I had the opportunity to do something pretty special on Sunday morning using the Christmas present my wife got me this last year. I got to spend some time at Texas Motor Speedway that culminated with an 8 minute drive in an “Indy style” open wheel race car with the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. That’s right, a drive, not a ride or a watch, a drive in a 2,200 lb, 465 hp, 150+ mph race car. It was an incredible experience, the kind of thing you dream of as a boy, certainly one of those bucket list thingy’s.
After a week of storms, it was a beautiful sunny blue sky morning here in north Texas. I got to the track nice and early for my 10 am session. At the check in they assign you a pager & give you a racing suit. Shortly after 10 am we drivers were escorted to our safety briefing, using the same room that the pro drivers have their briefings at the track (kind of cool). After some basic introductions we had to watch a video & then our host gave us some more instructions and answered any questions. Oddly enough, despite the instructions being very clear, there were still a lot of people asking questions, especially about passing. The rule was simple, pass only on the back straight & only when your race coordinator gave you the green light, break this rule & they send you home, immediately. Pretty simple, but there were a bunch of what ifs etc, oh well.
After the briefing we went back to the pit lane & were given a review of what we had just been told. It might seem like overkill to some, but I was grateful that they were emphasizing the rules. These are open wheel race cars, any mistakes and someone could really get hurt, nobody wants that to happen After that we were free to mill around, I had plans to drop a couple of items off at the car & look around, but almost immediately my pager went off notifying me that it was my time to drive. I had to hurry back up the hill & get in line, where I got my earbuds for the radio comms and my helmet, then it was time to wait for a car. With a helmet on and a race suit over my clothes it was pretty warm in the hot spring sun, nerves were kicking in & I could tell the adrenaline was ready to flow. It seemed like I waited a good while there, but I’m sure it was probably only a few minutes. Half the time was spent wondering which of the cars I would get to go in, every one of them had a different livery, red, blue, white, silver & black.
Before long I was called & was taken to a beautiful British Racing Green car, quite fitting if I do say so. Once in position and bucked in I checked to make sure the steering wheel was secure and made sure I was comfortable with the pedal locations. Then it was time to wait, again it seemed like an age, but I’m quite sure it wasn’t. I was grateful for the wait though as it helped to calm the nerves a little & gave me time to make sure I was as comfortable as possible with what was about to happen.
Soon it was time to go, I pushed the clutch all the way down & the guy on an atv got me rolling for my jump start. The guy on the radio did a great job of letting me know when to go & where to position myself. Once you exit the pit lane you have to take turns 1 & 2 on the apron (the flat parts at the bottom of the track) before joining the track on the back straight. Lap 1 is taken fairly slow, making sure you have the lines down & letting your car coach easily guide you if you need it, lap 2 is a little quicker & by the time I was half way through lap 3 I was given that glorious instruction of go as fast as you feel comfortable with.
The car felt great, they are fortunately single speed so there is no need to shift gears, the slick tires & aerodynamics are so efficient that there is genuinely no need to lift off the gas at any point on the track. There was a point after I was trying to get the speed up that I had to consciously remind myself to trust the car & the guy on the radio, after that I was good to go. When you hit the corners, with 24 degree banking at TMS, you can feel the car really sit into it and the air presses it into the track. I did my best to get the lines right, the biggest challenge was finding the sweet spot with the accelerator. With no visual cues & so much noise, it was tricky to get a read of when you were about to hit the rev limiter, I hit it several times, but also had a few laps where it felt like I got it just right, holding it as fast as I could get the car to go. After my checkered flag lap I brought the car back to the pit lane, entering the apron on the back straight & going slowly around turns 3 & 4.
8 minutes does not sound like much time to drive, but honestly it was about perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I could have gladly gone for 30+, but I got a really good taste for it. By the time I was back, my hands were shaking from adrenaline & I don’t think I’ve ever been as thirsty in my life! At the end of the session, you are given a certificate with the top speed that you reached printed on it. I achieved 164.4 mph, a huge grin & some memories that will last a life time.
I worked up a pretty good sweat in just 8 minutes
My certified time
If you want to watch, here is my session:
The slow down at around 4:30 was because I couldn’t hear the instructor, he was just telling me I was doing well lol
I only got to pass one other car, that was at around the 6:50 mark
The first car to go by is one of the 2 seat ride along cars, the 2nd is one of the 1 seta cars I got to drive
Someone else in the car I got to drive