In about eight weeks, Epcot’s Test Track will close until fall for a major make- over, denying tourists the opportunity to drive 65 mph in a souped-up slot car. Coincidentally, a new Walt Disney World attraction opened in late January that should more than satisfy anyone’s ache for automotive acceleration. The Exotic Driving Experience at the WDW Speedway packs more punch than Mission: Space and the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster combined – and if the hairpins don’t give you a heart attack, the price tag might.
For the record, I’m normally not a fast driver. My regular ride is a humble Honda Fit, and my only-ever speeding ticket was for doing 45 in a 30 mph zone. So when Exotic invited me to take one of their six-figure supercars for a spin, I was equal parts eager and anxious. Even entering the racetrack is a little intimidating; you drive down a steep, narrow tunnel to emerge on the asphalt infield. After signing a raft of terrifying legal releases (none of which would prevent Exotic from suing me over a dented fender), it was time for my crash course in Expensive Cars 101.
Derek, a former racer who led my class of a half-dozen drivers through our DVD-based training, tried to give off a laid-back, reassuring vibe. But the feeling that I was the only one in the room without a Car and Driver subscription did nothing to alleviate my apprehension. Neither did the lesson, starting with the fun fact that the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 I was driving has a MSRP of $220,000. And the POV video demonstrating the track layout, played at nauseating double speed, made me wish I’d spent more time playing Mario Kart.
Twenty nervous minutes later, it was my turn to strap on a bulky safety helmet (complete with sweat-soaking skullcap). Squeezing into the Lamborghini’s low-slung cockpit, I instantly understood that it was unlike any car I’d driven before. For starters, my helmet pressed firmly against the headliner, preventing me from turning my head; I can’t imagine anyone over 6 feet tall fitting inside. Second, instead of a stick shift, all these vehicles feature clutch-free paddle shifters on the steering wheel. While they look foolproof (and can be set to “automatic” mode) I managed to turn on the windshield wipers while trying to downshift. Finally, the speedometer is blacked out, to remove the temptation to take your eyes off the road.
I didn’t need that speedometer to appreciate the incredible potential beneath the hood; I could sense the engine’s 560 horses with the slightest pressure on the gas pedal. Ditto the brakes, which will happily send you spinning if tapped while the wheel is turned. Since I was essentially relearning how to drive from scratch, the first of my six laps around the mile-long course was pathetically slow. I barely broke 45 mph on my first trip down the back stretch around Turn 2 into the straightaway, because I was intent on not missing the Burma Shave–style “5-4-3-2-1” warning signs marking the hairpin turn into the interior “street course” section. My co-pilot barked expert instructions on aiming for the apex of each switchback, but I had to slow to a crawl to stay inside the cones.
By the end of my last lap my lines were improving, but I never felt confident enough to really open her up. Luckily, Dustin let me slide into shotgun as he took me on a two-lap “thrill ride” and showed me how it’s supposed to be done. At speeds exceeding 115 mph, the ride was among the most exhilarating two minutes of my life and left me giggling like a little kid.
On the way out, we compared results from our in-car cameras, which also document speed and RPMs. A fellow media correspondent broke 109 mph on his best lap, and a woman celebrating her 50th birthday by driving her “dream car” hit 101. My drive topped out at an embarrassing 83, but that was nerve-wracking enough for me. At $299 to drive – you can drop down to a Porsche 997S for $199 or upgrade to a Ferrari for $389 – plus $99 each for the video and “thrill ride,” I won’t be practicing my high-speed skills again any time soon. (Disclosure: I drove for free.) But if you are well-heeled and in love with a serious gearhead, I can’t think of a more stimulating Valentine’s Day gift.