If you like going fast but are tired of getting speeding tickets and risking a serious accident, there is a way that is legal, relatively safe and lots of fun.
If you own a fast exotic car, like a Corvette, Ferrari or Lamborgini, you probably already know that you can take your car to a track, have it checked out for safety, and participate in all kinds of events that will get you regularly topping 110 MPH on the straightaways.
But what if you’re not sure that the $100,000 to $400,000, burning a hole in your pocket is destined for a fast car instead of a boat or plane or month on Petit St.Vincent? What if you just want a taste of the fast life and maybe even bring a date along who’s never driven fast before? Can do?
What you want is a Lead-and-Follow (L&F) driving experience. L& F’s are held at pretty much any racetrack at various times, hosted either by the track itself, a concession associated with and at the track, or a club that rents the track. Your cost includes the track and all of the people required to operate the track safely; a fully equipped and fueled race car for you and others; safety equipment like helmets, an instructor, and of course the all-necessary liability insurance.
The event will start with a mandatory safety lecture and some basic training, usually lasting 30 minutes to an hour, given by your instructor. Participants usually have to be dressed in close-toed shoes or sneakers and long sleeved trousers. After the initial lecture, you’ll be introduced to your car. Here’s a picture of the L & F experience I just attended at southern New Jersey’s Motorsports Park where Chevrolet sponsored an L & F for members of the automotive press.
Before the driving could start, all participants had to sign liability releases, put on helmets and special “HANS” devices which are strapped on, back braces that connect with the helmet so the driver’s neck and spine are protected.
Thus prepared we were each given a new 2017 Corvette Grand Sport and instructed to follow the leader! “I will start off nice and slow,” he said, “The rule is this, maintain between two and three car lengths behind me in the lead car. If anyone falls back, I will slow down, so if you want to go fast, stay within three car lengths of me or whatever car is in front of you and we’ll go as fast as think is safe.”
We all nodded in agreement, and headed for our respective Corvettes. As we did, the instructor added, “I’ll take it nice and slow for the first lap, but after the first lap, we’ll start picking up speed.” We all nodded and got in our cars. As soon as we were settled and adjusted our seats, the instructor tested his radio connection which allowed him to talk to us while we were driving. Each of us waved to indicate we could hear the instructor and then we headed out to the track.
As promised, the first lap was relatively slow, peaking at about 60 MPH, but as soon as that was over, the instructor bumped it up a notch and we were zooming! The key for us was to keep looking ahead to where the instructor had placed small orange cones along the side of the track. We were told to aim our car toward the next cone and when nearing it to then bear off to the next cone.
My heart was racing faster than the car! But I wanted to know how fast we
were going and the Corvette Grand Sport features a “heads-up display” with the speedometer reflected on the inside of the windshield, but the quickest glance down to this sent me wildly off course! I’d just have to concentrate on driving and I did.
This was to be a short L & F of just three laps so everyone super-concentrated on the last lap, trying to get our speed and cornering as fast as possible. Going down the final straight the instructor told us over the radio that we’d cracked 110 MPH! That was good enough for me, a veteran motor writer who’d never raced on a track before!
I highly recommend this easy and very exciting way to get a taste of driving fast, legally and relatively safely. Typical race course events are full days, half-days and sometimes entire weekends. In addition to L & F, you may get “skid pad” training, which teaches you, on a wet surface, to skid your car under control. Other skills are breaking; passing other cars safely, and even using the hand brake to do “drifts” where all four wheels skid and the car goes around in a circle.
In addition to L & F, you can enjoy driving with an instructor in the passenger seat or driving as the passenger, while the driver takes you on a very fast “hot lap.”
Costs for a day of driving lessons and experiences like I’ve described above can range anywhere from $1,500 (driving say, a Ford Focus) to $5,000 per day (Ferrari), depending on the car and the track. If you have a guest who just wants to ride along, that can be arranged, although the cost for any kind of in-car guest is probably going to be about the same as the primary customer’s cost. If your guest just wants to watch, however, the cost would be a small fraction of the primary guest’s cost, sometimes complimentary. Contact your nearest motor sports speedway for more details and have a great time racing!