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Richard Petty Experience: Race Car Dave at the Disney Speedway

by Jennifer Marx, Author of PassPorter Travel Guides

Attention racing enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and lead foots: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to race around a track at up to 145 miles an hour? On July 15, PassPorter co-author Dave Marx participated in the Richard Petty Ride-Along Program at the Walt Disney World Speedway. While this wasn't at the top of his list of things to do at Walt Disney World, we had wondered about it for a while and figured it was about time to take a "test drive" for our readers benefit. Dave's daughter (and PassPorter co-author) Allie and I witnessed the entire episode from the bleachers, cheering Dave's car on as he whizzed by. What a thrill!

The Ride-Along Program is the simplest (and least expensive) experience at the Speedway. For $89, Dave got to speed around the track three times in a 630 horsepower regulation-style stock car. He didn't drive (a professional does that), he just rode shotgun -- and that was just okay with Allie and I.

When we arrived at the Speedway, we drove right through the tunnel and out into the track's infield to get to the Richard Petty Experience office. We didn't need to make reservations, as the ride-along program is offered on a walk-in basis only. Once inside, Dave signed up and filled out waiver forms. Allie and I also signed waiver forms as bystanders, just in case. Then it was over to the coat rack to pick out a fire-resistant jumpsuit for Dave to wear. They come in all shapes and sizes. Watching him squeeze into the suit was half the fun! He was also given a helmet. Once he suited up, we walked out to the canopied waiting area beside the track. There we saw a few dozen people -- some waited for their experience to begin, some were in class for the you-drive-it experience, while others were watching the action from the sidelines. Dave got in line for his experience and waited.

Soon enough it was Dave's turn to get in his car. These are NASCAR Winston Cup style stock cars -- they do not have doors. So Dave has to climb into the car through the passenger window and sit shotgun beside the driver. Once he was inside and strapped in, a photographer came up and snapped a photo of Dave in his driving gear. Then the driver revved the engine and they took off in a flash. And, boy, did that car go fast! Allie and I had a hard time watching it go around the track -- it was too easy to lose the car behind buildings and other obstructions, so you could only see the cars from turn 3 to turn 1. I enjoyed spectating, but Allie seemed a bit bored after the first lap. It was also quite noisy with all the cars whizzing by, and she doesn't like loud noise at all.

After three laps around the one mile tri-oval track (a simulation of a Winston Cup-style 3-lap qualifying run), Dave came in ... hale and hearty. We collected him and went inside to drop off the jumpsuit. We should note that Dave got very warm in his suit -- be sure you wear cool clothing if you try this experience. And, of course, we had to purchase the photo of Dave in his race car ($15). We spent a while browsing the memorabilia and photos of famous racers and celebrities before we headed out. The entire experience took less than an hour.

What did Dave think of his spin in the fast lane? I'll move over for a few minutes and let Dave tell you in his own words:

Brrrroooooom! I'm not what you'd call a car racing fan, but you don't really have to be to get a thrill out of this experience. Until I took this all-too-brief three lap spin around the course I had no real idea of what those drivers do, lap after lap, day after day. The noise, the vibration, the g-forces and the need for concentration are intense! My helmet's off to all the pros out there.

I'm sure I didn't appreciate the pre-ride experience the way a fan would. I felt a little foolish walking around in my driving suit carrying my helmet, and boy, was I hot out there in the July heat. My only other emotion was curiosity.

After a bit of waiting around on my own (Jennifer and Allie were over in the spectator's grandstand), the folks in the Petty "pit crew" had ushered me out into the pit area, made sure my helmet was secure, and brought me over to the car. After a very quick introduction to my driver (sorry, his name slipped past me faster than a Winston Cup racer) I slithered my way in through the passenger window and down into my seat.

My pride swelled, having managed that entry with professional grace. Heck, I wasn't driving, but at least I looked cool! In a flash the crew had my seat harness buckled, the photographer popped up to grab my macho image for posterity, and we were headed out of the pit faster than you can say "zero to sixty."

Roaring out onto the track, I thought we'd take advantage of the high, banked curves on the course, but we took the fast "line," on the nearly flat insides of the turns. We were up to full speed in no time flat.

Once around the track for warm-up. Whizzzzz! The g-forces on the curves pressed me hard against the passenger-side door panel. To my suburban driver's senses, it felt like the car was going to flip over from centrifugal force.

Green flag, it's time to race! Zooooom! Of course, we didn't flip. My driver knew the limits of his vehicle. I just didn't know the limits were so far out there! (And people are impressed by Test Track???)

Twice around, checkered flag! We'd finished our qualifying run (but what was our speed???). No matter, even if we had qualified for the pole position, my racing "career" was going to be over in one more cool-down lap.

Back into the pits, just a little breathless and a little buzzed. I managed to thank my driver, haul myself out of the window, and head into the grandstand, to the enthusiastic applause of my two dedicated fans. Oh, and I stripped-off that hot jumpsuit in nothing flat.

The Richard Petty Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway offers four different programs:

* Ride-Along Experience -- Ride in the passenger seat with an instructor for three laps. Ages 16 and up (riders under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian). $89 plus tax. Duration: 30-60 minutes (actual riding time is less than two minutes)
* Rookie Experience -- Drive a race car alone for eight laps. Includes classroom, track side and in-car instruction. Ages 18 and up. Licensed drivers only. Reservations required. $349 plus tax. Offered at 8:00 am and 2:00 PM. Duration: 3 hours.
* King's Experience -- Drive a race car in two segments: one for 8 laps and another for 10 laps. Includes classroom, track side and in-car instruction. Ages 18 and up. Licensed drivers only. Reservations required. $699 plus tax. Offered at 11:00 am. Duration: 3 hours.
* Experience of a Lifetime -- Drive a race car for three sessions of 10 laps each. Includes classroom, track side and in-car instruction. Ages 18 and up. Licensed drivers only. Reservations required. $1199 plus tax. Offered at 11:00 am.

To make a reservation, call 1-800-BE-PETTY -- it is suggested that you book at least a month in advance. Ask about discounts when you book. Note that the driving experiences are with manual-transmission cars. You'll want to know how to drive one of these before you sign up.

Visitors are welcome and you can watch at no cost. Open from 8:00 am to 5:00 PM daily.

>>Things To Do: Visit the Richard Petty Experience web site for more information:

See another perspective on the Richard Petty Experience.

Return to | Discuss the Richard Petty Experience on the PassPorter Message Boards

Updated 02/15/07 

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