We embedded our reporter with the Red Bull Racing Team for a weekend of skydiving, helicopter riding, and NASCAR racing. His senses are still jolted.
-By Drew Magary
The male species is neatly divided into badasses and pussies, and I fit squarely into the latter category. I am a huge pussy. I’m the type to ask my wife to return something to the store for me because I find the process too confrontational. Oh, I would love to do badass things, like kill Nazis and bang five-star hookers while hanging from a ceiling fan. But I lack the skill, ability, resources, and looks to do so. Mostly though, I’m just lazy. It’s easier to stay home and forget life as I’m living it, rather than go out there and, you know, do cool shit.
This is foolish, for the only real wealth any man has is accumulated in moments. The image of an act welded into your circuitry now and forever. Milestones. A spank bank of living, if you will. For people like me, these landmarks are usually common (but not unimportant) things like getting married, having kids, or even eating a great meal.
But those experiences are not enough for the badasses of this world. No, a badass constantly pursues those astonishing moments in which you step outside your body and say to yourself, Holy shit, I am actually doing this.
That’s why I came here, to Phoenix. I’m in search of true badassery. Over the next 72 hours, I will jump out of an airplane with members of the Red Bull Air Force skydiving team, ride shotgun in a helicopter, and hang out with Brian Vickers and Scott Speed of the Red Bull NASCAR Racing Team. They have taken me on as a pity case, to put me through a three-day crash course in badassery, and to delight in just how big of a pants-shitting spaz I am. You’re never too old to try to become a real man, so let’s fucking do this.
If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving definitely isn’t for you.
The town of Eloy, Arizona, sits 60 miles southeast of Phoenix, in a landscape of cacti and desert brush that barely moves in the deathly heat. Eloy is home to Skydive Arizona, the self proclaimed largest skydiving center in the world. The place consists of a ranch with a little bar (requisite steer skull hanging outside) and a handful of buildings planted right by the tarmac. Little trailer homes surround the facility, housing mostly skydiving instructors and professionals—people who jumped out of an airplane once and decided that was how they would like to spend the entirety of their existence.
My instructor and tandem-jump partner, Ty, is one such person. As is Jon DeVore, the Red Bull Air Force member assigned to hold my hand (literally) throughout the skydiving process. Vickers, one of Red Bull’s NASCAR drivers, is also here. He skydives on his days off. Of course he does. You know, to relax. Who doesn’t?
Both Jon and Ty have completed more than 10,000 jumps. I ask Jon if skydiving is as cool now as the first time he did it, and he says, “Just another day at the office.” It’s a refrain I’ll hear from men like Jon all weekend.
After a brief training session in an indoor skydiving simulator that looks like a giant four-pronged dildo (so hot), I am apparently ready for the real thing. I initial about 100 pages of waivers, watch a video in which some dude with a mustache tells me my family can’t sue his ass if I die (they totally will anyway if that happens), and I’m good to go.
Ty comes out, puts me in my harness, and tells me we’ve got 40 minutes till blastoff. I ask if lots of people pussy out at the last minute. He says no. Well, I have to jump now. No way I’m pussying out if every random asshole tourist can do it.
We are jumping from 13,000 feet. The plane climbs. Ty shows me the altimeter. At 3,000 feet I think, Shit, this looks high. Can’t we just jump from here? Ty straps himself to me and draws the harness tight. We reach our altitude and the little plastic door opens. Suddenly, it’s colder than shit in here.
People start jumping out right away, turning into little insects fluttering in the sky. Ty scoots us to the door. I do not move, as instructed. I’m like a baby in a Bjorn. I grab the bar at the door. Luke, another team member, yells something at me. I assume he says “jump.” Fuck if I know. It’s loud. I let go and plunge out with Ty, facing upward. The plane trails off quickly. We cannot get back in. We flip around and holy fucking shit there’s the ground. Jon had told me that my stomach wouldn’t drop during the jump, since the plane is already going 100 miles per hour. Jon lied. My stomach drops like a fucking brick. I do not feel like I’m flying. I am fucking falling.
Brian Vickers and Jon float over and take my hand on either side. Luke snaps a picture of us with his helmet cam. They all fly off to enjoy themselves, leaving me to try to comprehend what’s happening. I can’t. Ty taps me. It’s time. I reach around to pull the chute and it opens. I’m relieved, until I realize the ground is still very far away and could take days to arrive. Ty steers the chute, and we approach the ground in a spiral, like we’re circling a drain. I emit a noise I have never made before. I sound like Tarzan being raped.
The ground rises all too quickly for my tastes. I tell Ty, “Oh, my God! There’s the ground! It’s coming really fast!” I pick up my feet and Ty absorbs the surprisingly mild impact. I collapse to the ground. It’s all over. I just jumped out of a fucking plane.
