Pat and Jay at Exotics Racing Las Vegas (Happy 60th Birthday, Jay!)

The “Team” surprised me at my 60th birthday party with a gift certificate from Exotics Racing in Las Vegas.  Exotics Racing bills itself as “an exotic car racing school in Las Vegas where you can drive a fleet of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Porsches, McLarens, Audis, Corvettes, and Nissans on a race track.” Located adjacent to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (the NHRA drag strip in Las Vegas), Exotics Racing has a dedicated road course and 14 truly exotic cars to choose from.  It’s a gear head’s dream!

  • The facility, open 7 days a week, is approximately 15 miles NE of the Las Vegas Strip.

The facility, open 7 days a week, is approximately 15 miles NE of the Las Vegas Strip.  If you are staying on the Strip, it is best to use a limousine or Exotics Racing’s shuttle service rather than taking a cab.  If you will be racing more than one car, plan on being there for around 2 hours.  In the photo below looking east, the west grandstands of Las Vegas Motor Speedway are visible.

It was good my “team” was large because when they pooled their money, they were able to afford an “Extreme Driving Experience Package.” An Extreme Package allows you to choose from 14 different experiences which vary based on the number and type(s) of cars you select and how many laps you can drive.  The most seat time is 17 laps in a single-car package with a Mercedes SLS AMG, Aston Martin Vantage, Nissan GTR, or an Audi R8 V10.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, a three-car combo package includes 5 laps per car.  After much deliberation, I ultimately chose “Combo 3” which included a Ferrari 430F1, a Lamborghini Gallardo, and a Nissan GTR.  Each package includes classroom instruction, a “discovery lap” with a professional racing instructor in a Porsche Cayenne GTS, and your own racing experience with an in-car professional instructor.  For an additional charge, you can receive an on-board video of your driving experience including telemetry.

The first car to arrive was their top-of-the-line, lime-green Lamborghini Aventador LP700 (MSRP $400,000+, 700 HP, AWD, 6.5L V12, 7-speed semi-automatic–not dual clutch, but shifts are accomplished in 50 milliseconds.)  At that point, I knew we were not in Montana anymore.

One by one, other cars began to appear.  Most drivers took a few warm-up laps around the track, and the sound was incredible.  Soon the tented paddock was filled with exotic cars of every color and configuration. Patrons were allowed full access to the cars for picture taking, sitting in, and just plain drooling over.

Promptly at 9:45 a.m., the classroom instruction began with a brief, yet thorough, introduction for drivers and guests as to what to expect and how to get the most out of the cars.  A diagram of the proper racing line was explained and information provided regarding the marking of braking points, turn-in points, apex points, and turn-out points.  The drivers were of all
ages and from as far away as Australia.  At the end of the classroom session, various enhancements were offered at discount rates to add laps or
vehicles; the two-for-one discount for additional laps is something I would highly recommend.  As the instructor predicted, it takes most of the 5-lap basic package to learn the course and the car.  The additional 2 or 4 laps allow you to really have fun and lower your lap times.

We then got in small groups to take our “discovery lap” in a Porsche Cayenne where the instructor reinforced what we had just learned in the classroom about the proper driving line and the various cones marking braking points, apexes, etc.

After returning from our discovery lap, we were herded back into the building for helmets and assignment to the instructor for the cars we had chosen.  It was recommended that we choose the “half helmets” if we were taller or driving small-cockpit cars such as the Lamborghinis.

I had decided to first drive the Ferrari F430F1, the least powerful of the three Ferrraris offered by Exotics Racing with a 4.3L V8 and 490hp at 8,500 rpm.  MSRP is approximately $220,000. The next step up is the F430 Scuderia which is rated at 510hp, and topping the list is the F458 Italia with a 4.5L V8 featuring 560hp. The Scuderia and the F458 both have MSRPs of approximately $300,000.  It didn’t take too long to settle into the Ferrari and learn the location of the important controls. All cars at Exotics Racing are automatics that can be operated either by paddle shifters or as fully automatic.  Take it from me, the paddle shifters are great.  No clutches to engage or revs to match–just shift up or down.
After a little light banter with the instructor, I engaged first gear and headed out of the pits.

In the classroom session, we were told not to look at the speedometer, tach, or anything else on the dash–we were to focus on where we were supposed to go.  We were to shift by “sound” or at the direction of the instructor.  Drivers proceed to the entry point of the track and await the instructor’s signal to go.  I had never used a paddle shifter before, but I got used to them pretty quickly.  The only time I messed up was when I attempted to downshift the Nissan GTR by pulling in on the turn signal lever at the end of the main straight.  (Note the video
cameras mounted adjacent to the rear-view mirror in the photo below.)

