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    Racecars, Helicopters and Pro Athletes: a Charitable Day with Cadillac
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Racecars, Helicopters and Pro Athletes: a Charitable Day with Cadillac

It was a day that broke the bucket list. The blades were still spinning on the helicopter behind me as my Escalade escort approached the pit at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After a 15-minute flight in Donald Trump’s gold-and-leather-lined helicopter, a group of PGA golfers and I were about to measure our mettle on the racetrack. Thanks to Cadillac, the PGA and the Make-a-Wish Foundation, there were thousands of dollars on the line for charity between the pro golfers. I was there in a driver’s seat of my own to witness the 2014 Cadillac V-Series Challenge for Charity firsthand.

This post is in partnership with Cadillac. Meet the world’s fastest family of production cars here.

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This week at the Trump National Doral Miami, the World Golf Championships’ Cadillac Championship hosted some of the finest golfers in the world. I didn’t come for the golf, although I appreciate any sport that puts on a show like this one. There were Escalades and CTS Coupes and other vehicles prominently displayed on the water hazards, as if driven directly over the water. There were rich and famous attendees on the scene, from golfers like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to the Trump entourage. Yet I wasn’t there to watch the winning putt or applaud the golfers; I was there to challenge some of those golfers on the racetrack in a series of 2015 Cadillac luxury performance vehicles.


Prologue: The Copter

The trip started on a helipad not far from the 9th hole at Trump Doral. Pro golfer Graham DeLaet, Grantland’s Shane Ryan and I, among others, buckled into the Donaldcopter for a ride over Miami, Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. This wasn’t your basic whirlybird; it was an AgustaWestland AW109, a $6.3M luxury helicopter that apparently does the Donald proud. The ride was smooth, without turbulence, providing one of the best views of greater Miami that one can see in a lifetime.

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Upon landing, a row of 2015 Cadillac Escalades waited to drive us from the helipad to the pit at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The tunnel beneath the stands led to a waiting pit crew who outfitted us with helmets, head socks and jumpsuits for the racing festivities. After a brief, casual introduction, the crew instructed us on the basics of driving safety and got us up to speed on the event.


Act One: Drag Racing

The first phase of the 2014 Cadillac V-Series Challenge for Charity took place on the drag strip, as each of us got behind the wheel of our own 2014 Cadillac CTS Sedan. Two-at-a-time, we raced. My challenger and I would line up on the mark, count the yellow lights and slam the accelerator when the light hit green. My guide (and passenger) explained that if you hit the gas about 7/10ths of the way down to the metal, the tires won’t slip and you can slam it all the way once the Caddy is in motion.

This experience was quite a bit different from my daily drive. The 420-horsepower turbo-charged engine climbed to cruising speed in a flash before I hit the brakes hard at the finish. No cartoonish parachutes popped out the back past the finish line, just 100% ABS goodness for a comfortable-yet-quick stop.



Act Two: Follow-the-Leader Road Racing

After getting our feet wet on the drag strip, it was time to step things up. We each graduated to a 2014 Cadillac CTS-V, the 556-horsepower namesake of this event and the pearl of the Cadillac collection. The course was mixed, using part of the infield road-track and part of the outer oval. This race was about negotiating turns and managing speed on every leg. Our group was led by a racing professional up front, guiding us through the turns, braking points and straightaways throughout the course.

If you’ve never driven on the embankment of an oval track (and very few of us have), it’s an experience unto itself. When you’re cruising at about 80-85 on the middle of the embankment, you can let go of the steering wheel and the car will handle the turn naturally. Not that I’m suggesting you do this—but you can feel the natural guidance of the curve when driving at such a speed.



Act Three: The Big Show with Andy Pilgrim

The most exciting moment of the entire V-Series Challenge was a ride-along with pro race driver Andy Pilgrim. Pilgrim has won 62 races in his career and holds a world record for consecutive finishes, at 116 in a row. Pilgrim was kind enough to invite me into his “office,” care of Cadillac. The passenger seat was tiny, the five-point harness was tight and the heat was oppressive in my full-body jumpsuit. I was nervous. I was afraid. I was excited.

After being given the green light, Pilgrim pushed his car to the limit, shifting gears in a matter of seconds before slamming on the brakes to take a turn. The sound was deafening. What impressed me wasn’t the speed per se but the way Pilgrim handled the turns. Any standard production car would have rolled side-over-side off the track. Pilgrim threaded this Cadillac through the curves.

I was given an out: All I needed to do was raise my left hand and Andy Pilgrim would slow to a comfortable speed. But I quickly forgot about that option in the midst of all the schoolboy cheering I was doing on the straightaways.

After returning to the pit I asked Pilgrim if he was humoring me, if he took it slow so the guests could get a glimpse of pro racing. Pilgrim smiled. “You felt the wheels drift, didn’t you?” he replied. “That was a full effort, no messing around.” Enough said.



My bucket list is officially busted. Fly in a luxury helicopter? Check. Hang out with pro athletes? Check. Drive some of the best American sports cars on the market? Check. Ride along with a professional racecar driver on a full-bore circuit? Check.

At the end of the event, Hunter Mahan defeated all challengers, myself included, and $12,000 was donated to the charity of his choice ($8,000 on behalf of the runner-up). Personally, I was lucky just to be involved. But the same luck can be had by anyone who works hard enough to get there. That’s what driving a Cadillac is all about.

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This post is in partnership with Cadillac. Meet the world’s fastest family of production cars here.

 2014 Cadillac V-Series Challenge for Charity | Full Gallery

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