31 March 2000

My Mom had purchased the "Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) Rookie Experience" at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) for me as one of my Christmas presents this past year.  I called the school and we scheduled for the 31 March class. This was going to be a great day and an experience of a lifetime..  I couldn't wait for it to get here..
  My Dad and I headed to Atlanta at 7:00 am on the morning of the 31st.  The forecast was for 20% chance of scattered showers.  Seemed like a good bet to me..  We got to Atlanta and decided to stop at Denny's for a quick cup of coffee and some breakfast before driving the last 20 minutes to AMS..  We drove to AMS after eating and got there about 0930..  I didn't need to be there until 1030, so we checked in at the Media Center and went out to Pit Road to watch the 0800 class do their driving.  My Dad had never been in the infield of AMS so we walked around and he took some pictures while just taking in the sights and sounds of the infield..
For those that have never gone to the RPDE and might be thinking about it, here's what happened:
  At 1030, we headed back in to the Media Center and sat down for our turn.  The front desk lady came out and issued us our driver suits. (If you plan on going, take my advice, wear shorts or something.. Those suits don't like going over jeans)  After we all had our suits, the head instructor, Dave, came out and let us watch a 5 minute film of Richard Petty explaining was going to happen for the next 45 minutes before we hit the track..  After the film, we were split into 4 groups of drivers.  There is a competition between the 4 groups, so hope you get with some good drivers.  Something is supposed to be awarded to the fastest group at the end of the day..(I don't know what... I'll explain that later)..  I was in Group 1.  That was a pretty good group to be in.  A lot of guys that just wanted to go fast and a very nice looking female instructor, Tina Gordon. (Tina's Website)  Yep, luck was on my side today..  We went out to the RPDE vans and piled in.  Tina took us out to Pit Road and parked and told us the safety procedures we had to follow.  What the flags meant, how far to be behind your instructor when out on the track, where the "groove marks" were, ect.  Speaking of flags, they actually have a flag that is red with a big "4" on it.  It means, shift to 4th gear.  She said you would not know how many times a day they have to use that flag.  People get so wound up and the adrenaline is flowing so much, they actually forget to shift from third..  After that briefing, she took us out on the track to show us the groove, give us a few pointers and let us know what the instructor was going to do with us.  During the tour, she stopped in between turns 3 and 4 right in the racing groove.  All of us in the back of the van were hanging on to the seat to keep from sliding into the guy sitting next to us.. (That's some steep banking there...heh).. Then, she takes us down and hits turns 1 and 2 about 60 mph.  We didn't even feel the banking then..  Centrifugal force is a pretty cool thing.. heh..  We did about 4 laps that way and she showed how to get around the track.  During the tour, the rain started to come down slightly..  After the track tour, went back in the pits and got the "in car" safety briefing.  They showed how to fasten the helmet, safety belts, work the window net, the fire system, the quick disconnect on the steering wheel, and how to get in and out of the car.  Pretty interesting briefing for someone that had never been near or in a race car.
    After the in car briefing, we went back in the pits and took our "Driver Pic" and our group shot with the RPDE car. Then we waited for the other 3 groups to get done with theirs.  By the time all that was done, the rain was still coming down.  The track was starting to wash out.  The instructors said the only way to save the track was for all of us to get in out passenger cars and run around the track trying to keep it warm and keep it dry until the rain subsided.  So, of course, we all ran out to our cars to run the track in them.  We were allowed passengers, so my Dad and I got into his Porsche and headed out in line to run the track.  We ran about 15-20 laps before the track went away completely.  The rain never stopped and actually got heavy at times.  They pulled us back in and called us to the media center.  We lost the window.  So, we would have to reschedule for another day.
Although I didn't get to drive one of the stock cars, I got the tour of the track, all the briefings and even got to do 15 or so laps around the speedway in my dad's Porsche with him by my side.  And, now we get to do it all over again on another day.  I think it was well worth a rain out. 
We took quite a few pics and a few of them are down below.  I will update this page with more pics and the rest of the story when I reschedule and take the full course..  If you have thought about doing this and weren't sure, take my advice, DO IT!!!!!  It is awesome...  And the staff is very courteous and professional.  You cannot go wrong by doing the "Experience."

UPDATE: 20 Oct 2001...  I made up my rain delay..  My dad and I went back out to the track and tried it again.  The day was perfect and the first part of the day went exactly as I described back in March.. The biggest difference, Tina Gordon wasn't there.. She was, at that moment, on her way to a Top 10 finish at Talladega in the ARCA race.  Well, I ,again, got with a good group of guys and I had feeling we were going to find out what was awarded to the fastest group..  I was right.. We were the fastest of the 4 groups that day..  They won't say which one person had the fastest lap of the day, but they say which group had the fastest overall speed.  They said telling the fastest personal lap has caused fights in the parking lot.. LOL... We got a group picture of the 8 of us around a Petty Enterprises car (The 44 car..).. Pretty cool pic..  Well, below are the pics from the first trip out there and then the new ones from Oct 20.. We also took 4 mpegs of me and my instructor going down the frontstretch during my time on the track. You can download them below. I still tell you, if you are thinking about doing it, GO!! It's awesome!!!

31 March 01
Sign inCar ClassDriver PicOn Track in Porsche

20 Oct 01

Download the Mpegs for the 20th.

Richard Petty Driving Experience Web Site