Sunday, August 3, 2008

My Richard Petty Driving Experience

For my 40th birthday my wife gave me a Richard Petty Driving Experience Ride Along at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Today was the day, and it was a pretty awesome experience. At approximately one lap per minute, the average speed for the three lap trip around IMS was 150 miles per hour.

My scheduled ride time was 10AM, and we arrived thirty minutes early, as requested. We were quickly signed into the program and shuttled down to the track with several other Ride Along participants.

Once again I had to check in and sign a waiver with all of the typical legal lingo, where I also bought a souvenir Richard Petty Driving Experience hat.

To this point, the experience was going much faster and much smoother than expected. I was prepared to spend the better part of the morning waiting, and my wife was prepared to spend hours trying to entertain the kids in the spectator stands waiting for me to make it to the track.

I was quickly given a racing suit and fitted for a helmet, which fit quite snugly (understandably so).

I waited for maybe five minutes in full racing gear (minus the HANS device, which would be fitted to me track side just before climbing into the car).

After such a short wait in full gear, I was sent to the end of the waiting line of cars -- an un-numbered Richard Petty Driving Experience car in the traditional Petty blue and red.

I expertly climbed into the passenger side of the car. As this was the Ride Along, not the actual driving experience, getting behind the wheel was not an option (probably smartly so). Throwing first my left leg through the window, then my right, I slid easily into the seat. The hardest part of entering the car was squeezing my big old helmeted head into the car behind me.

After being buckled into the car by a professional and posing for a quick snapshot that now appears on a plaque hanging in our office, the driver Donny introduced himself to me and asked me where I was from.

After a few quick moments of small talk, the line of cars began the taxi onto the track.

This was, for me, the most exciting part of the entire experience. Feeling the G-force as the car quickly came to speed on the track was unlike anything I've ever felt before. Though I later explained it as being similar to a roller coaster, it was in actuality nothing like a roller coaster at all.

With every tick of the tachometer I could feel the adrenaline flowing through me. We went from zero to fast in nothing flat.

As we made our way into turn one my adrenaline reached a peak that it took hours to come down from. Exiting turn one I found myself wishing we could pass, but of course this was an exhibition event for the passenger, and passing was not a part of the program.

If anyone ever said that the flat layout of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was made for IRL cars and not stock cars, they don't know what they're talking about. The ride felt so natural it was like the car was running on rails.


Direct video link.

As the car came to a stop after the very brief experience, all I could think was, Let's go again, let's go again. Not yet, though.

I found my family waiting trackside for me: my daughter and wife happy to see me again, my son just glad that the whole thing was over (he hated the whole event, I assume mostly because he was afraid that his Daddy might get hurt).

We picked up a plaque with my picture on it, visited the gift shop, then headed home. It was an experience that will likely never be duplicated, and one that I'm happy to say that I greatly enjoyed.

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