5 racing schools and driving experiences that are worth every penny

The Land Rover Experience takes drivers into Vermont's backcountryThe Land Rover Experience takes drivers into Vermont’s backcountry — Photo courtesy of The Land Rover Experience

Driving a Land Rover into a forest full of bumps, rocks, steep hills and river crossings may be the most fun you’ll ever have at 3 mph.

A mid-spring day in southern Vermont turned out to be a great time to to put a fleet of these vehicles to the test. There’s a good reason why locals refer to this time of year as mud season. The 5-mile Land Rover challenge course in the Battenkill River Valley was rapidly turning into a sluice of sucking mud.

“The experience isn’t weather-dependent. If it’s raining, we don’t care,” says David Nunn, manager of the Land Rover Experience at The Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vermont — one of three such programs operated by the makers of Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles in the United States. (The others are located at the Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel, California, and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.)

Whether you spend an hour behind the wheel or embark on a full-day, off-road trip, there’s one common denominator to this experience: You won’t be going anywhere fast. After all, these are luxury vehicles (some cost over $100,000) and weigh around 5 tons. Over the entire course, we never topped more than 7 mph, and mostly remained under 3 mph.

NASCAR Racing Experience is fun for all agesNASCAR Racing Experience is fun for all ages — Photo courtesy of NASCAR

It was an eye-opening hour of instruction and a cautionary tale for anyone considering getting into deep backcountry. Every rock, rut, incline and hill was carefully monitored on a video screen that provided critical information to the driver. This included the placement and direction of wheels to the angle of the vehicle, which can safely tip up to 20 degrees.

Off-roading is just one type of driving experience. Here are four other racing schools and ultimate driving experiences where you can put yourself in the driver’s seat.

Drive a race car at Skip Barber Racing School

Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock is legendarySkip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock is legendary — Photo courtesy of The Skip Barber Racing School

Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, is a race course that’s always been open to learners. Professional and amateur drivers alike have been competing on the challenging 1.5-mile Lime Rock track since the early 1950s.

This iconic course, which follows the natural terrain of Litchfield Hills, is home to the Skip Barber Racing School. (The former pro driver owns Lime Rock.) Their four-hour “ROUSH Performance Intro to Racing School” classes get students behind the wheel of a 750-horsepower Ford Mustang for a few unforgettable loops around the track.

This school also offers more intensive one-day and multi-day racing school sessions. You can find this program at race tracks in other states, including California, Georgia, Texas and Virginia.

Take the wheel at NASCAR Racing Experience

A NASCAR race car on the trackA NASCAR race car on the track — Photo courtesy of Torrey Wiley/CC by 2.0

Sports fans may never get to shag fly balls in Fenway Park or catch a pass at Lambeau Field, but you can live the dream of steering a NASCAR race car around the oval at the storied Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500.

The NASCAR Racing Experience includes both ride-along (you’re the passenger while a professional drives) and behind-the-wheel sessions with nearly 50 minutes of track time — including pit stops and the chance to pass slower drivers. The experience is offered at over a dozen race tracks across the U.S.

Steer multiple vehicles at Las Vegas Off Road Experience

A Razor ATV is fun to drive off-roadA Razor ATV is fun to drive off-road — Photo courtesy of Chris/CC by 2.0

It doesn’t get more Las Vegas than the larger-than-life Las Vegas Off Road Experience, where you can participate in a variety of high-octane activities — and there’s a variety to choose from. Drive an array of off-road vehicles and take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon!

Some of the driving experiences here include the option of steering a pro race truck through a one-mile, contoured, dirt track or catching big air and gnarly bumps in a dune buggy, Razor ATV or a Pro Rally car. All are guaranteed to thrill.

Hop in the driver’s seat at Dirtfish Rally School

The Dirtfish Rally School offers a firsthand experience on the trackThe Dirtfish Rally School offers a firsthand experience on the track — Photo courtesy of Dirtfish Rally School

Want to get more serious about rally racing? The Dirtfish Rally School in Snoqualmie, Washington, will put you through the paces on a 300-acre campus that includes more than 30 rally race courses.

Students can choose from several options, including a half-day, full-day or three-day instruction. Learn to drive on a variety of challenging surfaces. There are also classes in controlled skidding and high-speed braking in specially tuned Subaru BRZ and WRX STI rally cars.

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