“I wasn’t going to show you this.”
With these words my wife tilted her laptop screen to me and showed me a Groupon deal for a NASCAR driving experience here in the Phoenix area. I’m not specifically a NASCAR fan but I’ve long had ‘driving a racecar’ on my informal bucket list, and she knew it.
So she did show me, and after an initial reaction of “yea, the time isn’t quite right for it” I looked back at the deal and thought how often do you get to check off a bucketlist item for $159? The dates were just a couple weeks out, we would still be in the area, so why not?
So I bought the deal.
As the time grew near I’ll admit to being a bit nervous. While I’ve practically had a part-time job driving since we became full-time RV’rs it’s all been at slow speeds. While towing we don’t usually go over 55, and even with just the truck we don’t usually go over 65.
But I always figure if other people can do it I can to - so (after spending another $60 on an insurance policy to cover any huge mistakes) stuck with it and showed up at the Phoenix International Raceway at the appointed time.
While checking in I also added a “Ride Along with a Pro” option for another $80 - not because I wanted to learn how to go faster on my own I just wanted to experience the track while not also having to figure out a car that I’ve never driven.
After checking in I sat through a 45-minute driver’s class taught by Eddy, learning about the cars, about watching for the marks on the track that laid out the best line, what to do in case of a spinout (surprisingly, nothing), and how the passing practice would work. We also learned that the entire track was basically under control of one man (CJ) and we would hear CJ while we drove. The cars have no rearview mirrors so the only way you know someone is wanting to pass you is listening for CJ to call your car number (conveniently pasted on the dash so you wouldn’t forget) and tell you to “left and lift” which means to drop to the lower part of the track and lift your foot off the accelerator pedal. After the passing car went by CJ would tell you “Clear” which meant you could get on it again.
After the class I waited for my ride-along, and then got in the car with the Pro named Justin. It was quite a thrill - these cars will corner so much faster than anything I have ever been in. I was watching for the marks on the track but the Pros basically ignore most of what Eddy covered in class. After the ride-along was over we pulled into Pit Row and Justin asked if I enjoyed it. Of course! Then I asked “I hope that doesn’t ever get old?” but Justin was already doing something on his iPhone, so I guess I had my answer.
I squeezed out of the car and went to wait for the driving experience. You are assigned to a car based on your size and height. There was one other man who was a bit taller and larger than I was so I’m thinking he got the biggest car. I was assigned number 46, which I fit into but the pedals were a bit closer than I would have preferred - good thing that once you get up to speed in 4th gear you are done shifting. They also had to look for a smaller steering wheel (I’m still not sure what to think about that).
I’ll tell you - if you are claustrophobic at all this is not the experience for you. It was only a mid-70 degree day but with thin pants, t-shirt, firesuit and helmet all on sitting in that car all strapped in and unable to move much it wasn’t fun. The few minutes between getting all prepped and being given permission to start the car seemed like forever. I even took off my sunglasses for a few minutes just to get some air on my face.
Once we gave thumbs up that our radios were working and that we had tested the steering wheel being firmly attached we were off. Of course I popped the clutch too fast and stalled the car - but quickly had it restarted and going again.
We did our passing practice, then the pace car (a boring minivan that didn’t even have the fun flashing lights) got off the track and we were off.
My goal wasn’t to be the fastest guy out there - you never know who has raced before in one mode or another. I just wanted to run clean with no mistakes and not being called out by CJ. I got passed a couple of times and didn’t pass anyone, but those might have been the ride-along cars. I was honestly too busy driving to notice the numbers.
The track is pretty short at just a mile, and most of it felt like corners where I wasn’t sure without more practice how fast to push the car. The straightaway was the most fun where once the car was straightened out I could put my foot in it, hear the engine come to life and feel the acceleration. Then all to fast the “get off the accelerator” orange cone came up and I’d be into a corner again.
I don’t know how fast I went. The cars don’t have a speedometer, and I never felt like I had time to look at the gauges that were there anyway. They don’t tell you your speed. I think they want to discourage people from trying too hard to reach a certain number and risk crashing the car. They said top speed at this track was 112, if I had to guess I’d say I reached 80-90 tops.
It really was a blast - and I would have liked the flagman to make a mistake and let me go on, but at the cost of $100 for all extra laps I figured I better head into the pits when told to.
It was a bit frustrating to not be able to pull up where I knew MsBoyink would get a better photo of me getting out, but I assume it’s designed to help sell their photos and I understand having to turn a profit.
They put together photo frames with two photos (one of you and one of the car) and sell them for $60, but with no wall space in the RV we just paid $15 for the photo of me sitting on the car.
So $160 (for driving) + $60 (insurance) + $80 (ridealong) + $15 (photo) = $315 for an afternoon of big fun and a nice big checkmark on the bucketlist item of “drive a racecar”.
Better is having a wife that tells you about the deal…