Butterflies fluttered about in my gut. The cocktail of nerves and excitement was intoxicating. A stream of sweat streaked down my cheek in the 90-degree heat.
No, I’m not describing the walk to my first campus lecture hall on day one as a freshman at Ohio State. I’m talking about the exhilaration of awaiting the green light for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas or crash and burn in a blaze of glory on the racetrack at Grand Prix Go-Karting.
Not to mention doing it all in a Mario costume shipped straight fromRainbow Road.
The Mushroom Rally was truly a one-of-a-kind experience, and certainly not something you can hope to encounter at Buck-i-Frenzy (though they do have Wipeout). It wasn’t just the bristly stick-on Mario mustache that tickled me pink.
Grand Prix’s Indoor Entertainment center offered the event for the festive and brave of heart, but the MushroomRally took place in 15 other cities as well. With several rounds of 10-person heats over three days, the fastest lap winner would qualify for a trip to Sin City with the chance to compete in the final round.Even if you aren’t competing in an event,you and your friends can race at Grand Prix for a discounted price through Ohio State’s D-Tix program. Plus, it’s only a 15-minute Uber ride away from your dorm.
For an amateur like myself, who went in to practice a month ahead of the race out of fear, there was still another option to claim victory. Upon registration, the staff handed out sheets for collecting stars in an attempt to further bring Mario Kart off the screen and into reality. Stars could be earned from answering trivia questions, dancing and other spontaneity, which could earn you another spot in Vegas if you collected enough.
Unfortunately, our 10:30 a.m. arrival was dangerously early given my indulgent post-Comfest Friday behavior, and the subsequent hangover curbed my enthusiasm for cutting a rug to earn a star.
Needless to say, driving a go-kart is quite different than cruising the construction addled Columbus streets in a Honda.”
Besides, I was too distracted by the daunting costume selection looming before me. On a series of hangers in the facility’s party room hung the familiar trappings of a slew of iconic characters ranging from Princess Peach to Spiderman. Despite my insistence that I would be most accurately represented by a Bowzer costume, I wound up stepping into the universally recognizable red and blue garb of everyone’s favorite Italian plumber.
Complete with hat and ‘stache, there was still time to spare before the race, which was gleefully spent with a round of Mario Kart on the Wii provided by Grand Prix. That pre-race simulation gave me everything I needed to realize that however bad my go-karting prowess, my actual Mario Kart skills are even worse.
After briefly thinking I missed my heat, and a mild scolding from an employee, I scampered to my kart, dome securely encased in helmet. I was last in line out of the gate, but damn it I was determined to finish first. The smell of gasoline and piping hot, revved-up engines filled my nostrils, delivering an adrenaline-spiked Need for Speed into my bloodstream like a key bump of cocaine.
Needless to say, driving a go-kart is quite different than cruising the construction addled Columbus streets in a Honda. With a white-knuckled vice grip on the wheel, the high stakes of the Mushroom Rally gave me no option except to grit my teeth and throw full weight into every twist and turn.
Following an early pass that gave me confidence, I found myself trapped behind Wario for much of the race, cursing his name more than a few times before I just barely edged out my sworn enemy in the last moments.
Surely, victory had been mine. They would say my name over the loudspeaker and whisk me off to a hedonistic West Coast adventure. Even though the “official” results said I came in sixth place out of 11 racers, I was a champion. Or so I assured myself while holding back tears.
Swept up in the heat of competition, it wasn’t until after the race that I was able to process the inflatable decorations strewn about the course. What is usually a warehouse half-open to the outdoors felt more like we had set foot into a Nintendo 64 console and selected Mario Raceway.
Regardless of my middle-of-the-pack finish, I had a blast spending a Saturday morning in a well-curated, Mario Kart analogue fantasy land, and it was truly disappointing to strip out of the spirited regalia so soon.
For incoming freshmen, this is just a small taste of the brand of quirky events and hidden gems Columbus has to offer, and all the more reason to get excited about the stories you will have to tell after a few years at Ohio State.
If nothing else, the race at Grand Prix Go-Karting provided me the ammunition to incessantly puzzle and annoy my friends for the rest of the weekend with a single, embellished phrase: “I won, and I’m going to Vegas.”
Photos by Grant Jones.