I couldn’t sleep all Saturday night. I was overrun with excitement to be going to the newest Richard Petty Holdings attraction, the Exotic Driving Experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, at an early 8am the next morning. I woke up every hour on the hour to check the alarm clock next to the hotel bed, that even after I set it didn’t go off. At 6am I roused to get ready. On their website were guidelines for what to wear. Unlike the fire suits many drivers had had to wear for the NASCAR experience, the Exotic Experience only asks drivers to wear long pants and closed toe shoes. I got a bit nervous when I looked out of my eighth floor room and saw Orlando blanketed in fog, but I knew that the sun would soon bake that away.
The Exotic Driving Experience is the latest addition to Walt Disney World Speedway, located within the gates of the Disney World complex. When you arrive at the main gateway, just let the parking attendant know that you are going to the Exotics Track and bypass the parking fee. The track has its own parking lot, just follow the signs.
You are invited to choose one, or all, of the 5 different supercars that the Exotic Driving Experience has purchased just for this attraction, each having its own charge and availability. There are only 6 cars total that are operated on a daily basis, therefore you will have a completely unique ride. No generic mass produced roller coaster cars here, save that for It’s A Small World!
The fist supercar is a Porsche 997S. It delivers 400hp at 7400rpm and 325 lbs/ft of torque at 5600rpm with its 3.8-liter flat-6 power plant. Reaching 60mph in 4.1 seconds from a full stop and catapulting from 0-100 in 9.6, the Porsche is nimble on its feet with a power-to-weight ration of only 8.2 pounds per horsepower.
The next available choice is an Audi R8. The 5.2-liter DOHC V10 engine has the capability of producing 525hp at 8000rpm and 391 lbs/ft of torque at 6500 rpm. With a top speed of 196 mph, the Audi can achieve 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and 0-100 in 8.7 with a power-to-weight ration of only 6.8 pounds per horsepower. That’s enough to get your heart racing in the morning.
If you require a stiffer shot of adrenalin, choose the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4. This sleek supercar can raise the blood pressure from just looking at it, but climb inside and let the 5.2 liter 40-valve DOHC V10 race you around the 1 mile track. Creating 522 hp at 8000 rpm and 376 lbs/ft of torque at 4250 rpm, you can get from 0-62mph in just 3.7 seconds or a neck wrenching 0-124 in 11.8.
Still not enough of a rush? Why not go for the espresso shot, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera? The 5.2 liter 40 valve DOHC V10 powerhouse of the Superleggera manufactures 552 hp at 8000 rpm and 398 lbs/ft of torque at 6500 rpm, giving it a slight advantage over its Gallardo little sister. It can jump from 0-62 mph in 3.4 seconds and from 0-124 mph in 10.2. It’s also lighter then the Gallardo with a power-to-weigh ratio of just 5.18 pounds per horsepower, compared with 5.9 of the LP-560.
What’s that you say? Still not enough supercar for you? Then you can choose one of two almost identical Ferrari 458 Italias. Both have identically impressive 4.5 liter 32 valve DOHC V8’s that can reach 562 hp at 9000 rpm and 398 lbs/ft of torque at 6000rpm. At only 7.16 pounds per horsepower, they can each sprint from 0-60 in 3.4 seconds or from 0-100 in just 6.7. The only difference between the two is one is the signature red while the other is a sleek black.
While you could just walk up to the desk at the welcome center of the track, you will have a better chance of getting the car of your choice at a time of your choosing if you reserve it online. By doing this, you are also emailed a packet of papers and waivers that you should fill out ahead of time and bring, along with your drivers license to the track about 15-30 minutes before your scheduled reservation. All visitors will want to spend some time in the welcome/driver check-in center. The walls are lined with pictures of famous names who have found themselves behind one of Petty’s NASCAR cars over the past years. Tim Allen, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and even Micky Mouse have all experienced the banked tri-oval. There are also a host of souvenirs such as shirts, hats, and photo plaques, and at the end of the experience a section to buy your in dash video.
On this day I made my way to the driver check-in where I met Jennifer, the general sales manager, who was checking in drivers. She tells me that since the Exotic Driving Experience opened in January 2012 business has been briskly moving along. The staff is staying busy preparing the numerous drivers that are flocking to the track to take on their fantasy supercars for a once in a lifetime experience. Today the attraction will see as many as 50 individual drivers during any given time-slot.
