At The Mercedes-Benz & Glamour Magazine AMG Driving Academy Experience I Found Freedom & Acceptance

October 18, 2019  |  

Mercedes-Benz and Glamour AMG Driving Academy

Source: Anthony Puopolo

Earlier this month I was invited to take part in the AMG Driving Academy Experience, an exhilarating one-day workshop sponsored in conjunction with Glamour Magazine and Mercedes-Benz.

The event was part of a special lead up to Glamour Magazine’s annual Women of The Year Summit and awards ceremony. 36 women were chosen to participate in a three-day experience from October 2-4, and I was honored to be among them.

At the time the trip was offered, so much had transpired in my life personally. Frustrations with my status in life, literally not moving in any direction in terms of work and relationships made me feel overwhelmed. Family members were dealing with sickness and ailments that I had no control over. And I was totally hesitant about sitting behind the wheel of a high-powered car. Living in New York City had made me somewhat spoiled because of Uber and access to public transportation. I realized the last time I had driven was Thanksgiving of 2018, and a tinge of anxiety and nervousness began to set in as I boarded my flight that Wednesday morning.

I also reckoned with the thought that race car driving seemed like a distant connection to the culture I grew up in. Still very white and male dominated, I didn’t really know how to muster up the excitement, other than acknowledging this was an incredible opportunity to try something new.

Mercedes-Benz and Glamour AMG Driving Academy

Source: Anthony Puopolo

But from the moment the plane touched down in the lavishness of Monterey, California, I was taken aback by the full possibilities of the moment I was getting ready to encounter. The beautiful peace and serenity of the Carmel Valley Ranch, located in Caramel-by-the Sea, which served as my temporary home for those three days, lifted me.

I was alone and without my safety net of colleagues and friends, but I was ecstatic to be in the presence of other driven women, some of whom had created businesses on their own, broken into industries dominated by men, or just worked hard to achieve success on their own merit in their given industry. In spite of me not knowing a single person, as I listened to their stories of survival and triumph, I knew somehow that I would be supported.

On Thursday, as we drove up the winding hill to the world-renowned race track WeatherWay Laguna Seca, I decided it would be best for me to leave my hesitations inside of the Sprinter van.

After an inspiring and motivational warm-up led by Angela Manuel Davis, Soulcycle Master instructor and fitness influencer, it was time to meet the track.

Mercedes-Benz and Glamour AMG Driving Academy

Source: Anthony Puopolo

As we positioned for the first lap around the track I felt a small tinge of anxiety sweep in. Our instructor Amy led the group by speaking into a radio which was wired to our race car helmets. I could literally feel the sweat forming on my back as we pushed the gas, accelerating from the safety of the gear “park.”

I realized then that most of us were just as apprehensive, as Amy urged us to trust ourselves and fully let go. I remembered that this was a once in a lifetime experience and I would never have this opportunity again (unless a trunk full of cash somehow dropped in my lap).

On the second loop we were more confident, and by the third and fourth lap I could tell we all were totally comfortable with accelerating.

Mercedes-Benz and Glamour AMG Driving Academy

Source: Anthony Puopolo

After the laps we participated in a timed-course where we were asked to go as fast as possible around a course lined with small orange cones. We all took full advantage of pushing the pedal to the floor. After the course we took a lesson in drifting and watched as one of the instructors named Casey easily maneuvered the car in 180-degree circles with ease. I definitely didn’t excel at this exercise, but he was so generous to let most of us ride in the passenger seat so we could gauge the full experience.

At the end of the day we were asked to return to the track so that each of us could ride in the passenger seat with a women-led group of instructors who would drive us around the course for an immersive experience. This meant we would feel the full power of at least 160 mph. As my turn approached, I walked up to the car, opened the door by the handle, and sat down. As soon as my seatbelt clicked we zoomed off, full throttle. Although I had driven the track four times prior, I was observing everything with new eyes. I watched as the instructor, a woman, drove with ease, laughed and talked to me about how much she loved her job. It was incredible to feel that much freedom, and I ignored negative thoughts about what could happen or rise up. I decided to just let it be.

As we returned to our starting point and I opened the door to walk back towards the line, I became filled with so much gratitude. I felt blessed to exist in this space of life with my health and the means to provide for myself. My life was a continuation of the legacy of my parents who gave me their all just so that I could have these affirming experiences.

And in that moment, I remembered the words of the legendary Toni Morrison: “If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”

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