Porche Experience Center—Atlanta
Porche Experience Center—Atlanta

A fast track to life in the fast lane

Want a taste of the pulse-pounding speed and adrenaline rush that race-car drivers relish? That’s what three members of my family enjoyed during a recent session at Porsche’s Experience Center.

Porsche is just one of several manufacturers of high-performance autos to offer programs aimed at driver development and having some fun on the racetrack. From multi-day schools to shorter sessions geared for drivers of all ability levels, opportunities abound to practice skills and experience speed. Many of these facilities also provide amenities for non-driver guests, including viewing areas, exhibitions, simulator labs, dining, and accommodations.

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Here are a few options to consider:

Porsche. With the opening of state-of-the-art Experience Centers in Atlanta and Los Angeles in 2015, Porsche initiated a program for car enthusiasts to test the capabilities of various models on purpose-built tracks. You select a car to drive for 90 minutes, work one-on-one with a coach, and experience diverse track surfaces. Prices begin at $350, depending on the model you choose. For more in-depth training, Porsche offers one- and two-day courses at its Sport Driving School in Birmingham, Alabama.

BMW. You can get behind the wheel of select models at BMW Performance Centers in Greer, South Carolina, and Thermal, California. The Performance Drive is instructor-led (by radio) and includes exercises in stability control, braking, and other accident-avoidance techniques. Prices for the two-hour Performance Drive and one-hour M Track Drive begin at $299.

Additionally, BMW hosts the Ultimate Driving Experience in different cities each year. These events feature clinics in teen, autocross, drag-strip, and street driving, and are generally free. (One exception is a full-day M-Car Clinic, which costs $750.)

Mercedes-Benz. Along with specialized courses, such as ice and snow driving in northern Sweden, Mercedes-AMG Academy offers one- to three-day programs at four renowned U.S. tracks: Road Atlanta, Circuit of the Americas in Texas, Laguna Seca Raceway in California, and Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. The one-day programs, offered in performance and drift technique, take drivers through customized exercises that focus on vehicle dynamics and controlled maneuvers. Prices begin at $1,195.