The F430F1 has a curb weight of 3,197 pounds, just a bit more than my Z06.  The mid-engine car was well balanced and went wherever I pointed it without protest.  The brakes were incredible, but the instructors got a little edgy if you blew past the braking cones without starting your deceleration.  Even though they were not V-12s, the Ferraris had the sweetest sounding exhaust systems!  Taking the Ferrari first proved to be a good decision.  The instructor indicated that I could have gotten more speed out of the car, but I was shifting too early.  I told him my Z06 redline was quite a bit less than the Ferrari’s 8,500 rpm.

When I finished driving the Ferrari, I returned to the building to find the “Team Owner” who was putting my new digital camera through its paces.  Five race laps in a quarter-million dollar Ferrari had definitely “got my motor running” and immediately I was asked, “what car do you want to drive next?”  I had thought I would have to wait in line until
other cars were freed up, but that was not the case.  I decided to relax a bit and have a drink of water while throttling back the adrenaline.

It didn’t take too long to get the itch for my next car, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550.  Exotics Racing features three Lamborghini models, the Aventador mentioned above, the LP550 and the Superleggera LP570. The Gallardo LP550 is a 5.2L V10 with 550hp at 8,000 rpm, while the Superleggera is a racier version of the Gallardo with 570hp.  MSRPs for these two beauties are $245,000 and $265,000, respectively.

Driving the Lamborghini was fantastic.  It is the same weight as the Ferrari, but has 60 more hp and the sound of the V10 was not as loud as the Ferrari, but sweeter.  I set my fastest lap times of the three cars in the Lamborghini which gave me the impression it would do anything I asked it to do–again, without complaint of any kind.  It was completely comfortable to add steering or acceleration at any point through a corner as the car was very predictable and stable.  (No wonder Justin Bieber drives a Gallardo!) It was with great reluctance that I parked the Lambo and turned off the ignition.

The last car I drove was the Nissan GT-R “Godzilla.” The AWD 3.8L Twin-Turbo V6 530hp beast was a car I have wanted to drive for a long time.  The least expensive of the cars I had chosen (MSRP $115,000), I was certain it would deliver nonetheless.  The other instructors had cautioned me that the Nissan was heavier and would have to be driven accordingly.  At 3,820 lbs, there was a noticeable difference, but the GT-R is no Crown Victoria.  At the end of the day, the Nissan beat my best lap time in the Ferrari, but to be fair, I should have taken the Ferrari out one more time to be sure.  The GT-R is a strong-pulling beast, but it has some body roll and it takes a little more effort to haul down; see photo of the front brakes after my runs.  No doubt about it, I still love the GT-R.

After climbing out of the GT-R, I located the “Team Owner” who informed me that after giving it a great deal of thought, she had narrowed her choice of cars down to the Mercedes SLS AMD (6.2L V8, 563hp, MSRP $201,500) or the Audi R8 V10 (525hp Lamborghini V10 AWD, MSRP $190,000).

Not having much coin left in my pockets, instead I purchased a $99 ride-along “drifting experience” for her in a 505hp Z06. The Filipino driver, Rudy Ibanez, is currently a factory drift pilot in the US and Japan for Weld Racing.  She told him, “Go faster!” through the 90 mph drifts, and she told me, “I want to do that 100 more times!” when she emerged from 2 laps in the Vette.

How do you finish a day like that?  At In-and-Out Burger, of course!

Can’t wait until next time……..


Region Loses One of its Best: Dwight Gilliland

Dwight Gilliland

Dwight Gilliland

Dwight Gilliland passed away on February 21, 2014, at age 61, after a long battle with chronic health issues.  Godspeed, Dwight!

Below is Dwight’s YSCCA Profile while he was with us

My introduction to sports cars came when I was 4 or 5 years old, living in California. A college student who was renting a room from us would occasionally take me for a ride in his MG TD. Ten years later in Billings, MT, I was racing off-road in a dune buggy I had built. Two members of the local sports car club came to one of our off-road meetings to invite us to an autocross. Two weeks after that, I got my driver’s license, lowered my car, and took my first turn around a pylon. Life has not been “normal” since.
Another ten years and I was still autocrossing all over Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and South Dakota in everything from a Bugeye Sprite to a Lamborghini. I was also road racing in cars ranging from a Caldwell Formula Ford to a McLaren-Matich Can-Am.

At that point, my sponsors and banks decided that I should try a different job and I couldn’t come up with a good counterargument. Still obsessed with speed, I went to work for other race teams. It has been my good fortune to work for teams running under various sanctioning bodies all over the world. I’ve done stints as a mechanic, crew chief, fabricator, and occasionally, driver.

After many years of listing “Holiday Inn” as my permanent address, Billings, MT, called me back home.

