Go Fast, Turn Left
That's Rule #1 for oval-track racing. I didn't learn much more during
a day at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway
in November, 1998, but I sure had a lot of fun.
The Petty Experienceat least the "Winston Experience"
16-lap package I attendedisn't really a driving school. It's more
like a thrill ride you get to drive yourself on an open track. In fact,
you even get to be alone in the car. The only thing that keeps you from
going too fast is the instructor in the car ahead of you. The instructor
is watching you in his rear-view mirror. If you maintain the recommended
following distance and follow the recommended racing line, you get to
go a little faster each lap. After the first eight laps, you come back
in and they talk to you some, then you go out again for the last eight
laps. By the last lap, you can reach speeds of 140 mph, or maybe more.
The best part of the Petty Experience is getting a taste of what it's
like to be a NASCAR driver. No, they don't make you chew tobacco (not
even the Skoal driver does that while driving). They just strap you
into a car that makes several hundred horsepower and let you drive it
for a while. Good enough!
beside the photo car (794x560 JPG)
The other great part is getting to look like a NASCAR driver. It isn't
obvious from this photo, but they use driving suits that are a little
old and ratty. They're fireproof, however, and that's good enough too.
inside the real car (540x762 JPG)
Here I am inside the car, displaying my best s___-eating grin. It's
hard not to smile. This really is a lot of fun.
The helmets are quite real, and they provide a neck brace as well.
Buckled in snugly, you really feel as if you could survive taking the
car into a wall at 140 mph. You won't get close to a wall at that speed,
though. These cars are designed to go around the Las Vegas track at
160 mph without spinning; at 140, they corner like slot cars. You experience
a cornering force of about 1 G on this track, less than half what the
car is capable ofbut twice what most people are used to in passenger
Some of the other participants couldn't overcome the feeling that they
were going to lose control. The instructors are happy to let you go
as slow as you want, so if you just want to noodle around at 70 or 80
mph, that's fine with them.
over the hood (800x600 JPG)
It's a little hard to tell, but that's me inside the car. If you crank
up your monitor brightness you can make out my eyeglass frames. :-)
What do you get when you're done?
certificate (720x1024 JPG)
At the end of the afternoon, everyone crowds around to get their
timeslips. We actually got two, one for each session, but only the
second one really matters. Mine is shown here. As you can see, I didn't
quite exceed 140 mph, which means I was going slower here than I went
on the German Autobahn in my own car. I got way more lateral G's,