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First Coast Finds Richard Petty First Coast News

DAYTON, Fla. -- If you've lived in Jacksonville for awhile and you love NASCAR you've probably made it down to Daytona to watch the 500 race in February.

Many folks dream of getting on that track and playing race car driver. Well, now you can do just that, by attending the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Daytona International Speedway.

A few weeks ago Phil Amato had an opportunity to fulfill his need for speed and at the same time, get a real feel of what it's like to be a NASCAR pro.

Before hitting the track, you must put on a racing suit. Then after a short class, where you listen to a live instructor talk about the rules of the road, you head out to the track for one of the fastest rides of your life.

"You could probably get up to 165 miles an hour, if you listen to everything I say," said Greg Aumick."

First Phil, put on a racing bonnet, helmet and HANS restraint system. Then he got into the passenger seat while Aumick drove around and showed him the ropes.

"To go really fast, your right tire should be on the right track hash mark going into the turns," said Aumick.

"From Jacksonville, Florida, Mr. Phil Amato," the track announcer screams into the microphone. The first challenge is getting in the driver's seat. The Petty people instruct me to lift my right leg to climb into the car. By mistake, I hike my left leg and decide that's not going to work. I quickly follow the directions and I'm in the seat being buckled in with a five point harness. The track announcer then says the most famous words in all of racing. "Drivers start your engines!"

Aumick pressed the start button and the engine roared to life.

"Spot the first mark going into the corner," Amumick advised. I do just that and the car effortlessly makes it around the 31 degree, four story banked curve. Before you know it, I'm driving a race car at the Super Bowl of racing.

After a few laps, I caught up to one of my slower colleagues, so what now? "We're going to make a pass on this car," said Aumick. I drive slightly to the right and quickly zoom past my fellow student. Eight laps later, I take the car back into the pits and find out how my instructor thought I did. "When you were driving down that backstretch, I said 'he's doing awesome, he's doing a great job.'"

How fast did I go? The computer calculated my top speed was 167 mph. "Outstanding, 167, that is phenomenal," said Aumick. Eight laps of adrenaline fueled fun were over in no time. I recommend the experience for anyone who enjoys cars, racing or just going fast. The cost for eight laps is $449. You can also ride shotgun and be driven by a professional instructor starting at $99. Richard Petty Driving Experience at Daytona

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