Related storyCompetition thriving among racing operations at speedway
How to reach the racing operations at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
Richard Petty Driving Experience, 800-237-3889, www.drivepetty.com
Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure, 888-467-2231, www.racingadventure.com
Mario Andretti Racing Experience, 877-722-3527, www.andrettiracing.com
Exotics Racing, 702-405-7223, www.exoticsracing.com
Dream Racing, 702-599-5199, www.dreamracing.com
I’m in fifth gear, accelerator flat to the firewall, in a Ferrari F430 GT race car at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Not just a Ferrari, mind you. A Ferrari freaking race car. It can go from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, has a roll cage, rides on slicks, boasts a race-spec suspension and would be howlingly illegal to drive on a public road.
If the car had a standard speedometer and I were looking at it, I would see that I’m going somewhere around 100 mph down the straightaway.
But I’m not looking at the dashboard. I’m looking at the sharp left turn coming up on the speedway’s road course, where the operators of a new business located at the track, Dream Racing, have allowed me to test out their racing experience.
If I don’t downshift and brake correctly going into the turn, I could either spin out or overshoot the curve and go off the track. Do that, and there’s a chance something bad could happen — potentially even bad enough to trigger the automatic fire extinguisher on the floor in front of the passenger’s seat.
The odds of a calamity are very, very slim. But I really, really don’t want the extinguisher to go off.
Lucky for me, neither does the guy in the passenger seat — my instructor, John Caps, who knows how to talk me through the turn and can pull a handbrake on his side of the car if I screw up.
“Hard on the brakes — right now,” Caps says. “Downshift twice into third. Now, off the brakes and hard (turn) to the inside of the track.”
The turn goes OK — no fire extinguisher, at least – and I’m off to the rest of my five-lap session.
So goes the experience at Dream Racing, which offers average motorists a taste of competitive road racing from behind the wheel of the Ferrari racer.
In packages priced from $179 to $499, with extra laps available for $399, customers can drive one of Dream Racing’s 12 F430 GTs while accompanied by an instructor, or ride shotgun with the instructor behind the wheel. Also included in the experience are a classroom instruction period and a session in a 3-D simulator.
Along with such touches as hostesses who escort drivers from station to station, an on-site spa and a café featuring Italian coffees, Dream Racing is designed to offer a cosmopolitan experience to drivers and those who accompany them to the track.
“We have traveled around the world throughout our racing careers,” said Enrico Bertaggia, a former race driver who moved from Monte Carlo to Las Vegas to start Dream Racing with his business partner, Adriano De Micheli. “When we conceived the Dream Racing concept, we knew that Las Vegas, with all of its energy and excitement, would provide the ideal location for such an exhilarating luxury adventure.”
Dream Racing joined several other racing experiences at the speedway, but hopes to set itself apart by appealing to drivers who appreciate road racing. Also, while drivers can get a ride in a Ferrari at another business at the speedway, Exotics Racing, Dream Racing says its business is unique because it offers full-blown race cars as opposed to the street legal vehicles of its competitor.
Bertaggia, the company’s CEO, said he and De Micheli chose Las Vegas for several reasons. For starters, the speedway is relatively close to town compared with tracks in other cities, and the weather in Las Vegas allows operations year-round.
Then, there’s the fact that the 40 million people who visit Las Vegas annually generally are in search of a thrill.
The business opened on a soft basis recently, and will hold a grand opening on March 29.
The experience begins with an instructional video offering basic race driving instructions, information about the car and a turn-by-turn description of the track. Drivers are given lessons on everything from buckling a five-point racing harness to the proper technique for cornering to the procedure for getting out of the car if it catches on fire.
Drivers are urged to follow instructors’ directions and not to be overly aggressive.
“This isn’t a test of courage, it’s a test of skill,” the narrator says.
After the video comes a trip to the simulator, complete with a racing seat, a replica steering wheel and controls, and a laser-mapped re-creation of the track. An instructor guides the driver as he or she takes laps.
Next, the driver is given a racing suit and helmet and escorted to the pits for the on-track portion of the ride.
Here are a few of the things I recall from my five laps: Mid-mounted engine shrieking a few inches behind my head, accelerating like I was a kid and my dad was pushing me in a swing, and pressing up against the racing harness as the powerful brakes slowed down the car going into turns.
Then Caps and I switched seats, and it was like I’d been driving a mobility scooter during my session.
“Are you in tight?” he asked, noticing me pulling on my shoulder straps. “You might need to be.”
He was right. Even with my harness pulled as tight as I could get it, I got thrashed around in the passenger’s seat as we cornered, accelerated and braked violently.
I honestly don’t know which was more fun — driving the car or getting a first-hand feel for what a pro could do with it.
Dream Racing will operate 165 days a year at the speedway, where it shares facilities for NASCAR and other racing events. When the other events are in town, Dream Racing shuts down.
Reservations are available by calling (702) 599-5199 or visiting www.dreamracing.com. Walk-ins also are accepted.