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Riding shotgun at Daytona Speedway

Doing laps at famous Florida track quenches your need for speed

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/4/2014 (1225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I qualified for the Daytona 500. Well, almost.

I hit 277 km/h on the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., but most drivers in the race will push 322 km/h. Still, 277 ain't bad for a one-armed guy who receives the Canada Pension Plan and had his eyes closed much of the way.

NASCAR Legend Richard Petty straps his helmet on before driving on track to commemorate his 200th win in NASCAR .


NASCAR Legend Richard Petty straps his helmet on before driving on track to commemorate his 200th win in NASCAR .




Thank heavens the NASCAR pro at the wheel had his eyes open the entire time we roared around the famous Florida race track. I was riding shotgun in Tony Stewart's car (that's the orange Home Depot car with No. 20 on the door).

I came away from our three circuits of the four-kilometre track with a whole new respect for NASCAR drivers. The concentration and focus it requires just to stay alive, let alone beat the guy beside you, requires superb athletic conditioning.

You, too, can get a taste of what it takes to be a NASCAR race driver. Richard Petty, the king of NASCAR -- his seven Daytona wins are the most ever by any one driver -- can strap you into one of his 600-horsepower race cars for $143.78 for three trips around the world's most famous race track.

Petty owns Richard Petty Driving Experience, a firm that offers a ride-along race car experience at 20 different tracks in the U.S., from Watkins Glen International in New York, to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

A ticket to ride at most tracks is $99 US plus tax, but at Daytona, the world's most famous racetrack, the price climbs to $143.78 including taxes.

For $549, you can slide behind the wheel and drive the race car yourself for eight laps. There's an hour of on-track instruction before you get the keys.

You can also pay $3,200 and drive 40 laps at Daytona over two days. However, you'll need to demonstrate some competency behind the wheel at high speeds before you can participate in any of Petty's driving experiences involving more than eight laps.

Riding shotgun only requires you be at least 16 and able to hang on. Oh yeah, and you have to climb in and out through the passenger side window.

You get to suit up like a NASCAR driver, too. Petty's crew outfits you in his famous red, white and blue racing overalls, a safety helmet and a neck brace that tethers your head to the headrest in the vehicle.

A NASCAR race car is loud, fast and, for many, claustrophobic. You're solidly strapped into the form-fitting seat. A nylon web serves as your side window. At 277 km/h there's very little wind coming through that web, but you'll feel the bumps.

One difference from a real race is there's nobody a few inches off your bumper also doing 277 km/h. You pretty much get the track to yourself.

If that's just a little too realistic for you, jump on the tour train for $20 and ride in 40 km/h comfort along a portion of the track while a tour guide spells out the history of the 54-year-old speedway, including the 168,000 bleacher seats. The guide explains the 11.7-hectare infield lake was created by digging out dirt to build the 31-degree banks on the track's corners. The angle is so steep, race cars must maintain at least 120 km/h at the top of the banked corners or they'll fall off.

The tour train is part of Daytona USA, a large museum and hands-on amusement centre built under the track's massive grandstand. There, you can race an 80-per-cent scale model stock car against your family and friends in a simulated Daytona 500, but without all the fumes in your face.

Or you can be plunked down in the middle of a 42-car Daytona 500 and feel all the bumps, swaying, braking and acceleration of a real race happening before your eyes on a 3D Imax screen. The 15,000-watt lamp in the projector is so bright, if it were on the moon you would be able to see it with the naked eye.

The famous track is on International Speedway Drive, the main route connecting Interstate 95 to Daytona Beach, which bills itself as "the world's most famous beach."

The wide, hard-packed sandy beach was the principal racetrack for the first 12 years of NASCAR here before the speedway opened in 1959. You can still drive for miles on that beach, but the speed limit is 16 km/h.

Many of the world's earliest speed records for cars were established on Daytona Beach and adjacent Ormond Beach. All those records and the names of the drivers who hold them are carved into the boardwalk that separates the sand from the shops in downtown Daytona Beach.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014


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