My second attempt at building a dedicated autocross car resulted in the “Avenger.” The “Avenger” has taken me to two 4ths, a 5th, and a 10th at SCCA Solo Nationals, and resulted in a National Championship for my wife, Kristi. I also set new overall records at various events sanctioned by the Northwest Hillclimb Association.

Kristi and I are now driving a Lotus Elan, Subaru WRX, and a dog sled.

>My thanks to our sport for a unique lifestyle and all the friends that have come with it.

Year End Party and Award Ceremony

The winners of the Dick Hager Memorial “Spirit of the Sport” award and the Grant Cameron Memorial “Driver of the Year” award were announced at the Region’s Year-End Party at The Windmill Restaurant on February 1, 2014.  In the photo above, Regional Executive Chris Brewer awards the “Spirit of the Sport” award to Dean Johnson and the “Driver of the Year” award to Ben Caudill.  The party was well-attended despite the chilly weather.  Everyone in attendance appeared to have a great time!


Abarth Track Experience

z001Want to learn how to really drive a Fiat Abarth?  Just buy one and use your VIN to register for the freeAbarth Track Experience at one of several professional race tracks around the country.  It’ll be the high performance drive of your life!

The Region Webmaster/Secretary-Treasurer/Newsletter Editor took me to the exclusive Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL, west of Chicago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary in a Fiat.  Our day-long Track Experience included driving both autocross and a road course, definitely an exhilarating experience for a novice. The Autobahn is performance car heaven with no speed limits where individual memberships can be purchased for a $35,000 initiation fee and annual dues of $4,000.  Yellowstone Region could purchase a corporate membership (4 designated members) for an initiation fee of only $112,000 and annual dues of $16,000 a great club investment!  Check out venue features at

The upscale event began with a shuttle ride from the parking lot to the clubhouse and a spin around the ample breakfast buffet.  We drivers need to keep up our strength!  Orientation included a brief video about Karl Alberto Abarth (pronounced “Ah-Bart”), the Austrian genius who started his career designing and racing motorcycles.  A friend of Ferry Porsche, Abarth turned to car design and in 1952 built the first Abarth 1500; eventually Abarth became the racing department of Fiat.  And then we bought one.

z002Before buckling into one of the fleet of Abarths parked curb-side, each driver got a flash drive to video every event with two in-car cameras, one facing the road and one facing the driver; a computer also tracked the car’s position on the course and the lap/time/MPH/RPM in real-time.  Of course, I’m sure we drove much faster than the telemetry indicated.

[youtube_sc url=”rZxEisQ5iu0″]

We 52 drivers were assigned to either “Team Shake & Bake” or “Team Hollywood,” so our goal was to beat the other team in two timed autocross events.  The first course gave each driver a chance to race the clock; fast time was turned in by Bobby, our S&B team leader, at just over 26 seconds.  The second figure-8 course was a head-to-head competition that pitted two drivers against each other on mirrored courses; this was definitely more exciting and challenging because of a required full stop in the middle of the run.  J won the face off competition among the Shake & Bakers.

Each event venue offered shade and snacks (again, for keeping up our strength!), welcome hospitality in the Midwest where August heat and humidity are usually oppressive though our weather was perfect. A gourmet lunch offered the chance to talk with other Abarth owners of all ages, shapes, and skill levels, and the cadre of professional drivers who coached us at each event.

During breaks from our road course work on the North Course, we watched local drivers in a various cars blast around the South Course.  We also checked out the fleet of performance cars Autobahn members can rent.  (J. was whining about taking out the Ferrari California pictured below, but I told him he could only drive yellow cars.)


Then it was our turn to hit the North Course, a 1.46 mile circuit with 9 turns (6 right + 3 left), marked with braking, turn, and apex cones.  We put on helmets and jumped into an Abarth where a professional driver was already in the passenger seat, waiting to coach us through the course. We plugged in the flash drive and hit the track.  It was AWESOME, and I could definitely give up my day job to just go FAST.


Each driver had seven turns to drive the 2 laps of the course before pulling into pit lane and waiting while others drove with ourcoach.  Initially, we were limited to 3rd gear; as we learned the track in successive drives, we could use all gears, as fast as we wanted to go.  With each drive, our coach had less advice for me as I began to figure out what those cones really meant; I finally conceded that he might be right about how to get around the course, braking strategically and using the full 40 feet of track width.

z005The last event of the day was our ride-along with a professional driver at the wheel who showed us what an Abarth can do on the road course when it’s driven by someone who drives for a living.  But just like at our local events, being a passenger is much less fun than being a driver so I would have given up that hot lap for lots more of my own.

Remarkably, with no racing modifications, the Abarth stood up to every driver’s skill, from those of us who had no experience to hard-core seasoned drivers.  Want to elevate your heart rate and learn about driving a great car FAST?  Drive the Abarth Track Experience!