Until Monday, every time I'd raced go-karts involved putting down the fastest lap time possible -- no matter where everyone finished on the track -– and then comparing times with my friends.
I'd never actually "raced" the karts, though. That changed when NASCAR's A.J. Allmendinger and Indy 500 pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe –- who both drive for Penske Racing –- captained a media go-karting challenge Monday in Charlotte.
Here are five things I learned from the experience:
1. Restarts are no fun
The race format was a double-file standing start based on an inversion from the practice speeds, which put the fastest drivers in the back. As soon as the green flag waved, we all got bunched up in the first few turns and there was a lot of chaos and bumping. It was generally unpleasant.
I just wanted to race, get to some clean air and go as fast as possible to help my team; I didn't want to have any drama or contact with other drivers.
Later, I realized that mentality was a small glimpse into the debate over what makes for "entertaining" racing (drivers trading paint for fans' enjoyment) and "real" racing (just driving the hell out of it).
2. Teammates aren't always friendly
I was on Team Allmendinger with ESPN's Nicole Briscoe (Ryan's wife) and IndyCar public relations rep Arni Sribhen. After starting fifth of six cars due to the inversion, I had to pass both of them to try and catch eventual winner Nate Ryan of USA Today.
Sribhen, though, ran me into the wall when I was attempting to pass. In fact, we had contact several times while exchanging positions. Mark Martin's head would have exploded if he had seen it.
I even yelled, "Teammates! Teammates!" at Sribhen as I was trying to pass, but it didn't help.
Briscoe, meanwhile, had a fast kart and was very capable on the track. But when she saw me coming, she swung wide into the corner to allow me to pass on the inside.
After that, I could kind of see why NASCAR teammates believe there's a certain way to race one another and get frustrated when they don't get the same courtesy back.
3. It's fun to flip people off
During practice, Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer was like a moving chicane. I was way faster (and that's relative, because we ALL sucked), but I could not get around her. Finally, with my patience dwindling, I nudged her out of the way going into a corner.
As I made the pass, though, Fryer apparently was displeased with my methods. She gave me a retaliatory bump when I drove by her.
My thought was, "Dude, what the hell?" So I held my middle finger high in the air as I drove away.
It felt good.
4. On road courses, some turns don't matter as much as others
Coach Allmendinger pulled me aside after practice to point out an area of the track where I was struggling. As it turned out, I was driving into a hairpin turn way too hard and therefore losing time and blowing the next three turns.
Allmendinger said when drivers go to a road course, they look at the most important corners as the ones that lead into a straightaway –- because that's where you can gain time and speed. Therefore, his advice was to slow down heading into the hairpin turn so I could keep my momentum up for the next couple corners before the straightaway.
5. Everything goes out the window when racing for position
In practice, I focused on trying to run smooth and consistent laps. But in the race, with other karts nearby, that all went out the window. As much as I tried to tell myself to calm down and remain steady, the sight of the race leader 100 feet ahead of me made me drive like a maniac.
I overdrove corners, made dumb mistakes and generally forgot every lesson Allmendinger tried to teach me. Not surprisingly, I didn't win.
When I told Allmendinger afterward how surprised I was that racing for position made my common sense go out the window, he smiled.
"Welcome to our world," he said.