Feeding the Need for Speed
Up to now, when your everyday life seemed to get, oh, so mundane and rather boring, there just wasn’t a quick fix for the blahs. There is good news for those who have a chronic “adventure itch”, life is about to take turn for the better — at a pace well above 100 miles-per-hour, thank you very much.
If you have ever wanted to wrap your hands around the yoke of an Indianapolis-style, open-wheel car and hurtle with great abandon around a steep banked track looking to put an Andretti, Unser, or Fittipaldi in their place, CART Driving 101 can set you up for a small fee.
Not a racing school, this establishment bills itself as a “driving experience” and while it may sound a bit featherbrained, I am here to tell you that enrolling in one of 101’s courses will rivet your consciousness into a new dimension.
Guaranteed. No racing background required.
Regardless of whether your encounter occurs at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway tri-oval, or California Speedway, the thrill of blasting across the asphalt at a rock steady 140 plus miles per hour, is unlike any athletic challenge one strives to perfect.
All you need do is bring money and courage. Driving 101 provides all the necessary safety equipment as well as a fleet of 550 HP authentic, purpose-built Champ Cars. Although the staff is very persnickety about equipment hygiene, I’d recommend you bring your own helmet if you are not fond of sharing that piece of intimate driving apparel with anyone else’s head.
My champ car “baptism” began with the “Driving 100” program that consisted of classroom and trackside instruction before I rolled out of pit row for twelve miles behind the wheel. The company does not believe in “fluff and pamper”, when you arrive its all business, speed business, so you had better pay attention.
The cars are well prepared, but just like a spirited stallion, they require firm control as the cars closely match the size, weight, and data acquisition systems of an authentic Champ Car. Initially, the clattering noise of the chassis straing agianst the mimimalist suspension and body panels is unsettling. After a lap or two, you begin to marvel at how stunningly sticky the tires are, and how robust the suspension is as you dive into one corner after another trying like mad to catch your instructor, or mischievously try to pass him right by. Don’t do it.
Operating under a “lead and follow” procedure, your driving conduct determines the lap speeds by how well you can pace the instructor. They ask you to keep a seven-car interval; I preferred 10, until I got a bit more comfortable with my snorting beast. Heros who try to get too close, too soon will lament, as the instructor will slow right down. You might say it is a “Goldilocks” predicament where only the right driving line yields the highest speed quotient. No one will push you into driving fast but you.
Bermuda native Sharon Lee Johnson, 37, had always wanted to drive a fast car. Living on an island where the speed limit is 20 miles per hour can do that to a person. For 12 years all she drove was a motor scooter. Then she signed up for the ride of her island girl life.
“It was complete exhilaration,” said Johnson who works as a personal assistant, “before I ever saw the cars, I heard them on the track and when I finally walked out onto pit row, I felt just like a big-time race car driver”. Looking forward to getting out on the track, especially the banked portions, she thought her car was going to blow-up when it first started Not a very tall person, she needed the help of a few pads to reach the pedals and then had problems trying to keep the engine running.
“You are always taught not to gun the engine, that only macho guys did that, but I realized that it wasn’t macho at all, it was necessary to keep the engine running,” she recalled with a bubbly laugh.
The $499 course fee is extremely reasonable when you consider these machines are actual scale replicas, not just souped up go karts with speed racer bodies. Driving 101 has put an enormous amount of thought into designing a safe, exhilaratingly robust driving program that will elevate you into the realm of high-speed euphoria usually only reserved for a chosen few.
While it is obvious that the vast majority of guests are male, women who have chosen to “suit-up” enjoy finding their “zone”. The steering is much heavier than a car, but the road feedback is sensational, every moment of your hands on the yoke has an immediate reaction. You discover that in order to drive faster, you actually have to slow down your thought process and pick your movements with deliberate care.
Not a singular experience, there can also be other cars on the track with you, so the possibility of “traffic” exists adding another element of adventure to the mix. At first, you’ll have you hands full just getting comfortable with the machine, listening to what it is saying to you and learning how to respond gracefully. Operating one of these cars will certainly clear out the cobwebs and catapult any residual worries and thought baggage right into the ionosphere. Focus and concentration are paramount to maximizing the experience. Depend on it.
Unfortunately, just about the time the initial learning curve is behind you, the lapping session is over and its time to slide down off the driving line and head back into pit row. If you can recall that agonizing feeling that washed over when your parents told it was time for bed on Christmas Eve, then you will understand how bummed I was when my “driving experience” came to a conclusion. All I want for Christmas is unlimited laps, unlimited laps, unlimited laps . . .
“It is hard to describe the feeling I had afterwards,” noted Johnson, “It took 2 hours just to come down off the high, and for days afterwards, when I would see the picture of me in the car, I would get high all over again. It was as though I were physically struck — my heart would beat faster and my breathing would catch.” Never afraid, the banking and g forces did rivet her attention, and she did admit to having a healthy acknowledgment that things could go wrong.
“I got the shakes in my legs,” she confessed, “It was no doubt due to a combination of many emotions as well as the physical exertion. I remember consciously turning the yoke only once because I was busy keeping up with the instructor. The steering was remarkably easy, as if all you had to do was lean into the curve and the car would steer itself.”
Johnson started out with a paltry 60 mile-per-hour first lap, steadily increasing her speed with each turn around the tri-oval, to finish with a very respectable 127.5 mile-per-hour 7th lap. She’s tasted speed and has surrendered to the need — already decided that her next vacation will be spent back at the Speedway, this time enrolled in the two-day course. Boy, is that motor scooter going seem slow after that . . .
For those who prefer the chauffeur method, Driving 101 also offers a “Champ Ride” – six miles as a passenger with a professional instructor in a specially designed two-seat purpose-built Champ Car. While no experience is required for this program, you will certainly get one — at 170 miles per hour plus for a mere $199. Empty bladders are a must, and be prepared to wear a silly grin for the remainder of the day.
The firm also employs a professional photographer and offers a variety of photo package to document your high-speed hi-jinx and prove to your friends that you are not spewing out just a another “fish story.” Additional instruction and blocks of laps are available to satiate your need for speed.
If the idea learning what race car drivers feel and experience on a first-hand basis appeals to you, I’d suggest it is time to matriculate your fantasy into reality. Safety dictates that guests must be 18 years or older with a valid driver’s license, in good physical condition, 6’5″ tall and under and weigh less than 265 pounds. All a dreamer has to do is pick a date on his/her calendar, sign-up and they are on their way to experience a real fantasy or dream of a lifetime!
For more information contact:
CART DRIVING 101
6915 SPEEDWAY BLVD.
LAS VEGAS, NV 89115
PHONE: (702) 651-6300