The Central Region DPE team treated a large group of influencer's by hosting an event that I have to say is one of the most incredible experiences I've had a chance to participate. The Richard Petty Driving Experience!
Before I showed up, what I was thinking is that there we were going to have an instructor (read as guide) sit in the passenger seat as you went onto the track and you'd be on the one mile track alone. Also, 120+ mph... hmmmmph... it's possible that I've driven in the past at that speed on the freeways... that's not so fast. In any case, I though it would be really fun and something that I would never spend my own money to do. I mean, really, isn't it just go-carts for grown ups. ;-)
Now I have to tell you, my expectations were completely blown away. I had to push hard to get to the track by 12:30 (my plane didn't land until 11:50 and $65 cab ride directly from the airport to the track... ouch). I made it there with one minute to spare, whew. Then you go through and sign the waivers saying that any personal injury is not their responsibility. Not a problem, I will be at the wheel after all. :-D Then they take you out and give you a rundown of the cars interior. What this switch does, what the knob is for, where the tach is, how to put on and take off the steering wheel and how to get in and out of the car without busting your rear or having the steering shaft (without the wheel) end up where the sun down shine. Of course, a few people experienced a little concern with the idea that if a fire were to occur, it'd be their responsibility to relax and get out of the fire themselves... after taking a deep breadth and pulling the pin/handle for the included halon fire suppression system.
Then as we were waiting for the van to come around so we could tour the track, it was made more clear that you were going to be in the car alone, following an instructors car. In addition, there would be three such groups on the track and it might be possible that passing would occur depending on the skill (read insanity) of the other drivers and yourself. We toured the track and got a rundown of the racing line was and some familiarity with the turns. One final thing that was done was an attempt explain what “3 car lengths“ actually is.
Sitting around waiting for the cars to warm up and getting one final rules session out of the way, they started calling names. Wouldn't you know that I'd end up in the very first group. Doh! No pressure or nothing... but I'd be one of the people setting the stage for everyone else going after me and I'm not going to be able to take advantage of any additional advice from others already doing so. Like I said... no pressure or nothing. ;-)
They helped put on the harness and racing helmet (that is attached to the helmet). It's kind of awkward, but if an accident were to occur, I can see how it would definitely assist in protecting your neck from significant force. Got situated in the car after two other drivers and waited for my start. For those that don't know me personally, when doing this sort of thing (well, when actually “doing“ this sort of thing), I get very serious and extremely focused. Nothing else enters into my mind and I'm all about being in the moment. I get the start... released the clutch, shift into first, clutch/gas... gas/clutch, shift up, clutch/gas... (man this shifter is clunky) gas/clutch, shift up, clutch/gas... watching the instructors car monitor the other two cars position and slowly merge onto the track from the pit. One more time, shift into 4th and away we go. Now, the first lap was to be a warm-up lap. (It sure didn't feel that way.) Came around to the flag position and the green flag was waving. Now, at this point, I'm not really being able to keep an eye on any gauges because I'm looking ahead and seeing two other cars on the track that we are closing in on pretty quickly. For what seemed an eternity, we were holding right behind them and then we passed. Progressively getting faster as I got more comfortable with the idea that the car I was in could take the 180 degree turns, I just did what i was told and tried my best to maintain a 3 car-length position behind the instructors car.
Finally, the eternity (read 1.5 laps) was finally over and we passed the cars ahead! I gotta tell you there is one hell of a rush in doing so on a real track when you have turns coming up as quickly as they are. In no time at all, bahm... wouldn't you know the other group of cars was in sight. The instructor (because I was doing what I was told... and people say I can't do that ;-) ), he positioned us for a pass and when the opportunity was available, we speed on past. Now that the track was somewhat open, we continued for a few more laps and progressively got faster each lap. How fast was I going, I didn't care. All I knew is that by the time I got done getting the gas into the right position and up to speed after the turn, it was time to bring the gas back down to go into the next turn. And... because we were going faster and faster, the markers they had placed were somewhat no longer relevant because we were accelerating coming out of the turns much quicker each time. Then the checkered flag (after a total of 9 laps) was waving and time to bring it to an end. Rolled into the pit and got out.
I was still on somewhat of a high and getting over the adrenaline rush as people were giving me praises for what apparently was a lot of fun to watch from the stands. They pointed out how I was dead on in my distance with the instructors car and pretty much appeared to be “perfect“. Of course, I was in the car. I know that I could have done better. Now that I've done this, I'm going to have to do it again. Like I said, I know that I could take it up a notch. I'd feel a lot more comfortable the next time around. If you've never done this sort of thing on a real track and are even remotely interested in driving fast, you owe it to yourself to experience this.
I can't thank Rodney Sloan and Brian Moore for this enough for making this a reality. Of course, my wife might have something else to say as I go home and schedule the next one at the Texas Motor Speedway and probably another one in Vegas. ;-)
(Oh yeah... how fast was I going? Top speed 122mph and a track time of a little over 41 seconds.)