gets a little scary right there on street tires because those things start coming off the ground and it's like you're skating on ice."

That reminds me of this one time I went 45 in a 30. It was crazy!

What part of my visage does Zachary Bliss think most resembles Gordon?

"I would say your jaw," he says. "It stands out: it looks just like Jeff Gordon's."

Before I hit the track I have to take a safety school class to learn what green flags and white flags and red flags mean. Well, that is, if I can only stop fixating on Eddie's repeated use of the word "crash." In fact Eddie mentions the word so often -- about half a dozen times -- that by the time I'm strapped inside car No.5, I'm a complete headcase.

"This is a really dumb idea," I say to myself while I wait for Eddie to give us the signal to start driving. I even start to say a Hail Mary, something I haven't done in 15 years. But before I can get to the bit about "praying for sinners at the hour of death," Eddie breaks in.

"Drivers start your engines!" he says into the radio.

Eddie watches us from the infield, all the while guiding us over the radio. After a couple practice laps he says those familiar words that, roughly translated, mean "you're now free to drive like a bat out of hell."

"Okay green, green, green, green flag. All cars green flag!"

It's safe to say the car is not my Honda Civic. For one thing, I can't see the front of it; for another, I sit so close to the steering wheel that my arms bow out and the seatbelt is strapping me in like I'm on a rollercoaster. It's like one day I woke up to find I had two right feet. Sure, I can still walk, but I'm walking in circles. After only one lap Eddie's singled me out on the radio.

"So car No 5. Car No. 5 on the exit of turn 2," he says "I'm going to have you wave your right hand, turn left and lift for me please."

Apparently Eddie wants me to pull over because I'm driving like my grandmother. On the next lap he says it again.

"Car No. 5, car No. 5 I'm going to have you wave your right hand, turn left and lift off for me out of turn number two. Car No. 5."

And it only gets worse. In no time at all I've been passed four times. Finally I'm just like "WWJD?" What would Jeff do? Then I remembered what Zachary Bliss, the guy who drives his Nova 150 mph, had to say about Gordon.

"He has his own attitude out there," Bliss told me earlier. "He's out there to win, out there to do his job, and it doesn't rub people the right way."

So I put the petal to the metal. In the end I didn't hit the car's top speed -- 137 mph -- but I did go the fastest I've ever gone, about 120. It wasn't Jeff Gordon fast, but you know what? I'm not sure I'd want it to be. Turns out, making lefthand turns is a lot harder than it looks.

As I crossed the finish line I heard Eddie say: "Car No. 5, checkered flag. No. 5, good job out there, Charlie." I was thankful it was over.

People might mistake me for Jeff Gordon, he might be a (much) better race car driver than me, his cameo in Herbie Fully Loaded may be better than any performance I've ever given, but I do take solace in knowing that I get to do something Gordon doesn't do: broadcast my inner most feelings over the airwaves.

Except, apparently when talk show host Regis Philbin plays hooky. That's when Gordon talks about his kids and even brings pictures of them to show the entire country. It's unbelievable how much we have in common. What's next, Gordon gonna contribute to Weekend America?

Comments

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  • By Debbie Eastham

    From Wildomar, CA, 02/16/2008

    I enjoyed your article but have to admit I am biased as Zach Bliss is my son. I hope you had fun driving. Zach absolutely loved it! Thank you for the enjoyable article.

    By Chad Beatty

    From rocky mount, VA, 02/16/2008

    I laughed and laughed. I never cared much for nascar. It happens to be the sport of choice for my fellow neighbors around here. However, you have made it fun and amusing. Great story.

    By jamie lynn prata

    From pawtucket, RI, 02/16/2008

    Charlie - you'll just have to come back again, you'll go faster next time!! Hope you had fun!!

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