Hundreds of thousands of people jam into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each May to watch the annual 500-mile race. The event is an assault on the senses: the whine of the alcohol-fueled turbocharged Chevy and Honda engines mixes with the roar of the spectators packing the stands, the smell of burnt rubber and fuel exhaust, and blur of cars averaging speeds approaching 240 miles an hour.
The best views are in the cars, from mounted television cameras that show everything that's going on in the car. But you can't really, truly understand what it's like down there on the track unless you drive on it yourself. And now, with the Indy Racing Experience Victory Lap, you can do just that, for less money than a night in a cheap hotel.
Of course, it's an adapted experience: you're a passenger, not a driver, and you don't approach Juan Pablo Montoya or Danica Patrick speeds. (Nonetheless, you do go nearly as fast as early Indy 500 winners Ray Harroun and Howdy Wilcox did.) "Our cars are 80 percent the same as a modern racing Indy Car," says Nigel Mathias, who works in the pit crew servicing the specially modified Indy Cars. "The transmission and suspension are the same. The engine is a racing Honda as are on many actual Indy cars, but this one has been detuned."
Indy Racing Experience is the brainchild of Scott Jasek, Joe Kennedy and Jeff Sinden. The group worked with Dallara Automobili, the Italian firm that manufactures the chassis for current Indy race cars, to stretch the chassis of an Indy Car to accommodate a second seat.
After being secured into that second seat of the cramped, roofless, open-wheeled Indy car with a multipoint racing harness, the driver accelerates out of Pit Row onto the gigantic, shallow banked asphalt track. The racer's tires hold the road like it's on rails. The stands and fence posts whizz by, the wind slams against the visor of your helmet, and the full-throated roar of the turbocharged Honda engine makes for a truly memorable experience.
For motor sports enthusiasts who desire a faster experience, three laps at speeds exceeding 180 MPH are available on select days. If you're really serious, you can arrange to drive an Indy car yourself on the track and take it up to 130 MPH.
More Info: $60 for one 2.5-mile lap; Passengers must be shorter than 6' 5" and weight less than 250 pounds; Call 317-243-7171 EXT. 101 for a schedule.