Head South For The Big Smoke—The Big Smoke Miami

Cigar Aficionado

Driving Lessons

I'm strapped into a Winston Cup stock car, the engine roaring as I pass 100 miles per hour. The 500 horses at my command are dining on 110-octane race fuel, and the wall in front of me is growing very large, very fast. I couldn't be happier.

"What we really sell is adrenaline," says Mark Ebert, the owner of Racing Reality, the driving school whose car I'm in. The rush begins when you power out of the pits and get the first taste of the car's considerable power. It continues when you realize that you can and will get hurt if you get sloppy or foolish. You have to find the line, release the gas here, tap the brake there, find the ideal spot to make that left-hand turn. Sloppy maneuvering saps speed and leaves you high on the track, which is loaded with "marbles" of worn tires of the past that will pepper your car. Big mistakes could send you in a spinout or into a wall. After a dozen laps, my muscles are pumped with blood, my smile impossible to remove.

A racer himself, Ebert travels the country with his trailer of cars, stopping at tracks in Connecticut, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Kansas and elsewhere. He has three varieties that students can drive—you are encouraged to drive several cars throughout the day—the heavy, metal Winston Cup models, late-model stock cars with glass-fiber bodies, and the exotic modifieds, which have exposed, pushed-out wheels.

These are real race cars that have raced before. Their doors are bolted shut, so you enter through the glass-less window, after removing the steering wheel, just like the pros. You wear a firesuit and a helmet, and are cinched in with a five-strap harness. The cars start with a push of the button, rather than the turn of a key, and have the most spartan interiors. Don't look for a cup holder.

Each of Ebert's cars has been built strictly for the track. For those who want to expand their acumen at driving specific street-model cars they may own, there's BMW Driver Training (www.bmw.com), the Corvette course at the Justin Bell Racing School (www.justinbellgt.com), as well as the Porsche Driving Experience (www.porschedriving.com). The Hummer Driving Academy (www.hummer.com) will teach you how to muscle your off-road vehicle through inhospitable terrain.

A day of racing with Racing Reality will cost $700 to $1,200, depending on the length of the track. Smaller packages are available for as little as $199, and $1,799 to $2,799 will buy you an entire weekend of playing NASCAR superstar. If you damage a car—which can certainly happen—you will have to pay to fix the damage, so spending the extra $50 on insurance ($1,000 deductible) is highly recommended.

To find out when Racing Reality is stopping at a track near you, go to www.1877canrace.com.