There’s nothing like a little speed in your life. I recently had an opportunity to drive an Indy car on a race track.
It was a lot easier than I expected. Everything I had heard or seen leading up to it suggested that it would be difficult. People talked about how hard it was to move the steering wheel, press the brake, or press the clutch. I heard that staying on the line would be difficult since the steering wheel requires such a small movement to make a significant turn. I kept thinking about shifting since I don’t drive a manual transmission all that often any more. Listening to the training beforehand there seemed a million details to keep in mind. It turns out none of that was a concern. It was very easy and just about anyone can do it, even if you’ve never driven a manual, if you are just doing a simple “racing experience” as a tourist and not trying to be a pro race driver.
The experience begins with an hour long class. During this class they make it clear exactly what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do. Basically it boils down to, “Do whatever your instructor tells you to do over the radio, when he says to do it, and how he says to do it.” They make it abundantly clear they will ask you to leave if you don’t listen and follow the rules. They can enforce that if needed by remotely killing your engine.
While driving you will be wearing a race suit, a helmet, and a pair of ear phones. You will be wired to the car and will have a two way radio link with an instructor the whole time. The instructor will let you know what you need to do each step of the way as you get there.
Getting into the car is a bit tight. The walls touched my shoulders the whole time. They strap you into a five point harness until it is “comfortably uncomfortable”, as they call it. Getting back out requires a little thought, but is fairly easy.
When you first get into the car it is in gear and the engine isn’t running. You push in the clutch and they push you with an ATV to get you rolling, then you pop the clutch and the engine starts. That’s the last time you need to touch the clutch. The whole race is done in first gear. Without having to shift at all, there goes that concern.
As I mentioned before, this car is very easy to drive. It does exactly what you tell it to do. It goes exactly where you tell it to go. There isn’t any ambiguity. The steering wheel is directly connected to the front tires and there is zero play. Each little twitch of the wheel sends the car in a new direction, but it feels very intuitive and smooth and is not difficult at all.
It feels like the car is riding on very smooth rails. Hitting a tight corner at 100 MPH isn’t a problem at all, other than the G’s pushing your body into the cockpit wall. This car wasn’t even breathing hard. Although it felt very fast to me, I wasn’t anywhere near this car’s maximum potential.
Your first lap has to be a slow one so you get used to the car and track. Then on each lap they’ll let you go faster than the previous lap as you prove you can handle the car and follow instruction.
At one point I caught up with another car and matched his speed about two car lengths behind him as we entered a turn. Two thirds of the way through the turn I heard my instructor say, “Pass him.” I pressed the gas and accelerated so fast that as I blew by him it looked like he was standing still.
The car is very low to the ground and you are practically laying down. This means your eyes are only a couple feet off the road, about the height of a typical desk. Travelling down the road at 117 MPH with your eyes so close to the ground and the turn approaching fast, it seems like you are rocketing along. It was an excellent experience and I thank my wife for that Christmas present.
If you try this, get the longest time you can afford. I spent eight minutes driving and it was over in a flash. I would have loved to have had more. Also, the more laps you do the faster they let you drive…