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First time on the track

 

Alex Welch
Assistant Editor

  Last month, I was privileged enough to receive an opportunity to drive a car worth more than my mom’s house (probably). One of the perks of being in the media is getting into special events that are held exclusively for our craft. Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) set up a media day for a company that was in town at the track. Exotic Driving Experience offers the chance for anyone to get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini, Ferrari and a few other options to drive for about 30 minutes. Believe me, this is something I’ll probably never do again.

  As I pulled up to AMS, the signs gradually led me to the infield. Before getting out on the track, Exotic Driving Experience requires you to watch a few videos and hear about safety tips. It’s hard to focus, though, because you’re really thinking one of two things. Either A) “Oh my God I’m about to drive a $200,000 car,” or B) “Oh my God what if I wreck this $150,000 car.” The latter resonated more in my mind.

  But the experience is entirely safe. A driving instructor partners up with you and sits in the passenger seat while the two of you talk through a headset in your helmet. My instructor said he’d been in his position for six years, so I felt rather confident he would (literally) steer me in the right direction.

  Eventually my name was called, and one employee directed me to an Aston Martin Virage. After doing a little research later that day, I discovered this car costs over $207,000. So, you know, no big deal if anything happens to it. The driving program doesn’t allow you to go on the main AMS track. There’s a separate, smaller track around the infield. It has two short straightaways that allow drivers to basically floor it. The whole concept seems well and good, but when you’re actually sitting in the driver’s seat, putting the pedal to the floor is a bit daunting. Nothing says safety like pushing a car you’ve never driven before to the limit.

  It’s difficult to mess up, though. Anyone new to the driving experience likely feels a few jitters beforehand, but there’s nothing to worry about. My instructor said he’s only seen one person ever truly go wrong, and she ended up in the grass area off a track. Nothing serious.

  Essentially, the instructor’s job is to yell “brake, brake, brake” whenever you’re approaching a turn, almost like they’re pleading with you to spare them from any harm. Cones line the track to let you know where to start braking, where to take each turn and to generally guide you along, but the instructor gives you some pointers you wouldn’t think of unless you’ve done this before.

  At first, I took it easy. In real life, I drive a 2000 Honda Accord, and while it has a V6 engine, comparing it to the Virage is similar to saying McDonald’s is like Ruth’s Chris because they both serve food. The Virage gets up and goes. The handling is outstanding. As you take a few laps to get a better feel for the car, you start to test its limits a bit more each time around.

  Fortunately I can say I didn’t do any damage to the car. We actually ended up passing another driver in a Lamborghini Gallardo, while a scene from Talladega Nights came to mind. (If you ain’t first, you’re last.) When we came back into the garage, we received a printout of our lap times and top speeds. Towards the end I was going 94 mph in the Virage. I thought this seemed a bit low, but another media member I spoke with said he barely topped 70 mph, and he was driving the Ferrari 458 Italia.

  I’ll admit it, I was nervous about getting behind the wheel of an exotic car. But that slight consternation ultimately developed into pure enjoyment. After I was back in my own car, I realized I was going 80 mph down Hampton Road. I wonder if NASCAR drivers struggle to adjust to regular roads every week.

  Alex is an editor who would eat at Waffle House every day if he didn’t care about his health.

 

 

 

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