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Richard Petty Experience branches out, adds exotic-car driving programs

Tue, 08 Nov 2011 00:00:00 -0800

Stock-car legend Richard Petty is in the market for a few new cars: a couple of Ferraris, a pair of Lamborghinis, an Audi R8 and a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. That's because the Richard Petty Driving Experience is branching out from offering rides and drives in NASCAR-style stock cars. Beginning in January, at least one of the Petty facilities will offer rides and drives in exotic cars. First up is a pilot program at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., at the Petty experience at Walt Disney World Speedway.

“The stock-car business, including NASCAR, has contracted in this tough economy. In 2008, 2009, the industry just kind of took a dive, but it's leveled out,” said Mike Bartelli, chief marketing officer of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. “So we looked at extensions of what we do in the stock-car arena to help build our business, and what we're good at is putting people in cars, safely. We've got the track, we're here year-round, and we know there are people who would love to drive these cars on a race track, given the opportunity.”

The Exotic Driving Experience expects to start out with six exotic cars, with other brands and models to be added in the future. The experience expects to acquire the cars new from local dealers and have the dealers maintain them. The Petty facility at Orlando maintains its own stock cars, but until Ferrari returns to pushrod V8s and four-speed manual transmissions, that probably won't happen.

The Disney program is inspired by what company executives have seen at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Petty has a large presence alongside the Exotics Racing Experience, which offers drives in the aforementioned Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and Audis, as well as Aston Martins and Nissan GT-Rs. Of all the cities where Petty operates, the company thought Las Vegas was the best location, but since it was taken, the company opted for another top vacation destination: Orlando. Executives figure gift certificates will be popular for vacationing families.

Petty would like to offer the Exotic Driving Experience at Daytona International Speedway soon, and likely Homestead-Miami Speedway. Petty offers the stock-car experience at 20 tracks, from California Speedway to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“It's a great idea,” said Andreas Moraitis, sales associate at Porsche of Orlando, who has toured the new track layout. “I've always told customers that as amazing as cars like ours are on the street, you really owe it to yourself to experience their capabilities on a closed track.”

The stock cars run on the original Disney World Speedway, where IndyCar and NASCAR races took place. The mile-long tri-oval is ideal for stock cars, but less so for exotics, so Petty is modifying the infield of the track to allow for a blast up the back straightaway, then a tight right turn into the infield, then executing switchbacks on a now under-construction track before running back onto the big oval.

Prices will start with “Thrill Rides,” with a Petty instructor driving, for $99. The actual driving experience will start at $199 for six laps, with an instructor in the passenger seat. Prices will vary depending on the car. The ride will be preceded by classroom instruction. All of the cars will have automated transmissions--not surprising, as so many exotics, like the Ferrari 458 Italia, no longer come with a manual transmission.

The Petty Experience at Disney World has given stock-car rides and drives to more than 250,000 customers, Bartelli said. “And we think the Exotic Driving Experience has the potential to be every bit as successful as the stock cars.”

For information or to book rides, visit

By Steven Cole Smith