Covering the news in Texas can be grim business. The Zika virus. Naked teenagers shot in the street. Sports heroes accused of domestic abuse. Angry confrontations between armed Walmart customers and store employees. Major, far-reaching Supreme Court cases being upended by a sudden death. And that’s just February. It can all be a little overwhelming, so when a press release comes across your desk offering you the chance to participate in a media preview event for a company that offers exotic driving experiences in Texas, you start to think, “Yeah, that sounds pretty nice.”
Fittipaldi Exotic Driving offers the chance to drive a variety of expensive, ridiculous cars—they have a pair of Lamborghinis, a pair of Ferraris, a couple Porsches, and a souped-up Nissan that the driving instructor likens to a car from the Fast & Furious franchise. They offer these services at Driveway Austin—where I took my ride—as well as the Texas Motor Speedway and MSR Houston.
As escapes from the grim reality of February 2016 go, driving a Lamborghini isn’t bad. You strap in—seatbelts, helmets, and a personal driving instructor in the seat next to you—and get your turn around the track. The Driveway Austin track is loaded with twists and turns, without much in the way of a pure straightaway (I never got the car above 58 mph). With all of the track bends, the instructor comes in handy—their job is to tell you how to take the turns safely (give yourself the widest possible radius) and when it’s time to brake, which is basically three seconds or so after you gas it up.
There’s certainly a novelty in the experience of driving a bright yellow Lamborghini Gallardo, though. At the Houston or Dallas tracks, which are larger and appear to have more straightaway opportunities, at any rate, pushing the thing to speeds that all but guarantee most drivers a ticket on private roads sounds fun, while learning some of the strategy behind course driving makes the Austin experience interesting in a different way. And the instructors seem to want you to get a lot out of it. The brief classroom session before you get behind the wheel offers some instruction, but also tells you details about those instructors, like the fact that almost all of them have jobs in law, medicine, or engineering. Working with Fittipaldi is more like a hobby for people who like being around these fast cars.
Which makes sense. I’m not a car guy—I ride a bike around town, and if I can keep my 2003 Toyota running for another ten years, I won’t plan to replace it—but very fast, very powerful cars are neat to drive, and even to be around. (Once, as part of another PR thing, I got to drive a Bentley around Austin for a day, and a guy at a bus stop shouted, “Way to go, man!” Fancy cars are exciting!)
Christian Fittipaldi, who co-owns Fittipaldi Exotic Driving, is a former race car driver himself, and transferring some of that experience to people who usually only get to see that sort of thing from afar has its uses. If someone like me, who doesn’t care about cars, gets the thrill of being around Lambos and Ferraris (you feel like you’re in an early aughts rap video!), then it seems like if your dream is to get behind the wheel of a car like that and let it loose, a few hundred dollars (they start in the mid-$200’s for six laps in a Porsche or Nissan, or mid-$400’s for a Lamborghini or Ferrari) to indulge a long-held driving fantasy might be worth it.
Ultimately, though, even as a novelty and a photo-op, the experiences offered by a company like Fittipaldi are at the very least hard to get elsewhere. Racing is unique among popular spectator sports in that there’s little opportunity to go from “fan” to “player”—all you need is a ball and a hoop to give basketball a shot, and anybody with a tire swing and a football can test their arm. Even games like golf—which have clubs and a course as a barrier to entry—are fairly accessible. But racing requires a car, a private track, and the knowledge of how not to wreck a car that costs six figures as you take your turns. There aren’t many opportunities to get all of that at once, so it’s worth it for dreamers to keep an eye on places like Fittipaldi.