Even in the parking lot, you can hear the throaty roar. But this is no zoo or animal theme park; this is Raceway Park in Englishtown, where the wail emanates from the high-octane beasts of the Exotic Driving Experience, billed as an opportunity to tame some of the world’s dreamiest supercars.
To begin, I am briefed in a trackside barn with the day’s other participants. Each of the dozen or so drivers is male; in fact, about 80 percent of Exotic’s customers are of the hairy-chested gender.
Our instructor, Christian Fittipaldi—nephew of racing great Emerson Fittipaldi—explains that the .85-mile track has braking zones where signs numbered one through five cue you when to slow your car. Colored cones indicate when to initiate turns and where to aim the car. Link the cones and you’ll drive the optimal line. Easy. Except that at speeds that can approach 100 mph, things happen very, very fast.
This morning, five cars are available. The marquee attraction is the Ferrari 458 Italia, a curvy little red job that runs $295,000 in the showroom but can be driven in Englishtown for $419. The other choices: a Porsche 997S (the least expensive drive at $169); an Audi R8; and two knife-edged Lamborghinis.
I’m given the white Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, a low-slung slab of Italian machismo packing 570 horsepower. The Superleggera can reach 100 mph in 6.8 seconds; it rolls out of the showroom at $243,000. My six laps go for $389.
Fitted with a helmet, I squeeze into the driver’s seat and meet my instructor, Jason, who will accompany me in the passenger seat. The cars all have automatic transmissions, he explains, but drivers have the option to shift manually using the paddles on the steering wheel. “Of course,” I tell him, “I’ll drive in manual.”
I touch the gas and the vehicle eases toward the track, a kidney-shaped layout of five tight turns and one straightaway. Communicating through a headset in my helmet, Jason cues me to go. The key to success is what Jason calls “ocular driving technique.” The idea is to look well down the track to spot the turning cones in advance. “Turn your head through the corners,” Jason instructs. “Look ahead.”
Jason calmly guides me through the turns, which zip into view too fast to process. In my headset, his voice drones, “Throttle on, hard brake, hard brake, harder brake, turn in…there you go.”
I speed toward a hairpin left. “Get all the way to the edge,” Jason says. “Turn your head, get in here, track all the way to the edge, turn here. Good, good.”
On my third lap, I hit the straightaway and mash the accelerator. Grrrowwwwwwl. I can’t tell my speed (the speedometer is covered to avoid distraction) but I’m sure I’m approaching three digits. I’ve given up shifting; it’s enough just trying to execute Jason’s instructions.
The braking zone looms up fast at the end of the straightaway. There’s panic in Jason’s voice. “Hard brake! Hard brake!” I start my turn. “Way too early,” he warns. I’m not sure what went wrong.
I find a rhythm through the hairpins, then I’m back on the straightaway. Grrrowwwwwwl. “Really hard brakes!” Jason urges. “Harder, harder, harder!” Determined not to turn early, I end up on the outer edge. “That was too late,” he tells me.
By the fifth lap I am confused and exhausted. My head is steaming under the heavy helmet. I could use a breather. Have I gone fast enough? Can I go faster?
In the sixth and final lap, I attack the straightaway. Jason is silent. As I throttle down into the exit lane, Jason sighs, “It’s a lot of car.” Meaning too much for me?
After extracting myself, I notice my knees are wobbly, my hands shaky. Steadying myself, I go get the printout of my drive, which reveals my top speed.
Ugh. I only reached 71.
I want another shot. And soon. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities. Based in Orlando, Florida, Exotic Driving Experience (exoticdriving.com) has 11 venues, including New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville as well as Raceway Park. The season at the two Jersey tracks runs through late September.
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