I’ve watched NASCAR races on TV many times and have learned over time that there is a lot more to it than just driving around in a circle for a few hours.

I’m amazed at the 200-plus mph speeds and a bit frightened about the close proximity of the drivers to each other, and I can identify with the adrenaline-pumping thrill when it comes down to the wire in the race for the checkered flag.

If you like NASCAR (or just have a lead foot), you too can experience the need for speed at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Owned and operated by Petty Holdings, LLC, Richard Petty Driving Experience is the worldwide leader in NASCAR stock car drive-and-ride entertainment. The company also produces and facilitates auto manufacturer drive-and-ride programs, safe driving programs, mobile marketing events and motorsports-related production services for the television and film industry.

RPDE is located at 19 different professional racetracks across the country, offering participants a range of racing fun in a 600-hp car at speeds up to 155 mph. These tracks include Dover International Speedway, nicknamed The Monster Mile; Chicagoland Speedway, among NASCAR’s newer tracks; Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 1.54 mile quad-oval track; Las Vegas Motor Speedway, host to a number of racing series, including NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide; and Daytona International Speedway, known as the World Center of Racing.

Depending on the location, participants must be at least either 16 or 18 years old, 250 pounds or less (the driving suits go up to size 4X), and have the ability to climb through the car window—just like they do on TV—to get into the car. Even the tallest among us can participate, as long as you are no taller than 6-foot-5.

Safety is of the utmost importance at RPDE. Participants are outfitted with a regulation helmet and head harness, just like what the pros wear, and the cars go through a strict quality assurance program, as well as daily inspections.

In total, there are 16 different RPDE drive and ride-along experiences, although some are only offered at certain racetracks. But no matter which option you take, you’re sure to have a hair-raising good time.

Before hitting the track, participants who choose the driving experience go through safety and instruction training, before getting into the car, in car and on the track. The last includes guidance from a professional driver sitting in the passenger seat, who provides pointers on acceleration, braking, driving line, technique and so forth (and they have emergency controls, too). If you don’t know how to operate a manual transmission (stick shift), they offer “push starts” to get you moving.

Driving with that much power under the hood not your thing? Then opt for a shotgun experience with one of their trained professionals at speeds up to 165 miles per hour. The ride-along experience is three fast-paced laps that are sure to raise your blood pressure, and the junior ride-alongs allow the young ones in your life to get in on the fast-paced action as well.

NOT EXACTLY “LOW RIDER”

As excited as I was to go around the track with my professional driver, I was scared out of my wits—at first. Once he started the car and revved up the engine, it took a mere few seconds before we exited Pit Road and bounded onto the track.

Two gear shifts later and we were on the incline, flying by the stands with the full 600-hp force at our beck and call. I admit, I screamed the whole time. My driver must have thought it was funny, because he kept going faster and closer to the wall, but it was totally worth it!

Although I joked that it was a good thing I am done having kids (because my eggs definitely got scrambled), it was an incredible experience. It really gives you a glimpse into the rush that professional NASCAR drivers must get every time they enter a race.

I definitely want to do it again, but I want to try taking the wheel into my own hands to experience (albeit at much slower speeds, but still over 100 mph) the full “race car frontal.”

If you really want to feel like you’re participating in all of the NASCAR action, opt for a race ride, a ride-along held during select NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks and weekends, with the roar of the crowds in the stands.

So put the pedal to the metal and enjoy the thrill of a lifetime with the Richard Petty Driving Experience!

Lysa Allman-Baldwin is a freelance writer and the publisher and editor of Amazing Escapades: Adventures for the mind, bod and belly (www.AmazingEscapades.com). She can be reached at editor@amazingescapades.com.