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Satisfying a neeed for speed

SATISFYING A NEED FOR SPEED

REGIONAL RACETRACKS OFFER A FUN RACING EXPERIENCE FOR CAR-CLUB MEMBERS

Let’s say you just bought a Ferrari GTC4 Lusso with a top speed of 208 miles per hour and acceleration of zero to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. Where are you going to exploit its potential? Certainly not on congested U.S. highways, with speed traps at every corner.

Your best bet is joining a car club (either general or specific to your model), taking performance-driving lessons, and signing up for a track day. Most racetracks have one-day and weekend programs for novice-to-expert civilians with a fast car and a can-do attitude.

“Track days have given the high-performance driver a safe venue to fulfill the ‘need for speed’ in a controlled environment,” says Peter Bush, a gearhead radio host based in Connecticut. “In most cases, instructors are provided for both the newbie and the seasoned driver looking to further hone his or her skills. Track days make better drivers, and they’re a far better choice than the liability of operating irresponsibly on public roads.”

The private Monticello Motor Club in the Catskill Mountains of New York holds its events at a 4.1-mile track with 22 turns and 1.5 miles of straightaways, on the site of the former regional airport. The club, now in its 10th year, “started out with a few guys who had nice cars and wanted to drive them,” says Nat Mundy, the club’s executive vice president. “Now it’s more formalized; it’s not just us renting a parking lot somewhere.” All are welcome, he says: “The cars are Mazda Miatas, Porsches, all kinds of cars.”

On the West Coast of the U.S., the aptly named Fast Toys Car Club sponsors all-day track events at multiple tracks. A one-year racer membership guarantees a spot at five events in California or Nevada. The events offer the option to drive your own car as much as you’d like, although the track is limited to 40 cars. The price of admission includes a driving coach, lunch, and access to garages at some tracks.

Fast action at a Monticello Motor Club member day
Fast action at a Monticello Motor Club member day

Credits: Monticello Motor Club

Winter is the busy season at the Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter, Fla., says Adam Ricardel, director of road course operations there.

“The track has been here since 1965,” he says, “and it’s a 2.1-mile racecourse with a drag strip and a setup for autocross. We rent it out to clubs and race teams from all over the country. The clubs that are most prevalent are for BMW and Porsche owners—they’re true enthusiasts—and the Mazda Miata, which because of the Spec Miata series is the most-raced car in the U.S. on a day-to-day basis,” Ricardel adds.

Joe Casella is director of the National Auto Sport Association’s northeast U.S. region, which holds Spec Miata events as well as more general track days. “We get guest clubs that want to come and run,” he says. “And on track days, we go from the beginner level up to full-blown racing.” Casella says renting the Lime Rock Park track in Connecticut can cost US$25,000 for a day, and an average of 120 cars might come out to drive.

In Palm Beach and other places, beginners can hook up with the for-profit Hooked on Driving franchise and progress through a training program that starts with novices, who drive with expert co-drivers, up to experienced levels.

A BMW takes the lead at Monticello Motor Club

Credits: Monticello Motor Club
A BMW takes the lead at Monticello Motor Club

Mark Sherman, webmaster for the Vintage Sports Car Club of America and the owner of a 1953 MG TD, says that when his club holds open-track days, “anyone can bring any type of car. We have several hundred members who own vintage sports cars of the pre- and postwar periods, and they get to take them on the track. Some call it ‘vintage racing,’ but it’s really just about having fun on the track. Our philosophy is to use the cars as they were intended to be used.”

Bob Coates, a New York resident, is track-event chair for the Ferrari Club of America and the proud owner of a priceless Ferrari Daytona. Although these valuable cars are often treated as low-mileage “garage queens,” Coates’ car, which he has owned for 43 years, has more than 100,000 miles on it. “Driving it is better than therapy,” he says.

There are also clubs that give members temporary loans of exclusive classic and supercars for their own private use. And some of these clubs operate globally. Britain-based PI International, for instance, has a special membership for Singaporeans with business in the U.K. three or four weeks a year. Membership is from US$7,000 to US$17,500 a year, and a major plus is access to the club’s fleet, which usually includes gems from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and Mercedes-Benz AMG, depending on availability.

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