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Mario Andretti Racing School

Discussion in 'Vegas Trip Reports' started by martay, Feb 17, 2008.

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  1. martay

    martay Tourist

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    My Trip Report

    As some of you already know, I was in Vegas last weekend. The people who went with me:

    1. Steve, a partner in my law firm.
    2. Justin, my buddy from college.
    3. Mike, a friend who hosts my weekly poker game.
    4. Mick, a plumber and buddy who plays poker with us.

    The trip was really fun. But the most fun for me was "enrolling" in the Mario Andretti Racing School and driving an Indy car 142 mph around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    Here's how it went down:

    For years, I have wanted to drive a race car on a big track. In the weeks leading up to the trip. I noticed that the Mario Andretti Racing School was going to be in Vegas last weekend. I didn't make any reservations, but I kept it in the back of my mind in case I wanted a break from 16-hour poker days.

    On Saturday, I woke up ready to do something else. I was getting killed in poker (having lost a bunch of money at the Venetian and Wynn the day before). I called the Andretti school. The guy said they were full for the afternoon session, but the 8 p.m. session under the lights was "really slow."

    Well, I wasn't going to forego the opportunity to drive under the lights! I told him I would be coming with at least one other guy. I committed to at least taking a ride-around (riding in the back seat of a specially-designed Indy car). But the option was open to drive.

    Mick, who also had been suffering some hard losses, committed to go. I was able to convince Justin to come, as well, though he was along just to watch.

    The speedway is about 14 miles north of the Strip. As I was driving there, I was pretty sure I'd be driving, but wanted to see for sure before making up my mind.

    After exiting the freeway, I started following the signs to the race school, which required a bunch of turns, the last of which turned me right into the tunnel under the track! We emerged onto pit road -- the same pit road used by NASCAR in its races. We could see about a half dozen Indy cars lapping the track under the lights -- going very, very fast. I was sold. The $270 difference in price ($400 rather than $130) seemed worth it. Mick was similarly impressed, and instantly decided to plunk down the money and drive.

    We parked the minivan and walked to the sign-up trailer, where we were told the 8 p.m. class was us and one other guy. Nice.

    We were required to sign the expected liability waiver, which was notable only from the perspective that it kept emphasizing the chance of death. It didn't really talk about injury at all. I took that to mean that they don't exactly get a lot of injuries -- it would be death or nothing, I guess.

    We were told to put on the official Mario Andretti Racing School fire suits. We then had to wait for a race instructor to come get us for the "safety briefing."

    It wasn't much of a briefing. They seemed more interested in letting us know that souvenir photos would be available after the ride for a reasonable price. But it was nice to see a video of Mario Andretti, who of course wasn't there.

    We then got into a van, and the instructor drove us around the track to show us the proper lines, bumps in the track, and other notable landmarks. This was where we actually learned how to drive the car, and how to interpret the various flags we might see (green means go faster, yellow means go slower, red means stop immediately for an on-track emergency, and checkered means hit the pits).

    It was fun being on the track just in the van. The banking is steep, and at 70 mph, the van felt like it was barely moving.

    He dropped us out of the van, and we were to walk to the helmet rack, get fitted for a helmet and neck brace, then line up for our drives. The other two guys, apparently excited/scared, stopped at the port-a-potties, so I found myself first in line.

    The helmet was a full-face racing helmet with a fold-down wind screen. It fit nicely, though I felt a little stupid fitting it over my glasses. Then, I had to wedge myself into the car. The cockpit wasn't much wider than my helmet. I had to turn my shoulders sideways to get in. The seat was barely padded. The steering wheel was about as big as an extra-large doughnut. The clutch, brake, and gas pedals were very small and closely spaced. There was a small red shift lever along the right side of the cockpit.

    The system for driving is pretty slick. The car has one gear and no starter. The ignition switch is on the outside of the car. You start out by having the car in gear with the clutch pushed in. The pit crew flips on the ignition switch, and a guy with a four-wheeler pushes you from behind until you pass a green light about 50 feet from the start. At that point, you pop the clutch (push-starting the car), the engine springs to life, you hit the gas, and you are off. Your instructor falls in right in front of you as you get going, and you follow in the instructor's tracks, about 6 car lengths behind, for the duration of your laps. If you can keep up, they keep accelerating, until you reach a target speed (My target speed was 140 mph. They let people go as fast as 170 or more, but you have to pay more). You never have to shift gears, and the cars are able to go around the corners without even slowing at all -- the instructor warned us to fight the urge to lift off the accelerator as a turn approached, as it would slow up our laps tremendously and mess up our lines.

