On a beautiful autumn afternoon, we arrived in Monterey; a wonderfully quaint beach town that is even more attractive during the off season. Gone is the crush of people with the wildlife still there to impress us. The ocean is alive with sea otters bobbing happily in massive tangles of kelp, cormorants diving for fish and prehistoric-looking pelicans trawling the waters can be seen just outside our hotel window.
We are not here for a quaint or cute small town experience or even for the calming rhythm of the ocean waves. We are here to take part in an all day racing school at the world renowned Laguna Seca Raceway.
Leaving the existing tranquil setting at 7:00am with our heart rates elevated knowing deep down this is going to be unlike anything we have ever experienced. The day starts with an introduction from our racing instructors, each a seasoned professional race car driver. Every driver comes with a humorous story to share, which immediately puts us more at ease. I get the feeling that behind each rugged smile hangs a plethora of wild and wonderful racing stories just waiting to come out.
Each instructor is responsible for a group of eight and we are assigned two per vehicle. Our first car is the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Gullwing, which boasts roughly 622 horsepower and starts up with an intensified roar from the performance engine. For the morning we rotate between stations; Agility Slalom and Drag Race, Skid Pad (Wet Cornering), ABS Brakes on Lane Change and Line Technique. Each station is geared to teach a driving skill, safety or emergency technique. We unlearn bad driving habits, how to accelerate, brake and steer properly. Each exercise is exhilarating as we swap from passenger to driver seat and are encouraged to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. By the noon break, I am feeling confident in my driving skill and eager to feed an almost insatiable desire to go faster.
The afternoon schedule is full-tilt amateur racing – or at least it feels this way to us. We complete three lead and follow sessions on the track; each session is four laps where every car takes a turn being the lead. The goal is to follow the instructor as closely as possible, which means keeping up your speed and hitting all your marks and using the entire track. We apply every skill learned earlier in the day (thankfully there was no use of any emergency techniques).
As the sunny California afternoon wiles away and our confidence grows, we discover there are few things in life more exhilarating than hurtling around a hairpin corner, hearing the glorious throaty rumble of a big bore engine as you punch the gas for the straight-away or passing your fellow drivers as you take the lead for the next lap.
This experience is not for the weak at heart but rather a great fit for an adrenaline junky or car enthusiast. It is addictive I must say; I think we’ve just found ourselves a new hobby!