You can cross ‘race-car driving’ off your bucket list at Harris Hill Raceway.
By Niki Jones, Photo by Carrin Welch
I’m sitting in a bucket seat that feels like it is 3 inches above the ground. My hands, while not quite sweaty, have a death grip on the steering wheel in front of me and are fixed on the positions of 10 and 2. My left foot is planted firmly on a metal footrest, while my right foot hovers above the gas pedal. I am in a Ferrari 488 GTB, about to take off. And when I lower my foot, take off is exactly what I do.
SMOOTHNESS, TRACTION, VISION
The day starts off in the classroom, where Longhorn Racing chief instructor Jeff Sanders affably breaks down the anatomy of a turn, how to corner and the dynamics of a car. Armed with this knowledge, the handful of students and I are ready to head outside and put the pedal to the metal.
My first undertaking on this sunny, breezy day is to take two “recon” laps as a passenger to get familiar with the lay of the land and to see and feel the turns in order to get the most out of my driving time. Even as we are traveling at a “medium” speed, these laps are exhilarating—sort of the ramp up for what is to come.
Harris Hill is a 1.8-mile curvy, hilly track with 11 bracing hairpin turns. The beautiful setting is as if a racetrack were dropped in the middle of a rural expanse, with trees and ponds dotting the land-scape. From the two-story back porch of the main building, spectators can see every turn on the entire track. Unlike other racetracks of its size, Harris Hill doesn’t have any barriers or fencing on the edges of the speedway, just rolling, grassy fields all around, which helps allay any fears I may have about crashing into a wall.
Harris Hill possesses an inclusive friends-and-family vibe, and Longhorn Racing Academy’s friendly and accessible approach to car racing fits right in.
WARM IT UP
The first car I drive on the track is a stunning electric-blue Porsche Cayman GTS, just one of LRA’s ever-changing always impressive fleet, which includes Lamborghinis and even a Mercedes-AMG GT R.
Helmet-headed, I get in the driver’s seat, adjust it for comfort (There’s no need to adjust mirrors since I won’t be using any.) and check to make sure I can hear my instructor, Steve Metz, who’s sitting in the passenger seat, through my communication device. “Ready to go?” Steve asks. Oh, yes, I am! I cautiously press the accelerator and we’re off.
From the very first second, Steve coaches me with calm, matter-of-fact running commentary and instructions: “Accelerate to that cone,” “Brake now, hard,” “Stay far right.” Some of it feels counterintuitive, and it’s a challenging mental exercise to push past what my instincts are telling me I think I should do and listen to someone who actually knows what I should do.
The third and final time Steve and I hit the straight-away in the Cayman, I’m feeling good. I accelerate as hard as I can up the hill, the G-forces pinning me to the seat until I crest at the top, where Turn 4 begins, brake at the appropriate cone, turn the wheel hard, press down on the gas pedal…and drift! Whoa. Luckily, I am able to correct accurately instead of careening off the track and into the field, and I keep on keepin’ on. I’m in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari—and there’s no speed limit!
After a short rest and some hydration, I’m ready to step it up a bit and get into the quintessential supercar: a brand-new Ferrari 488 GTB in rosso corsa (“racing red,” of course). No big deal; it’s only got 660 horsepower and a top speed of 205 mph.
This time, my instructor is Jeff, who, with a laid-back and confident demeanor, gives me move-by-move guidance on how to handle this amazing beast. As I conquer each turn, my confidence builds and I feel like I’m out of my body. I’m in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari—and there’s no speed limit! As I approach the end of my last lap, my heart is racing, my stomach muscles feel like I’ve done 100 crunches and I am full of adrenaline. I don’t think the day can get any more exciting, but I’m wrong.
How fast can a car on Harris Hill Raceway really go? I’m about to find out. My driver is a 15-year-old racing phenom (and genuinely lovely and polite human being) named Danny Soufi. Helmet still on my head, I buckle into the passenger seat next to Danny in a just-delivered-from-Germany Porsche 911 GT3 and proceed to take the most thrilling car ride of my life. The windows are open, the wind is blowing, the engine is screaming and I’m holding on for dear life, giggling uncontrollably as we race around the track. The day at Longhorn Racing Academy has a little bit of everything: education, instruction, adrenaline and a super fun hang with new friends, so I am sad to see it end, but I’m already planning my next visit. And next time, I’m driving the Lamborghini!