Published stories from George Miller, a journalist, photographer, educator, carpenter, world traveler, dog-lover and home owner. You can reach him at

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Live your NASCAR dreams in 5 minutes or less

From the Daily News, published in July, 2004:

FIRST, YOU SEE the looks on their faces.

When people step out of a Nextel Cup style stock car after doing a few laps at about 170 miles per hour, they are beaming. There is a quick moment of bewilderment – the return to terra firma is a strange sensation compared the centrifugal force inside the 600-horse power speed machine, but the smiles prevail.

And then you hear the expletives.

“Holy s**t!” said Dave Thomas of Perkasie, PA. “That was f***ing awesome!

It’s a typical response at the Pocono Raceway where Stock Car Racing Experience operates and Jeff Gordon wannabes live their dreams.

It’s not the Schuylkill at rush hour on a Friday afternoon. You can get behind the wheel of a 358 Chevy and fly like Bobby Labonte at a speed nearly three times the legal limit of the road you take to get to the track. For a somewhat intimidating price, you can pretend you are the Intimidator himself, hugging the curves as the smell of burning rubber emanates around you, the world shakes and the engine screams.

Since 1998, Stock Car Racing Experience has provided race fans and speed freaks the opportunity to zip around the 2.5-mile tri-oval track like Tony Stewart fighting for pole position. After a few hours of driving discussion and training, you suit up in racing gear, don your helmet, and strap yourself tightly into a real stock car.

If you don’t want to drop the cash it takes to drive the car yourself – about $469, you can ride shotgun as a professional driver does all the work.

That’s what I did. It seems less romantic than driving yourself but the thrill is still there.

Jerry Woody, my driver, had our car maxed out in 4th gear by the time we were out of pit row. Strapped into a specially built car that would balance our weight, Woody tried to reassure me in his good old boy racer voice.

“If you start to feel uncomfortable, give me a thumbs down,” he said.

But I had already been warned.

“The first turn is kind of scary,” said Thomas, a chemist and fellow first time rider. “You’re just getting a feeling for the car and it’s like, WHOA!”

As we left Pit Row and entered Turn 1, my whole body, despite being securely fastened by a five-point seat belt, was thrown right. I lifted my hand to take notes and it drifted into the side of the car. Meanwhile, Woody was leaning into the curve just like you are supposed to.

We came out of Turn 1 and flew down the Long Pond straightaway. I could feel every bump in the road and each minute touch of the steering wheel.

We slammed into Turn 2 and the car slipped a little as we drove over an asphalt patch.

After Turn 3, we flew past the 100,000-seat grandstand on the main 3,740 feet straightaway. I barely saw it. At 165 miles per hour, it was a white blur.

For $109, you get three laps for a total of 7.5 miles. The whole experience takes less than five minutes.

“It’s not like pedaling vacuum cleaners,” said Jesse Roverana, 41, president of Stock Car Racing Experience and 26 year veteran of the sport. “Nobody complains when they get the bill.”

It was amazing.

“Just look at the people when they get out of the cars,” said Woody, 45, who drives about 250 miles per day on weekdays and up to 350 on weekends. He also drives competitively on short tracks but he makes his living as the owner of a jewelry store.

“No one is out here for the money,” said Roverana.

Most of the 23-member racing support staff has other jobs. One guy hangs blinds. There are a few retired workers including a former policeman. They all just want to be a part of the sport.

“We used to allow one free ride for every employee’s family member but everyone was becoming a member of the family,” said Roverana. “You get one free beer from someone and all the sudden she’s your sister or something.”

Richard Fossett of Long Island, NY has been making annual visits to the track since 1998 when his daughters chipped in for a drive as a birthday present.

“I was hooked,” said Fossett. “Now I’m addicted. I can’t get enough.”

When we met, he was grinning as he watched other drivers, his suit unzipped to reveal a Jeff Gordon t-shirt. He was waiting for his chance to drive but he seemed completely content to be at the track with the sounds of revving cars in the background.

“There is no feeling like it,” he said. “Its worth the bucks. If I could afford to come back 5 times a year, I would.”

A few years ago, he brought 11 people from his office to experience the excitement that he finds so intoxicating. Fossett has been an inspector for the Division of Motor Safety for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles for 18 years.

“They loved it!” he said.

After my ride, I watched the activity at the track for a few hours. Children stared out at Pit Row, admiring the drivers in their fancy blue suits as though they were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott Sadler or Jimmie Johnson. Family and friends took pictures and shot video. Cars eased into and screeched out of pit row, with support crew pouring gas, changing tires and tending to drivers needs just like on race day.

Fossett warned me about the drive home after a day at the track.

“When you’re in the car going home,” he said, “it feels like those yellow lines are going by so slow.”

Lost in reverie - still thinking about my 170 mph ride, I flew down the turnpike towards Philadelphia. About 30 minutes into the trip, I saw flashing lights in my rearview mirror.

I was still smiling when the officer handed me a speeding ticket.

Then came the expletives.

If you go:

If you want to ride in a 600-horse power, 4-speed Nextel Cup style stock car with 110-inch wheelbase, Hurst shifter, Bassett Racing Wheels, Hutcherson-Pagan chassis and Penske Racing Shocks, call 877/ 786-2522 or visit

Eight laps for a total of 20 miles, with several hours of instruction and training, will cost you $469 Monday through Thursday or $525 on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

You can double your drive time for $929 (M –Th) or $985 (F, Sa, Su). Other packages with more time on the track and greater coaching are also available.

Three laps in a stock car with a professional driver at the helm costs $109.

Family and friends are invited to watch, roam the pit area and take pictures. There is a snack stand where drinks and light fare are served.

To get to the Pocono Raceway, take the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (476) north to exit 95. Take I-80 east to new exit 284, the Richard Petty Exit. Turn right onto Route 115 for 3 miles. Turn left onto Long Pond Road and enter the Pocono Raceway at Earnhardt Road, Gate #1.