How to Make Race Car Driving Dreams Come True
You've been daydreaming about race car driving—sliding into the front seat of a powerful stock car, revving the engine of a Lamborghini. But you're not sure how to make your dream (or in my case, my gearhead dad's dream) come true. That's where Rusty Wallace Racing Experience and NASCAR Racing Experience come in. They arrange driving experiences all over the country, popping amateur drivers, racing fans, and anyone with a burning desire to go really, really fast behind the wheel of a stock car, racecar, or exotic vehicle
Race car driving doesn't require a pilot's license or a super-cool nickname, but there are a few things to know. I talked to Heather Lutz, one of the VPs at NASCAR Racing Experience, and Rusty Wallace's CEO Mark Ebert to get the lowdown on what to expect when you sign up for one of these experiences.
You don't need to be a professional driver, but you should probably know stick shift.
All you really need to sign up for one of these experiences is a valid driver's license, and in some cases (which we'll get to later), you don't even need that. The experiences are designed with novices in mind, and according to Mark, "well over 90% of our participants have no experience in high-performance driving." That said, it is pretty common for the vehicles used in these experiences to be stick shift. Either familiarize yourself in advance, or always call ahead.
If you want to feel like Dale Earnhardt, get a NASCAR experience.
These are the experiences most likely (if not guaranteed) to take place on an actual NASCAR-sanctioned speedway. In fact, with NASCAR Racing Experience specifically, Heather notes that customers are driving "real NASCAR race cars that come straight from NASCAR teams." Just remember that when it comes to professional racecars, "There's no creature comforts, [they're] built for speed and safety and [they] really deliver on both of those items!" says Mark.
If you want to feel like James Bond, get an exotic driving experience.
Lamborghinis. Ferraris. McLarens. The kind of car you can drive during one of these experiences varies widely, but whatever vehicle you pick, you can bet it wll be one posh ride with a heck of a lot of horsepower. Unlike a NASCAR driving experience, though, exotic experiences are more likely to be set up in the autocross format. This means a series of cones set up on a wide, flat stretch of road or concrete that the driver will have to navigate. And as Mark points out, "the course can be set up in any large, flat asphalt area." So don't be disappointed if you discover you won't be tearing up the track because you're in the best spot to really see how your vehicle handles.
An instructor can be at your side, in your ear, or behind the wheel.
The first thing you'll want to determine is whether you're looking to be the driver or do what's called a "ride-along" experience. Opting for a ride-along means that while you stay in the passenger's seat, an instructor will be in control of the car, accelerating to top speeds and whipping it around turns. This is a great option for anxious drivers or those without a driver's license.
If you're the driver, it's fairly typical for an instructor to ride as a passenger while you control the wheel, though some experiences (such as the NASCAR Racing Experience) allow drivers to be in the vehicle completely on their own. Research your chosen company thoroughly to know which one you're likely to end up with.
You'll reach top speeds, but you might not know exactly how fast you're going.
Heather and Mark both agree that the highlight for drivers is the thrill of the speed. But getting an exact number is more difficult than you might think. Obviously, if a professional is driving during a ride-along, you won't have any say in the speed. But instructors also maintain some control over your speed, even if you're the one with your hands on the wheel. This is to ensure a maximum amount of safety.
Practice striking your coolest pose—your pics will be Instagram worthy.
Heather suggests that you arrive early for check in and getting suited up in your racing gear. Suiting up, by the way, can range from a simple heavy-duty helmet to a full jumpsuit, which serves a dual purpose of keeping you safe and making you look cool as heck. Many places include a glossy printed photo with the experience, but you can bring along friends and family to snap pics from the sidelines, too.
Either way, there is a good chance you'll end up like my dad, who for five straight years has had his profile picture set to a shot of him in the front seat of a Ferrari. But hey, when you look cool, you look cool, and these types of race car driving experiences excel in coolness.