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.