I set my alarm for 6:30am. Waking up this early in Vegas seemed unnatural. Not that people are up at 6:30am, but most of those people had yet to go to bed from the night before. I had gone to bed early the day before as I had an important task for the day. I had purchased myself a 3-lap ride along in a NASCAR stock car at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
My friends sat this activity out and never letting the fear of doing something by myself hold me back I decided to go alone. I had organized a transportation pick up from the Richard Petty Driving Experience at The Excalibur hotel the morning of my ride along. The race track is about 17 miles north east of town and I felt it was better to pay a little extra for transportation than to fuss with the car or leave my friends without the car in case they needed it for some reason (those Vegas blocks are long).
My pick up time was 7:15am. I arrived early, waiting at the pick up spot. 7:15am came and went… and then 7:30 and then 7:45. I called the company and they assured me that the bus was on it’s way and that I had not missed it. 8:00 am came and passed and then 8:15 am.
Finally the bus arrived and there was some mention of the bus’s air-conditioning being broken, hence the delay. All I knew was that I had booked an early morning ride-along at 9:30 am because at that time the temperature was already projecting to be 90F degrees. For anyone who does not watch NASCAR, track temperature is pretty important. Granted it is mostly related to how the cars react under high temperatures but I was thinking more along the lines of not sweating my ass off inside the car.
We arrived to the track around 9am. To keep our ride along times on schedule the tour director switched around the tour and took us directly to the track. We would later visit the facilities, car garages and gift shop after we took our ride along.
The bus pulled into the center of the track, a place that unless you have a pit pass at a race, few are allowed to go. We stepped off the bus and walked over to a tent where we were sized up for a fire suit. I crawled into my fire suit and zipped up. I was then fitted for a helmet. I was beginning to realized this was a pretty big deal.
I stood and watched the cars zip around the track. There were multiple cars on the track. One solo car, the car that I would be riding in. There were also tandem cars, the lead car, a professional driver and the follow car was a participate.
There are many levels to choose from depending on what you want to do and how much money you are willing to spend. There are even packages that you can buy that you would not have a lead car – just you and the track! Although there are of course pre-requisites you must complete before they let you drive out on the track with a 600 horse powered machine!
As I stood in line, inching my way closer to my turn, I began to have a mini meltdown in the privacy of my head. By the time I had two people in front of me in line I had gone into full on panic mode. My stomach was upset, my heart was racing and I was rethinking my decision. I had no friends with me to reassure me it was going to be OK. I told myself that The Richard Petty Driving Experience had never had an accident, so why would I be so special to become a statistic? It didn’t help belittling myself.
Now there was one person in front of me as I watched the ride-along car pull up, that person hopped into the car and was whisked away. I could feel my breathing increasing and my heart was pounding harder. It was obvious to the man in charge of the ride-along line that I was worried. He offered a bit of comfort “it will be OK” he said. I suddenly pulled myself together as I saw the ride-along car rounding turn 4 and pulling down the pit lane. It was time to stop being a sissy.
The car pulled up in front of me to a stop and the man in charge helped me climb into the car, through the side window (remember there are no doors in NASCAR). I was strapped in with a 5 point harness seatbelt that yanked me tightly into the seat. The driver cheerfully introduced himself as Buddy. My life was now in the hands of Buddy.
Buddy pulled away out onto the track and into turn one shifting through the gears like a pro! We were not up to full speed yet but turning into turn two I thought to myself it was much different than I thought it was going to be. I had expected to be thrust back into my seat by the G-forces. I never really felt any G’s and began to think that my earlier meltdown was quite ridiculous. That did not stop me from white-knuckling the padded bar inside the car the entire 3 laps however.
After we rounded turns 3 and 4 all I could do was smile and giggle. Apparently that was how I was going to handle being swiftly carried around the track at speeds up to 155mph. Buddy probably thought I was crazy… maybe he was right. As we rounded lap 3 and slowly proceeded down pit lane I realized my fun was over.
After I had completed my laps and thanked Buddy for driving me safely around the track I successfully dodged his offer with another giggle to “get me out there driving next time”.
I climbed out of the car, pulled off the fire suit and helmet and waited for the rest of my tour to finish up their ride-alongs. It was definitely a different experience that I had thought but I was not disappointed in any way. And safety was never a concern once I was in the car – although tell that to my white knuckles!
To be able to get out on the track and see it from the driver’s view was an amazing experience. I recommend it for any racing fan!
While waiting for my group to finish up I placed an order for a DVD copy of my ride along and a commemorative plaque that included a picture of Buddy and me just before I left on my ride along. Below is my ride-along video.
After everyone had completed their ride-alongs we loaded back onto the bus for our next stop, the garages. Inside the garages we got to take a peek under the hood and inside the stock cars. After our garage tour was done we were taken over to the gift shop. Once everyone had picked up a few items to immortalized their visit we were taken back to the Vegas strip to enjoy the rest of our day.
If you would like to do a Richard Petty Driving Experience you can find them at the following link. There are several packages to choose from depending on what you are looking for. On their site you can find driving experiences all over the United States but keep in mind some tracks may be seasonally open. Vegas and Orlando are open year round.