The Well of Death and the Power of Centripetal Force

Ah the carnival. Nothing would excite me in my youth quite like the thrill rides one finds at the carnival – the Tilt A’ Whirl, the Tornado, or even the tried and true roller coaster. But instead of wandering a field in Texas, cotton candy in hand, what if you came upon the Well of Death, a pit 100 feet deep lined with wooden planks. A blank-faced crowd of Indians stands around as if this sight is common. Inside the Well of Death are multiple motorcycles, sometimes cars, who use centripetal force to stick to the sides as the riders let go of their hands and inhibitions. The breeze blowing through their clothes and hair as they whirl around in circles. This is not only dangerous for the daredevils but the audience as well.

Now I know you’re probably thinking that I really don’t know a damn thing about physics and you’re right. I haven’t had a science class since high school and that education was shaky at best. One thing I  do remember that my Integrated Physics and Chemistry teacher, Mr. Morey, taught me was the difference between centripetal and centrifugal force, as they are commonly confused. Centripetal is the inward force that keeps an object moving in a continuous circle, i.e. why the riders don’t just fly off into space. The main force is the wood pushing back on the tires of the daredevils’ roaring machines.

As the riders move in circles, they elicit reactions from the crowd. I always told myself if the whole journalism thing didn’t work out that I would love nothing more than to be a racecar driver. I’ve always pushed the natural limits of speed. I would barrel down hills in Austin on my longboard with nothing to protect me from the black asphalt wave should I find myself underneath it when it breaks.

That is no different when driving a car. Living in Houston made me a speed-demon behind the wheel. How would a reasonable person react to eight lanes of concrete opening up to them? I would push my car to its limit again and again. Finally my luck ran out when I took a friend on assignment to a city council meeting in Splendora, Texas.

“I’m unlucky,” she said.

She wasn’t kidding. I was pulled over doing 85 in a 55. As I fumbled for my license and insurance card, she leans over and said, “Oh, by the way I have a warrant out for my arrest, so try and play it cool.”

Great. Not only am I late for work, am gonna get a monster speeding ticket, but I’m harboring a fugitive as well. Curse my wretched luck.

The point is that without pushing ourselves to the limit, one cannot find what scares them. I was scared at the moment when the cop pulled me over, having never had a run-in with the law for 23 years. I’m sure the men that enter the Well of Death feel fear, but its what keeps us human.

But physics lesson aside it is shocking to see the kinds of stunts these men are willing to perform.

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