This winter I saw an advertisement for the Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) announcing some exciting news…there was a new driving method. The days of RPDE drivers following a lead car that limits the race car speed will be long-gone. Instead a professional driving instructor will be in the passenger seat coaching the driver along the track via a two-way radio in the helmets. This new system means more personalized instruction and faster speeds for the driver.
Years ago my husband Jeff revealed that since childhood he’s dreamt of driving a race car on a real race track. “I’ve always loved to go fast,” he said. That conversation came back to me and I knew I had found the perfect gift for him. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to fulfill a childhood dream?
When we arrived in Illinois the sun was shining. However, the city was abuzz about possible rain the next day. Uh-oh. That was very bad news. Why? Jeff’s Richard Petty Driving Experience was at noon the following day. If it rains and the crew can’t dry the track the drive has to be postponed. At that point it was a wait and see. We woke to a gloomy day but hoped for the best during our 45 minutes drive from downtown Chicago to the town of Joliet. Sure enough, when we arrived at the Chicagoland Speedway the air was wet with drizzle and the ground was soaking wet.
We were greeted by Richard Petty Driving Experience employees with the sad news that the scheduled RPDE drives were to be postponed for the following day, but we could still go for a ride around the track in the van and check out the cars. Jeff, the kids and I hopped in the van and off we went around the track about about 80 mph. It was so cool and fast! I couldn’t imagine going double that speed.
After the thrilling ride around the track we went into the garage to see the cars and chat with the crew. We even met driver David Levine and peeked in his car. What a treat! He signed a photo for each of the kids, posed for photos and talked about his passion for racing.
The kids even sat in a couple of the RPDE stock cars.
The next day we returned to find the sun shining and the track dry. As soon as we pulled into the speedway we could hear race cars zooming along the track. The best news…Jeff was going to get to enjoy his Rookie experience (8 laps around the track) after all.
Jeff geared up in the traditional one-piece race suit and put his RPDE badge around his neck then the handful of men and their families settled into a large classroom for training.
As the training started, the nervous excitement was thick. And I mean thick. Most of the men had never partaken in the experience so everyone was listening intensely to the trainer. RPDE takes safety very seriously so the training was no-nonsense. Basic safety information was covered, explanations of how the track was set up (gates and cones as acceleration and deceleration points) and how to handle worst-case-scenario events (fire, crash). The trainer made it very clear that drivers had to earn the trust of their instructor as the more trust they gained, the faster they will be allowed to go.
After class the group took a few posed photos with a race car on Victory Lane, the drivers and their fans walked over to pit row to put on their helmet and wait their turn to get behind the wheel.
Jeff was ushered to the yellow car 39. Here he is waiting to take off…
The kids and I stood in a viewing area where I could take video and photos. I caught this of Jeff driving 140mph:
And here was what Jeff was experiencing in the car with his instructor Jimmy Kite (video is about 8 minutes):
Every driver get their experience captured on film and can pay for the video or purchase photos at the end. I highly recommend it. You don’t want to partake in this amazing experience and not have the proof.
Here’s Jeff beaming after the race. I’ve never seen him so thrilled. He wasn’t the only one. Every driver that exited through their car’s window whooped and hollered with adrenalin. As the employees of RPDE said, it’s great having a job where everyone is happy everyday.
Thank you Richard Petty Driving Experience for hosting my family and helping to make my husband’s childhood dream come true.