King for a Day
Tenth-grade driver's ed was never like this: professional pit crews, engines packing 600 ponies, and fevered orders to hit the gas. Sure, fashion takes a back seat -- participants zip themselves into baggy blue jumpsuits -- but, for speed freaks, The Richard Petty Driving Experience is a tailpipe dream come true.
Named for racing royalty (with a record 200 victories, Petty reigns as "The King" of NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit), the RPDE puts rookie racers on track -- in Winston Cup-style stock cars. The program pulls into Phoenix International Raceway this Friday, April 16, for a weekend of high-speed course work.
PIR officials report that the average participant clocks about 105 on the track. Sure, most of us drive that fast on the 17 . . . but it's way more fun in a car equipped with a fire extinguisher.
"It was a great experience," says Henry Kwan, who took the wheel in February. "You don't appreciate how powerful those cars are until you actually drive one."
After a crash course on racing flags, acceleration and deceleration points, and the car's interior equipment, drivers slap on a head sock, strap on a helmet, and shimmy in through the window, Bo Duke-style. After being rendered immobile by a five-point safety harness, it's time to tear up the track.
And whether they set a new land speed record or merely take a thunderous Sunday drive, participants receive a time sheet detailing their top speed per lap. RPDE's shortest program, the Rookie Experience, grants eight laps on PIR's one-mile oval. And if eight isn't enough? The King's Experience and the Experience of a Lifetime offer 18 and 30 laps, respectively.
So speed now or hold your peace . . . at least until autumn. After cooling their engines over the summer, Petty's crew returns to PIR in the fall.
Get the Events Newsletter
What's happening in town? From underground club nights to the biggest outdoor festivals, our top picks for the week's best events will always keep you in on the action.