Inside the classroom, participants and their friends and loved ones can relax, watch a video about the making of the Ferrari, look out the window at the track, and anticipate what they are about to do. Right on time our car coach, Dustin, starts the safety training presentation. While the entire experience strives to be the safest it can be, they still explain that these are real machines, capable of real speeds and just as equally capable of real disasters. “Disrespect these cars and they will hurt you.” Dustin tells us. And I believe him. Remember, from Utah, who won a Lamborghini Murcielago in December last year and wrecked the 650 hp car about 6 hours after taking delivery? I remember him, and Dustin’s statement couldn’t have rung more true.
As the training continued Dustin told us that Petty Enterprises had spent about $1.3 million dollars on the six cars that are used and upwards of $750,000 to add a street-style course to the infield of the speedway. They received consultations from Brazilian pedigreed racer Christian Fittipaldi. He was a crucial member of the team that chose which cars to buy and what the track should look like. Now, Fittipaldi, from a DVD playing on the TV in the front of the classroom, goes over a lot of the basics about the experience we are about to have.
Drivers run the track counter-clockwise, utilizing the speedways back stretch and second turn to reach high speeds before the power breaking section that takes you into the curvy infield. After making the hairpin into the eases you will experience what makes each one of these cars a dream to drive, precision handling and breaking. An in-car driving instructor will coach you on how to follow the cones and take these curves as well as the impending switchback before the exhilarating exit back onto banked oval. I feel the excitement building, a bead of sweat just above my brow.
The in-car instructors have very limited control over your car. These supercars are not set up to be drivers ed cars. Each one is equipped with both paddle shifting technology or regular automatic transmissions, to accommodate the widest range of drivers, and to eliminate the need to remove your hands from the wheel. The only thing an instructor can do to restrict your speed, if they feel they need to or while on pit road, is with the use of the VTC, or variable throttle control box. This small turn dial device allows the instructor to restrict power, so that no matter how hard you push the gas the car won’t go any faster than the percentage the dial is pointing to. They will give you 100% capabilities as long as you respect the car, the instructor, and the other drivers. Safety is no joking matter at the Exotic Driving Experience.
We have finished with the training and you can feel the anticipation in the room like air fills tires; keep us in here any longer and we might explode, so Dustin shows us to the driver staging area. While there will most likely be other cars on the track with you at the same time, the limit is 3. This helps keep participants moving without overcrowding the track. If you aren’t up in the first heat, head on over to the spectators stands overlooking the infield. All the cars will pass and a staff member will be on hand to alert you when your time is getting close.
Today, I will be driving the Audi R8. After having my picture taken with the car, which I can later purchase inside, I am fitted with a fire sock and a helmet and introduced to my in-car instructor, Derick. We make our way to the car where another employee is there to help me in, adjust the seat to the proper position and take another picture. Derick takes a flash drive provided to me at check in by Jennifer and plugs it in to record the in-car video.
One thing you can’t help but notice in all of these cars is that the speedometer is blacked out. This is to keep drivers from looking to see how fast they are going, because that is a distraction. Don’t worry, in-car video not only records you driving split screen with a shot of where you are going, but it also records speeds, G-forces, lap times, and tons of other statistical data. The employees inside will show you how to find all of that after your laps, so all you need to do is drive (and listen to your instructor).
The other two drivers head out to the start line and I am right behind them. The Audi is purring in perfect time with the thumping of my heart as I pull up and wait for my go signal. Derick turns the dial to 100% but asks that I only go about 40% at first so that I can understand the track and find all of my turning points, or cones that help me navigate. It’s not too hard to hold back on the throttle, I was just ecstatic to be inside the $149,000 dream machine. After the warm up lap, however, Derick urged me to push the car, and myself.
I have to admit, I was fairly disappointed with my speeds. It was no one’s fault but mine. I reached 97 mph on lap 7, my final one of the day, but I always felt like I was doing more; well, until the Superleggera passed me in the curves. Derick never insisted that I go out of my comfort zone, I’m pretty sure he was happy that I didn’t. That’s where people can get hurt and days can be destroyed. The R8 might have been the only one who felt slighted by my driving. A machine that craves the forces of gravity pushing against it as it picks up momentum one instant while exercising of the brakes the next just before plunging into a set of curves, where the handling and steering shine in perfection received very little of that from me.
If you echo my same sentiments, the lack of confidence to take a $200,000 work of art to its limits, there is an option for you. The Exotic Driving Experience Thrill Ride. You can walk right up to the counter in the welcome center and sign up to take two laps with one of the professional drivers behind the wheel who will show you what these supercars can really do. Either option is designed to create an unparalleled experience.
Would I recommend the Exotic Driving Experience at The Exotics Course at Walt Disney World. Yes. Would I change anything about it? If anything, it would be to add more laps to the starting price. Would I go back? In a heartbeat, and then maybe I could realize the other side of 100.