The day of Monster Racing starts with a student-driver’s check-in at the start-finish line. Monster Racing has a variety of packages available, from a four-lap passenger ride to a 30-lap drive program. Many participants receive their day-at-the-racetrack as a gift.
Monster Racing sends all student-drivers a Rule and Safety Handbook in advance. The focus is on creating the excitement of a racing event, not on speed. Monster Racing has specific rules for the safety of the drivers, crews and spectators.
The requirements for participation as a driver in Monster Racing are fairly basic; you must be 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. You need to be in good health, and physically able to enter and exit the race car on your own.
Cars are sized to fit almost all size drivers comfortably. For safety reasons, the seats are bolted to the car frame, and don’t adjust. Monster Car Racing will ask for some personal information in advance, including your height and weight. You’ll be assigned to the car that best fits your size. Drive order is set to maximize car rotation through your driver class.
You’re welcome to bring family members or friends with you to share your day. They can watch you drive from the pits or share in the fun by taking a ride with one of the instructors. Children under the age of 18 have to watch from a designated safety area. Cameras and video equipment are welcome.
Once you’ve checked-in, driver-students are driven around the racetrack for an informative ride loaded with driving tips and safety reminders. The drive also familiarizes the students with the “Monster Mile”- including its 24 degrees of banking through the corners and nine degrees down the shoot. The 24 degrees feels a lot steeper than it sounds when you’re parked and tilted sideways in a van!
After the ride around the track, it’s time for the students to get into their suits and head for the drivers’ meeting. Monster Racing provides a fire resistant driving suit, driving helmet, and driving gloves for all participants. They suggest you wear comfortable, loose fitting street clothes under your driving suit.
In the drivers’ meeting, one of the driver-instructors reviews safety procedures, flag signals, and provides more driving tips.
The driving experience consists of a “follow the leader” format. In most cases, two students drive behind one instructor, and maintain a space of six to eight car lengths. Speed increases every lap. Student-drivers are not allowed to pass one another, but if you get stuck behind a slower driver, don’t worry. The drivers pull over, and the order of drivers switched to allow the instructor and faster student to proceed at a higher speed.
All of this preparation leads up to the main event: driving the cars.
After the meeting, student-drivers walk along the pit road and examine the race cars; snapping pictures standing next to their favorites. A dry erase board posted on the concession stand indicates the order of the student-drivers. Those who had signed up to ride in the passenger seat with one of the instructors are called to the racetrack.
Sharon Mc Cann of Newark found the ride-along not only “great”, but it also “helped reinforce what they said in the orientation. During the drivers’ meeting they showed us on the diagram where to start the turns, but during the ride-along the driver can actually show you on the course where to take the turns. He also turns the steering wheel and travels back and forth on the straightaway and curves, so you develop confidence that the car isn’t going to flip. It will stick to the course.”
Scott Traver of Wilmington agreed his ride along was “really cool” and “the car shouldn’t be able to do what the driver makes it do. It’s not natural for the car to stick to the course at those speeds.”
After watching the instructors drive, and hearing the enthusiasm of their fellow students, the remainder of the student-drivers are even more anxious to get behind the wheel.
If some engines can be described to purr, the race cars’ are more akin to a full-throated snarl. It’s as if they resent being tethered to the pit road, and are as anxious as their drivers to be off racing down the “Monster Mile”. Some drivers pace along the pit road, or watch the other drivers on the track, while waiting their turn. The excitement is palpable, contagious.
Soon it’s your turn, and you climb through the window into the driver’s seat. There are last minute safety instructions, including how to use the fire extinguisher, as they strap you in. Engine noise is loud, and you listen carefully to those last minute tips- but then you realize they’re pulling your leg and telling you remember to relax and breathe.
“We strive to create a sense of group,” said Dyer, “when you get done, we want you to feel like you had the experience with friends.”
The car is remarkably responsive and straightforward to drive. You ease off the pit road, ready to follow the lead driver. As promised in the drivers’ meeting, the first laps are taken slow, to acclimate you to your car. You get the green flag and you’re off.
Each lap is faster, with student-drivers setting the pace. “Unlike racing pros, our instructors spend 95% of their time looking in their review mirrors. They want to know where the students are. The flagmen act as spotters and are in constant communication with the drivers to ensure safety.”
As your confidence and speed increase, you are pushed deeper into the seat on every turn. Yet the tires stick to the track as promised, and the car performs solidly and nimbly. Too soon the checkered flag flashes, and your ten laps are over.
Bill Campbell, of Chesapeake City, was confident he would go even faster on his second 20 laps. Speed, he said, is not the important part. As Monster Racing emphasizes, the key factor is the excitement of the racing experience.
This story was first published in the News Journal in 2002 under the byline of Gail A. Sisolak. All rights reserved.