NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski and his girlfriend rode bicycles over the Golden Gate Bridge this week. Typically touristy stuff, right? Except this was kind of a big deal to Keselowski. The guy doesn’t flinch at driving 200 mph on oval tracks, but he’s afraid of bridges. Always has been.
Before the Sprint Cup series roars into the bucolic hills of Wine Country every year, the folks at Sonoma Raceway organize a press luncheon. It’s always at McCormick and Kuleto’s restaurant in Ghirardelli Square, and I always go, because (1) it’s a free lunch, and (2) I get to sit and BS over salmon with a full-fledged NASCAR driver, which is always enlightening.
It was at Thursday’s lunch that Keselowski discussed his gephyrophobia. (Yes, that’s a real word.) It goes back his childhood in Michigan.
“We used to ride in the back of a trailer – key word: in the back of a trailer – when we’d travel, which is against a lot of laws. But we had one window, and we’d look out of it. And I can remember we’d go to Canada and race. And there was this bridge we went over, and it was always under construction. And it was always the creepy kind of construction, like one lane right up against the guard rail. Look out the window, it’s a couple hundred feet down. I was like, Oh my God.
“And that always freaked me out as a kid. Because I’d look out the window the whole time, and you get to the bridge. And it wouldn’t be like, ‘Hey, the bridge is coming!’ Because there was nobody to tell you.”
Because, you know, you’re in a trailer, connected to the outside world by one window, sliding into the walls every time your dad makes a sharp turn.
“You couldn’t even see that you were on a bridge,” Keselowski continued. “You look out the window and it’s water. You’re like where are we going? Are we falling into the water? You know what I mean? Are we elevating? Did we drive off a cliff? What happened?”
That perpetually under-construction bridge wasn’t Keselowski’s only source of terror. He figures he was 5 years old when he saw footage of the cracked Bay Bridge after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. And he heard stories about gusts of wind blowing cars off the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan proper with the Upper Peninsula.
“And that scared me to death,” Keselowski said. “The thought of being in this trailer, with this one window, and like the whole tractor-trailer would drive off, fall in the water and I wouldn’t be able to get out.”
So, yeah, blasting into hairpin Turn 11 at Sonoma Raceway, Kyle Busch bumping him from the side and Tony Stewart coming up hard on his tail? Piece of cake.