My wife, Kelly, and I were especially lucky on two counts. Ray Zisa, a managing partner of Corvette Center, let us drive his Hoosier-shod C4 Challenge car. Plus, he was our in-car instructor, making for a very educational and exciting day of track time. The accompanying images show part of the fun, but the sheer joy of driving all-out on a great racetrack is a thrill that can only be experienced in person.
Track-Time Options: From Standing Mile to Standing Water
One- and two-day driving schools, such as Skip Barber, are held at tracks all around the country. The cost is more than SCDA, but the school provides one or more cars for you to drive. During a Barber course held at Sebring International Raceway, I had the opportunity to drive a specially prepared Neon (with and without ABS active), a pickup with slicks on the rear (for learning slide-recovery on a wet track), and a Viper. I partnered with a teenager whose dad wisely required the training before turning his Corvette keys over to the new driver.
Having grown up in a rural area and made my own dirt tracks in the nearby fields meant that slide recovery was part of my life well before I had a driver’s license. This course made me realize that many (if not most) new drivers have never experienced a slide or learned to instinctively steer out of it. It only makes sense to teach these skills on a safe, closed course. Another eye-opening exercise for the students focused on hard braking while curving through pylons, both with and without antilock assist.
Less-expensive means to track time are club days at racetracks. Check with local sports-car clubs. These club days are often open to all marques. More participants can translate into lower costs and more opportunities for everyone.
Many car clubs also sponsor autocross events. Although these are usually set up in large parking lots rather than on racetracks, they offer a day of spirited driving at a very low cost.
The Sports Car Club of America, or SCCA, sanctions driving events in 114 regions around the country for drivers who want to move into competitive racing. Classes range from basically stock cars to all-out race cars for both amateur and professional drivers. Rentals are available for $500 to $2,000 per day for a range of cars, or you can equip your own car to the club’s specs. Events include road racing, autocrossing, and rallying.
The Holy Grail of tracks, the Nürburgring, is located in Germany. The current 13-mile Nordschleife course has 33 left and 40 right turns, and straights that allow speeds well into the triple digits. And it only costs about $32 for any car or motorcycle to do a lap.
Straight-line speed addicts have the Texas Mile in Goliad, Texas, held each March. Participants go as fast as they can from a standing start for one mile, with a half-mile shutdown on the concrete-and-asphalt airport runway. Drivers can try for a record in their class, but topping the overall record is not likely: 279 mph attained on a turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa.
If you’ve always wanted to experience very high speeds on racetrack, consider a NASCAR ride- or drive-along experience. The speeds and g-forces will be higher when riding as a passenger, because a professional driver will be behind the wheel. If you’ve ever watched a NASCAR race and thought, What’s the big deal—they just drive around in a circle?, the experience will shock you. The driver takes off from pit lane with the accelerator nailed to the floor. Within seconds you are rocketing toward a sharp left corner at more than 100 mph, and you know from years of driving that there’s no way a car can make that turn. All you can do is hang on in amazement as the track becomes a blur for a very fast three laps.