    I got wedged into the cockpit, and the pit crew guy strapped me into the seat with a five-point racing harness. I couldn't see that the four wheeler was already behind me (there are no mirrors, and you can't turn your head that much). There was no time to reflect on this potentially deadly ride I was about to go on -- as soon as I was strapped in, I felt an aggressive push from behind as the four-wheeler engaged the car. I hit my mark, popped the clutch, and felt the engine roar to life as I entered turn one.

    The car was fantastic. The engine is a race-modified 3.6 liter Chevrolet V-8 outputting 600 horsepower (almost five times the power of my Mazda3) through Firestone Firehawk racing slicks (the same tires used in the Indy 500), to propel a car weighing 1,800 pounds (half the weight of my Mazda3). Goosing the accelerator just a touch resulted in neck-snapping acceleration, and the tires were so sticky, there was no wiggling, tire spin, or unease whatsoever.

    The first lap was pretty easy (we just went about 70). I did take my right hand off the wheel for an instant to flip down my helmet wind screen, which felt rather reckless. When we crossed the finish line for the first time, my instructor opened up, and the second lap had a top speed of 120. I wasn't looking at the gauges, of course -- they gave me a printout of times and speeds later.

    My first high-speed entry into turn one was the trickiest. At this point, I was going well over 100 mph, driving straight toward a rapidly-approaching cement wall, transitioning onto banking as steep as the roof of my house in a car sitting not 5 inches off the ground. There was a palpable feeling that if things didn't go well, there was a really good chance I'd be dead. But of course, the car was yawning at this point (a skilled driver can enter that corner above 160). So I just turned the wheel about an eighth of a turn and before I knew it, I had a nice little line going. It was neat to see the exposed front wheels flying along (Indy cars are way cooler than NASCAR-style stock cars).

    The third time I went around turn one, I thought I'd take a little of the view in. I looked up at the stands, the lights, and the rest of the world. It was a big mistake. The horizon wasn't level, the entire world was spinning around me in the turn, and the wall was whizzing by at 100+ mph. Better to keep my eyes on the back of my instructor's car.

    The rest of my six-lap package went without incident, with each lap a little faster than the last. By the fifth lap, I was extremely comfortable with the car, and felt like going a lot faster (even at 142 mph, it was clear that the car could go a lot faster). Before I knew it, I was on the back stretch of my sixth lap, and the instructor lifted from the accelerator and transitioned to the inside apron of the track, with sparks and flames shooting out of the exhaust pipes just like on TV.

    As I had been trained to do, I tapped the brakes to test them, slowed as I rounded turns three and four, and turned into pit road. At the appointed time, I knocked the transmission out of gear (no clutch necessary), and coasted in to my pit stall. The crew pulled the quick-release on the racing harness, I climbed out, and that was it. About five minutes from start to finish.

    The car's tires were hot to the touch as I exited. Predictably, I wanted to just jump right back in and do about 100 additional laps. Of course, that wasn't in the cards. My friend Mick felt the same.

    If you ever get a chance to do this, I would heartily recommend it. The price is a little steep, but it really is a unique experience. For my package, it is a bit of a stretch to call it a "school" -- the whole experience from arrival to departure was about an hour, and there wasn't time to learn much racing technique, but as a thrill-seeking-type activity, it was great.
     
  2. SH0CK

    SH0CK Stylin' and Profilin' Quasi Tech Admin

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    Very cool dude!

    Ride along for $130 when you can do it yourself for $400... the difference in prices is definately worth the stories afterwards.

    Thanks for the write up :thumbsup:
     
  3. keno

    keno obsessed with countdown timers

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    ah man.. that is so awesome! I've driven a couple of dragsters, but nothing would be better than driving a car around a track! so jealous!!



    edit:
    Ah man! that was post 1000! well, I expected it to be about drinking or something similar, but it was something that I like even more, racing! I'm a huge race fan, especially open wheel racing and used to race jet skis full time.

