You’re roaring down the track at 140 mph (225kmph), and up ahead is your first turn, a steep bank of asphalt that looms before you like a smooth, paved mountainside. Underneath the hood are 600 horses of pure, NASCAR-inspired power. The car soars into the curve and as you clutch the wheel with your sweaty grip, the wide, treadless tire stick to the course like black glue. Suddenly you realize this may be the most fun you’ve ever had.
The Richard Petty Driving Experience has been giving thrills like this to speed junkies for over 15 years. Starting at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, the company capitalized on its success there and has now expanded to 27 speedways from New England to Southern California. After arriving at your chosen track, you’ll be issued a driving suit, attend a mechanical and safety orientation, get strapped into your car, and then hear the four words that set any racetrack renegade’s heart aflutter: “Drivers, Start Your Engines!”
There are a range of driving programs offered by the RPDE, from the Rookie Experience (eight laps over one session lasting about 3 hr.) through the Talladega Super 16 (16 laps over the super-speedway’s wicked 33-degree banked curves) up to premiums like the Brickyard Experience (24 heart-pounding laps on the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway).
The RPDE also offers a ride-along program for folks who’d like to get a taste of what 165 mph (266kmph) feels like by riding shotgun in a car driven for three laps by one of the instructors. The ride-along option is also offered to folks who aren’t able to drive a four-speed manual transmission (required of all solo drivers).
After you and your fellow drivers clamber out of your stock cars, you’ll be feted in a closing ceremony, and all attendees receive a graduation pack with a lap-time sheet and graduation certificate. The RPDE is also open to group events and corporate outings, and can custom-tailor a program to meet anyone’s need for speed.
Richard Petty Driving Experience ( 800/BE-PETTY [23-73889]; www.1800bepetty.com).
When to Go: Open year-round; check website for dates and locations.