Ever curious what it feels like to go REALLY FAST? Say, 130 mph on the straightaway and 110 mph on the curve at Indy while riding a mere 2 feet from the wall?
Watching the famed Indianapolis 500 race, racing driver wannabes wonder what it would be like to be travel so fast at the iconic Brickyard track. As part of the “Hot Lap” experience during Indy weekend, you ride with a professional Indy driver around the 2.5 mile oval track. Our package deal included this experience.
We had bid on this package for the big race weekend through the Humane Society of the United States charity auction and found that it was donated by Mari Hulman George, Chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for one of her favorite charities. Our ride was on Saturday, the day before the Indy 500. Many thousands of fans were on site, walking the garages and meeting the drivers.
Passengers meet their driver when their turn to ride arrives. The driver can be either a retired Indy driver or an up and coming Indy Light Series (ILS) driver. Our driver was Sebastian Saavedra from ILS. Racing the day before in the Firestone Freedom 100, Sebastian finished 5th. Sebastian drove for team Andretti Green – Automatic Fires Sprinklers. He also won the Kansas Lottery 100 just a few weeks earlier. His team won the ILS that year and Sebastian finished 3rd among individual drivers.
ILS drivers are working their way up the Indy circuit. The year after our ride Sebastian finished 23rd at the big show, the Indy 500 race. The ILS is similar to AAA minor league baseball, feeding players from the top Minor League level to the Major League baseball teams. These are accomplished professional drivers who are polishing their skills for a shot at the big time. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a scholarship package of nearly $1 million to assist in the ascent to the IndyCar Series. Racing is an expensive sport. Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan are just a few of the drivers who came up through this circuit.
Before the ride, you go over the safety procedures (i.e. buckle up), and you snap a few quick pictures for memories. Then, you sit back and prepare for a rocket ride.
Nothing quite prepares you for the performance of a car that looks like your typical street version of the Chevy Malibu SS. The car was a 4 door model that looked innocent enough. To sit together during the ride, we chose the back seats. As the car takes off, the roar of the engine quickly replaces any feeling of being innocent and docile. Smooth acceleration combined with constant thrust keeps you glued to the back of your seats for a while. Before we know it, we are going 130 mph. Soon, very soon, we approach one of the famous curves at the Brickyard. We slow down a bit, only 110 mph, as we ride about 24 inches from the wall. Here, we really get the feel of the speed as the wall comes up close and personal.
As a former gear head, the experience of 130 mph was a speed obtained in street races on nice flat, straight, deserted streets. That is stimulating enough. When you do 130 mph going into a curve and sustain well over 100 mph through the curve with a concrete wall mere feet from your car… that is a way to bring the dead back to life.
Having total confidence that the driver is an actual pro makes the experience doable. My wife cringed the whole time, even before we took off. Trooper that she is, at least no screams emanated. Just wide eyes, big as saucers, and that cringe thing while hanging on for dear life. She had chosen to sit behind the driver in order to be “less scared” of getting so close to the outside wall as we rode around the track.
Completing the circuit twice, our driver pulled in to get the next round of riders and we collected our certificates for having run the lap and snapped a few more pictures.
Friendly and confident the whole time, Sebastian did make this experience fun, even for the cringing wife. Sebastian was even kind enough to point out the wall where he had hit the day before.
As an aside, at the motor speedway Indy Racing Experience offers a different “Victory Laps” experience. The difference is the price and the speed. The ride around the track at about 60 mph is in a 2 seat version of an actual Indy car. This is a much more sedate way to ride the most famous track in the world. The cost is $60.
Fan friendly is the best way to describe the Indy circuit. Having attended all the major sports events, far and away the most hands-on and courteous professional interaction with the fans is to be found with the Indy drivers and crew and the Indy facilities and management personnel. No other major sport treats its fans so well.