We’ve all wanted to be that guy in the commercial riding around in the cool sports car on the winding test track, but little things like broken bones and fiery crashes have kept the breaks on those impulses. With a few driving experiences around the globe though, the pulse-pounding potential is now safely at your fingertips. Our editors found seven adrenaline-rushing experiences that more than answer the prayers of every speed demon.
Skip Barber Racing School, multiple locations
A favorite of racecar magazine readers, the Skip Barber Racing School offers a multitude of programs for aspiring Formula One drivers, as well as regular drivers who just want to improve their skills. Unlike other programs, this school features a variety of cars, including Porsche, Mazda and Lexus. In the high performance-driving classes, drivers work on autocross, skid pad control and threshold braking, as well as spend lap time on the racetrack. The two-day course also teaches the “heel and toe” downshift technique. Track days allow drivers to bring their own cars to race others around the asphalt. The Formula Car Racing School also follows the same curriculum used to train professional drivers; alumni include members of the Andretti family. These courses are offered in one- to three-day sessions in actual Formula One cars. Programs are offered at several locations including Road Atlanta, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, Calif. and Lime Rock Park, in Salisbury, Conn., clocking in at $800 to $3,200 for high performance driving school and $1,500 to $4,000 for Formula One school.
Academi, Moyock, N.C.
Academi (formerly known as Blackwater—the largest private contractor to the Department of State) offers several advanced driver training programs. While you’ll spend some time in the Moyock, N.C. classroom (it’s about two hours from Richmond, Va.), the majority of the training is on the facility’s track in the car. In other words, you’ll get the works. Pony up $720 for the one-day advanced driver training highway safety course and you’ll learn vehicle-handling skills, how to respond to hazardous highway situations and emergency braking techniques. For more intensive training, check out the three-day, $2,000 LE driving course. It’s designed for law-enforcement officers (though it’s open to the public) and aims to teach police officers how to safely and effectively respond during high-speed chases.
BMW Performance Driving School, multiple locations
A variety of one- and two-day driving classes are held at the BMW SUV manufacturing facility just outside of Greenville, S.C., in current model BMWs like the M5, M3 and X6 M, and include exercises in autocross, wet skid pad and slalom. But to really put the pedal to the medal, check out the Advanced M School program. It’s held at both the Virginia International Raceway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway, two of the toughest racetracks out there where you can indulge in continuous timed laps as you learn how to, as they say “finesse the esses” (race S-shaped curves). Drivers report reaching speeds of up to 150 mph. $4,600 at Virginia International; $5,000 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including hotel.
Aston Martin Driving Experience, multiple locations
For those looking to combine an exotic vacation with their motor thrills, this year’s Aston Martin Driving Experience featured a driving tour of Austria, where guests stayed in a castle before motoring over the Grossglockner Pass for lunch by a glacier; later it was on to Vienna and a private museum tour. Participants traveled in their own Aston Martins or rented cars such as the V8 Vantage, Rapide, DBS and the DB9. Other incredible experiences included a driving tour of the Pacific Coast Highway during Pebble Beach Automotive Week (featuring time at the Aston Martin Estate overlooking Monterey Bay to check out the latest vehicles) and a three-day driving tour of France including a private tour of the Champagne house of Louis Roederer. We’re holding our breath and waiting to see what experiences are planned for 2013.
Ferrari Driving Experience, Mont Tremblant, Quebec
This two-day course is held at the picturesque Le Circuit Mont Tremblant, a former Formula One venue in Mont Tremblant, Quebec (about two hours from Montreal). The $9,700 program (including meals and accommodations at Hotel Quintessence) is available to Ferrari owners and special guests to teach them the full experience and performance of the car. You’ll get to pilot the new Ferrari 458 Italia, FF or California along a 2.65-mile track while you learn driving techniques including threshold braking, weight transfer and acceleration. An advanced driving program that follows the same curriculum offered in Italy by the Pilota School is also available for $11,900 (including meals and accommodations at Hotel Quintessence), as well as a winter driving experience held in Aspen, Colo. for $11,300 (including meals and accommodations at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Little Nell).
Women Only, Porsche Sport Driving School, Birmingham, Ala.
While Porsche offers performance programs similar to other schools, one unique course at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham has something we love—a two-day women’s only package. The curriculum is the same as the standard course (you’ll focus on skid pad, autocross, off road driving, track sessions), and uses the same types of cars, including the Carrera S, Boxster and 911 Turbo S, but many women report feeling less intimidated in an environment designed specifically for women. The $3,200 package (including meals) is part of the Ross Bridge Resort Package and also gives you a 20 percent discount at the spa and on golf lessons.
Richard Petty Driving Experience, multiple locations
Here’s one for all of you NASCAR enthusiasts. You can get your adrenaline pumping racing a 600-horsepower stock car around the tracks of 20 NASCAR locations, including the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando. There are many different packages available, including ones that allow you to drive as many as 70 laps (the most popular Rookie option gives you eight laps for between $449 and $549). Forty-five minutes of driving and safety instruction are included, as well as a five-minute introductory video starring—who else?—Richard Petty. For between $99 and $159, you can also ride shotgun in a two-seat racecar while a professional instructor speeds around the track for three laps.