When it becomes unbearable to simply spectate, and you’re itching to get behind the wheel yourself, satisfy your need for speed during a NASCAR driving experience. These unique opportunities put you in the driver’s seat (or passenger seat, if you want the thrill without the responsibility) of an authentic NASCAR race car. The various experiences are offered at NASCAR tracks from Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama to the Auto Club Speedway in California. Some are even available on race days, meaning you can hit the track before your favorite driver takes a practice lap.
Choose from ride-alongs with a professional driver that range from three to six laps or timed sessions with you behind the wheel that last from five minutes for The Practice up to 40 minutes (five, eight-minute sessions) for the Victory Lane. The Rookie has been voted the most popular experience, because it offers novice drivers a single eight-minute session, which is enough track time to gain a true feel for the race car. Passing is allowed during each experience, thus adding to the authenticity of the racing experience.
Sally Williams won her NASCAR driving experience as part of a raffle at the Winston Cup. “I am an avid NASCAR fan,” she says. “I entered the contest, my name went into a hat, and I got picked. I tried to give it to my husband, but he said, ‘no, it was your name that was picked.’
“As much as I love NASCAR, going fast is not my thing. But it was thrilling!” she says. “One of the best experiences of my life!”
Because she lives in Concord, North Carolina, Charlotte Motor Speedway was the closest track offering the experience. On her race day, Williams attended a 45-minute training class followed by a five- to 10-minute driver’s meeting on pit road. She remembers sharing the track with two other student drivers plus a ride-along. “Other student drivers are on the track at the same time, but you’re spaced apart,” she says. “Plus you’re in constant contact with a spotter through a two-way radio. That person tells you where to be on the track, guides you around the track—just like in a real race and as if you were coming up on another car. [The spotter] is like a coach around the track.”
Just like professional NASCAR drivers, Williams suited up in a helmet, a driver’s suit and neck brace. “Whoo! I felt HOT!” she says with a laugh. But she knew that the suit and five-point harness system kept her safe.
“It was a tight fit [in the race car], very different from a regular car,” she adds. She explained that there is window net instead of a window, no console, and “no room to squirm.”
Once tucked behind the steering wheel, participants like Williams launch from Pit Road and press into Turn 1. The speed is up to each driver and dependent upon the track and the conditions. Williams maxed out between 130 to 140 miles per hour. “Nothing to brag about, but fast enough for me,” she quips.
New for 2018, the Advanced Experience helps the most avid racers accelerate their skills. Before registering, however, participants must have completed Experience of a Lifetime (four, eight-minute consecutive timed sessions with brief pit stops in between), Victory Lane (even more time to improve driving speeds), or World Champion (48 minutes of track time, plus pit stops for one-on-one feedback from a personal spotter).
With any one of those prerequisite courses under your driving harness, you’re ready for this “highest-level driving experience.” Personal Pit Road Instructors, in addition to on-track driving trainers, coach student drivers through each of the four sessions of 10 laps, helping them improve both their skills and their average speeds. The Advanced Experience, available only at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, and Talladega Superspeedway, was designed to allow drivers to safely achieve the fastest speeds possible. Of all the NASCAR driving experiences, it is by far the fastest.
While not cheap—the driving experiences range from about $149 for a three-lap ride-along to $3,999 for the Advanced Experience at Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway—these opportunities make for unique, adrenaline-pumping days at a NASCAR track. Go ahead, strap in and start comparing your best time to that of your favorite NASCAR driver.