The rest of the team immediately goes off to jump again. I do not join them. The ground is so soft. I kinda want to throw up. But I don’t! Bad. Ass.
Flying is not dangerous; crashing is dangerous.
“What’s your name today? Queen Bitch?”
Scott Speed is talking to his wife, Amanda. Every day, he gives her a new nickname. Yesterday it was Queen Bitch. Today it’s Bootylicious. They’re playful like that. Talk with Amanda for three seconds and she’ll happily overshare (“I was gonna exercise this morning, but we just had sex instead”). Speed, along with Vickers, is here to race for Red Bull in the Subway 600. Speed (his real name) places second in qualifying. It’s a good day for him, and he plans on capping it off by donning a toga and judging a drunken Red Bull chariot race in Tucson. I will be judging with him and, since time is supposedly of the essence, we will make the round trip from Phoenix to Tucson by helicopter. I have never ridden in one before. Speed, of course, has.
Everyone decides I should ride in front, since I’ll be more terrified that way. I get in and sit next to Jeff, our pilot for the evening. We all don headsets with microphones that allow us to talk over the racket. These things are awesome. I immediately give Jeff permission to napalm a Cambodian village. He declines.
Jeff fires up the blades and we softly lift off. At 300 feet, he tilts, and the land begins scrolling beneath us. At my feet in the cockpit are two clear panels, so I can see right to the ground. It’s not unlike being in a glass bottom boat, except that instead of seeing pretty fish, you get to see yourself potentially impaled on a cactus. The sun is setting behind and to the right of us, and the landscape glows a faint lavender. It’s the best looking thing I’ve ever seen that didn’t come in female form.
I relax until a mountain rears up in front of us. I remind Jeff it’s there, in case he doesn’t see it. Speed comes on the mike and tells me to clean the sand out of my vagina. Later on, I will find out that Speed cannot tolerate spicy food. Who’s the pussy now, Scott?
We arrive at the Tucson airport, not dead. Speed and I put on our togas, with Speed going commando in his. Amanda reaches under and gives his dick a playful tug. We go to the bar. Young people race their chariots and crash, much to the crowd’s delight.
The return trip takes place at night, the black sky and the black ground joining together to erase the horizon. I feel very much like I am in outer space. When we land back at the track, drunken rednecks and Mexicans have already started tailgating for the race. We are like the aliens from Close Encounters, landing to greet all Earthlings. Bad. Ass.
You win some, lose some, and wreck some.
It’s race day, and I’m riding shotgun with Brett Bodine, a former NASCAR racer who will be driving the pace car for the Subway 600. Bodine has given any number of jackasses like me pace-car rides, so this is old hat to him. With one hand on the wheel, he explains the nuances of the Phoenix International Raceway as he navigates it at roughly 110 miles per hour.
I hear none of his rehearsed analysis, though, because I am in the throes of sheer terror. Bodine floors it on every sharp turn, and the car, despite coming within a fingernail of the aqua-blue concrete wall every time, stays firmly gripped to the track, against all my expectations. The physics do not compute in my brain, especially given all my years playing Out Run. God dammit, Brett, how can you be so fucking casual about this? We should be fucking spinning into oblivion. Yet we do not. This is much scarier than jumping out of a plane.
When the car comes to a stop after five laps, I climb out and realize I was not ready for that. Between the sky-dive, the copter ride, the desert heat, the general lunacy of the race environment, and the pace-car ride, my brain is broken. I go lie down for an hour in the hauler.
Later that night, Vickers will circle the track just as I did, only 60 miles per hour faster, without air conditioning, and with 50 other drivers going ballsout. He’ll also need to be constantly aware of pit stops, speed regulations, rpms, track topography, and a million other things. For three-plus hours. I have no fucking clue how anyone can do this. I ask Vickers if he gets nervous before races. “Not anymore,” he says.
He ends up crashing into the wall at Turn Two, the wall that made me shit my pants. The wreck leaves him unharmed, but takes him out of contention Speed finishes 21st). The cause was a tire blowout, but no one knows why it blew. The pit crew didn’t fuck up or anything, and the tire was structurally fine. It just happened to give way. The wreck doesn’t shake Vickers. It’s simply an annoying incident that came between him and a better finish. He’ll forget it by next week.
This is when it occurs to me that, while I am clearly a pussy, I’m okay with it. People like Vickers, Speed, and the skydiving team can do badass things all day, every day, but I can’t. It doesn’t mean my life is any less rich. It just means that the moments I keep for myself are less, you know, bat-shit in sane. I still have plenty of landmarks, maybe as many as those guys. I had two hot dogs during the race. They were outstanding. I shall not soon for get them, and I didn’t have to risk life and limb to eat them. Being a pussy? It’s just fine with me. Because the most badass thing in the world is to be comfortable in your own skin, and it took three days of being a pretend badass for me to figure that out.