MIS offers real-life driving experiencesWritten by Mary Petrides | | email@example.com
Ralph Manting describes driving a race car as the “best roller coaster ride you ever had.”
The Big Rapids, Mich., resident first experienced the thrill through Richard Petty Driving Experience at Michigan International Speedway (MIS), one of a few places people can drive on a real racetrack.
His racing days began when his children won the opportunity for him to ride during a promotion at a car dealership.
“They thought, me being a wild NASCAR fan, I’d like it, so they gave it to me,” Manting said.
Starting in September, MIS will once again offer the opportunity for those who want to be like Manting.
But if a person isn’t quite ready to ride alone, for $110, fans can ride for three laps in a stock car with an experienced driver.
During the ride-along, cars can exceed 160 mph, said Elliott Antal, e-marketing manager for Richard Petty Driving Experience.
Or, fans can actually drive the race car like Manting. This isn’t as popular, Antal said — it’s more expensive and speed is capped at about 130 mph.
“You get in and you’re strapped in, and as soon as they turn the switch on, the car starts. Your adrenaline level goes up very high,” Manting said.
The experience includes safety equipment like helmets for the drivers or riders, and an in-car camera that records “whatever they express during the ride,” Antal said.
Manting said he bought the video from his 2008 experience at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va. He wished there were more shots recorded from outside the car, but he still likes watching it.
“[The video] is neat … because you can hear the engine,” he said. “I don’t think you can hear me say, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I doing?’”
Manting said race cars work like regular stick-shift cars, but drivers don’t have to shift gears as they circle the track. Drivers shift when they leave the pit lane, “but once you’re on the track, by the time you get to [the first turn], you’re in fourth [gear],” Manting said.
Despite high speeds, Manting said it isn’t difficult to steer the car around the track. The car’s steering is precise.
“When you turn it, it turns,” he said. “It’s not sluggish by any means.”
Manting said he has also been on the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., in 2007. Not every track is the same, he said. Some tracks are longer than others; some have sharper turns.
“Michigan, you just turn real gradually. Richmond, you have to take your foot off the gas and slow down to take the turn,” he said.
Manting said he has been a NASCAR fan since the 1980s and went to his first race in 1983. Now, he goes to at least two races per year — one in Michigan and one elsewhere. He’s been to Florida, North Carolina and Georgia for races, camping at the track in his motor home and taking in the sights and sounds.
“Oh, the sound of it,” he said. “The sound’s enough excitement.”
He also appreciates that NASCAR is almost drug-free.
“It’s a clean sport. They don’t have drugs in NASCAR. If they do, they catch ’em right away,” he said. “I think it’s a great American activity.”
Manting would recommend the driving experience to almost anyone.
“The best part of the experience?” he said. “Actual driving and getting your blood going and your adrenaline going and getting out of the car when you’re done and trying to find your feet again.”