Viva Las Exotics

It was a rainy week in San Francisco. After a record dry winter in 2014, the end of March seemed an attempt to make up for lost time—on the weekend I was due to fly out of town.

After a series of weather delays, I arrived in Las Vegas on a Saturday night with a mission: to drive a Ferrari around a racetrack.

I booked a five-lap session with Exotics Racing via Peek, an activities and tours booking service with a concise selection of interesting, well-reviewed operators.1 While Peek’s bookings are limited to a single choice between four different cars, booking directly through Exotics Racing opens up the entire 50+ stable of supercars: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens, and so on. What more, the company fields public suggestions for supercars to add to their collection—as long it costs under $1 million. No gold-trimmed Bugatti Veyron or futuristic Lamborghini Sesto Elemento for you.

The morning of my appointment, my husband and I drove 20 minutes north of the Strip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.2 Exotics Racing actually has its own purpose-built track; after years of sharing the Las Vegas Motor Speedway with other motoring events, the company set up its own 1.2-mile course on the outer reaches of the speedway complex.

The day starts with registration, where the guys behind the counter may try to persuade you into buying an add-on package while they take care of the paperwork. I had pre-paid for the standard five-lap run package, and was offered a deal to buy two extra laps for the price of one. If they offer you this promo, take it! I regret passing on it because it took me about three laps to become 100% comfortable with the car and the track. It’s only available for purchase before you get behind the wheel.

Once you’re done with registration, you have to report to the classroom for mandatory orientation. Meanwhile, you’re free to check out the pit area, where all the cars sit between outings.

After class, we hopped into a Porsche Cayenne for our discovery lap. The instructor behind the wheel drove two laps around the track, explaining every step of his approach: when he begins to apply the brakes going into a turn, when he eases off the brakes and turns into the corner, clipping the curb of the track, and when he reapplies the throttle. And just because we were on a discovery lap in a SUV didn’t mean that we weren’t going fast. I found myself reaching for the “oh shit bar” a couple times, only to realize that it was missing—probably torn off by a passenger on a past outing!

Back at the track facility, I went over to the helmet station to get fitted for a helmet.3 After several minutes, my name was called to the pit. Plenty of time for the butterflies to start fluttering around in my stomach.

My instructor, an affable guy by the name of Buddy, led me to my car: a Ferrari 458 Italia. Color: Rosso Scuderia.

Buddy helped me adjust the seat and steering wheel to account for my shrimpy stature. Once I’d gotten my red seatbelt on and the red key in the ignition, it was only a matter of pressing the [also red] “ENGINE START” button. The V8 engine roared to life, encased in glass just behind my head.

Here’s a vid of an Exotics Racing instructor taking a few laps around the track, explaining each maneuver:

 

And so I proceeded semi-cautiously—my instructor’s constant flow of advice driving my movements—until I began to grow more comfortable with the car and the track. But with lap times around one minute each, my time in the Ferrari was not long.

As I turned the corner into my final lap, Buddy said, “This is your last lap. I want you to see what this car can do. Trust me. Give it all you’ve got.” Coming out of Turn 1 onto the 1800-foot high-speed straight, I squeezed the throttle and put my foot all the way down. The acceleration was unreal. Every gear shift was lightning fast, the engine’s song screaming in increasingly higher octaves. I could feel my eyes growing bigger and bigger. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the track, but it must have been at least 120mph before I entered the braking zone leading into Turn 2, a steep banked righthand corner. I hit the brake and made a hard turn right, clipping the curb at the apex of the corner, and then following the racing line back up the banked turn.

Buddy and I let out a whoop of laughter.

After the final lap was over, I eased the car back into the pit. I must admit—the experience of slowly driving a Ferrari past a group of people is almost on par with driving one quickly.  Oh, then there’s the parking and getting out of the car, too. It’s all good, basically.

At the end of this particular weekend, as with many other untold Vegas weekends, there would be no casino jackpot. No Ferrari to buy with newly-won riches. Just a chance to scratch something off my bucket list.

In the driver's seat of a Ferrari 458 Italia.

In the driver’s seat of a Ferrari 458 Italia.

I guess I could say it was a very satisfying test drive—y’know, just in case I win big next time. I’d know just the car to buy.

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