    /Begin Threadjack

    Because this is my 1000th post, I'll take a couple of moments to expand... during my younger years, I spent most of the year training and racing jet skis. In case you didn't know, there used to be (and it's getting bigger again now..) quite a lot of money racing jet skis and similar watercraft ("Jet Ski" is a trademark of Kawasaki, and only Kawasaki makes the "Jet Ski"). This was a near full time endeavor for me and my family. My dad grew up racing and working on 2-stroke go-carts, so moving into Personal Watercraft (PWC) was an easy transition for him, as until just a couple of years ago, all PWC's were 2-stroke. Anyway, he'd build my boats, I'd race them. Luckily, he'd be working on engines since he was a kid and knew a thing or two about making 2-strokes go fast. In fact, we had one of the first fuel-injected 2-stroke engines in the PWC circuit because my dad took a chance and put it on one of our boats. It was a smart move, as that boat was the fastest boat in it's class for over a year.

    Anyway, to make a really long life story short, my whole family was really involved in PWC racing, so much so that I was featured on a CA state championship t-shirt, and was a top ranked competitor in the World Finals (yes, there were people in involved from other countries beside the US!!). I was set to win my class in the world finals and be a world champion when I was taken out by another competitor.. taken out enough to head to the hospital after the crash, and have surgery performed to repair my right knee. Even with that crash, it was one of the best times I've ever had. In the class I was riding in, my main boat broke and I couldn't ride it anymore. I had to ride a backup boat that wasn't as fast (but did handle a bit better) and was still in contention to win my class. Unfortunately, things didn't work out the way I hoped.

    But, my love for racing has always stayed with me and I've always had a dream to race cars (and yes, while growing up, my Dad saw the need for me to always have one of the fastest, souped up cars in town... it's great growing up as a gearhead with a talented father who wants you to drive fast..).

    Okay, enough reminiscing...

    /end Threadjack
     
  4. atom

    atom High-Roller

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    Great TR! That sounds like such a blast! It really could be detrimental to my bank account that I read this... I just checked and they're offering this on three of the days that I'll be in vegas on my next trip. :wink2: Cheers!
     
  5. mikenhe

    mikenhe VIP Whale

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    nice!!!

    I have a car thats just about half the power of the one you drove - and its been know to go very fast on occasion..

    twice the horse power and someone to follow around on the track....

    I'd either be laughing my head off or shitting myself....


    should have won more at the poker then you could have done another 100 laps :D

    thanks for the write up...
     
  6. tnkc

    tnkc High-Roller

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    Wow...I appreciate hearing about this. Yes; a little steep in price now but I'll have to put it on my list.
     
  7. aggie182

    aggie182 Off Key and Out of Tune

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    Sounds awesome.
     
  8. DonD

    DonD Super Moderator

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    Thanks for the post, I felt like I was in the car. Very well written. . .:nworthy:
     
  9. 8888

    8888 Tourist

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    that's awesome. many years ago i did the skip barber 3 day school and then raced in 6 races afterwards. i was lucky enough to catch a ride with a local atlantic series team when you could actually run a team for 100k. split 3 ways it wasnt bad. we had one driver who was good enough to jump to indy lights and although i did test in the cars i wasnt planning on a new career. indy light money, even with sponsors was getting in the million range. way to expensive for a hobby. reading your report got the heart rate up again. we live in a nascar society and folks who have never been around open wheel racing just dont understand. i have lapped in a nascar and it is boring as hell compared to the open wheel. glad you had a great time and i would recommend your experience to everyone.
     
  10. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    Excellent report - I haven't heard anybody's experience on this before. My father-in-law has done the ride-along, and a thing where you get to drive your own vehicle on a track, but this is what he really wants to do.
     
  11. dean_1492

    dean_1492 High-Roller

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    I am going to have to try that once! :peace:
     
  12. martay

    martay Tourist

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    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I forgot to add that when I got there, the afternoon session was just wrapping up, and I got a chance to speak with a few of those participants, all of whom were receiving their packages as casino comps arranged by their respective casino hosts. I assume these guys were all pretty high-rollers, but those of you out there with good host relationships might be able to wrangle something.
     
  13. gmoney590

    gmoney590 VIP Whale

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    That was an execelent report. Now, I'm thinking that's something I'd want to do. I just have to get real lucky at the slots or VP.
     
    Back where we belong
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