All the pretty horses
Six-hundred of them, howling under the hood of the beautiful Lamborghini that I’m driving scary fast.
You feel the force of the car bore into your side like someone is jabbing a finger under your ribs, trying to dig to your kidneys. Then you spin the wheel the other way and another invisible finger jabs you from the opposite direction.
The accelerometer shows we’re pulling 1G to the right and whipping immediately to 1G to the left. A quick 2G shift. The space shuttle pulls 3Gs on reentry. Strapping into a Lamborghini Huracan and stomping on the gas pedal, you don’t feel like you necessarily won’t fly into space, if you caught a particularly well-angled ramp or something.
But it’s just a day at the track at SpeedVegas, the latest offering in the fast cars/fast times subsector of Las Vegas tourism, joining Dream Racing and Exotics Racing, both at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as places to put your hands on a supercar.
SpeedVegas, though, is located in Sloan and is counting on something the Speedway driving experiences can’t: easy visibility to the hordes of Vegas-bound California tourists who drive right past it on the I-15. “This corridor brings in about 49,500 cars per day,” says Aaron Fessler, SpeedVegas’ co-founder and CEO. “Historically, Sloan was viewed as this industrial area with a lot of cement-crushing operations and gypsum mining. To their credit, the town is thinking more about this as an entrance point into the corridor. We’re already seeing a lot of adjacent development going on. There’s some housing going in, there’s some property that’s traded hands. There’s a new interchange going in. I think you’re going to see a lot of development here in the next couple of years.”
To the extent that a Phoenix developer contacted Fessler to feel out putting a ski lift on an adjacent parcel. Maybe we’re not quite ready for that level of development just yet.
Fessler got his start in technology, selling off email operation The Allegro Group for $40 million in 1999, when he was 26, then the anti-piracy service MediaSentry in 2005. That’s when he got into cars, acquiring World Class Driving. That business took people out on public-road excursions where they could drive a variety of high-ticket whips. But the one thing Fessler heard over and over again was that driving fantasy cars was great, but people wanted to go fast.
Hence, SpeedVegas. Five-oh don’t give tickets on the track.
Fessler looks out over his kingdom, the track, the pit, the currently under-construction clubhouse and the rows of six-figure supercars. “We call them Skittles,” he says. They’re bright, shiny, candy-colored and appeal to our inner 10-year-old.
Rob jumps into the passenger side of the Lamborghini Huracan. He’s been a driving instructor for more than 10 years and is incredibly enthusiastic about taking me from average V-4-pushing, California-driver-cursing, I-15 traffic-weaver to reasonably competent track racer.
The track itself is Formula One-inspired, with a half-mile straightaway that’s significantly longer than the one at the Speedway’s street course. In practice, this means taking a Frankenstein stomp on the gas pedal when you exit the last turn to try to hit the kinds of speeds that get grudging nods of respect from your buddies.
Hitting those numbers, though, requires executing on the turns, coming out at maximum speed and smoothly bringing the Lambo’s 600 horses back up to speed.
In practice, it’s less Michael Schumacher and more Michael Bluth. The first lap it’s hard to trust that the car won’t act like your daily driver and skid all over the road when you take turns at 50 mph. That’s why Rob is there. In addition to hollering when to shift, brake or step on the gas, the savvy co-pilot will grab the wheel when you’re making a tentative turn and jam it to the left so your performance car will actually do performance-car things.
Once it’s forcibly proven to you that you won’t spin out of control, you start to relax. The road course eases you in with a couple of easy ones before throwing you directly into a hairpin that asks you to look all the way to your left as you exit the turn, and let your hands follow — without watching the turn itself. This is terrifying. This is clocking 40 mph on a no-look turn in a $270,000 sports car. Someone else’s $270,000 sports car — a fact that becomes very clear as you try to remember if your last insurance payment went through.
The track jigs and dances through smaller turns, the ones that produce the G forces, before the next big one, where you have to brake into the bank and turn at the same time. It’s here where you start to feel like you have to have at least as much box-office appeal as Ludacris, and more driving experience for the next Fast and Furious, so why couldn’t you co-star with The Rock?
There’s one more big turn before the straightaway. It’s not quite as sharp as the early hairpin, but it’s so demanding and unforgiving that on the first lap, I lose so much speed I don’t even get the Huracan up to 100 mph by the end of the unfettered straight. Rob sees me get overambitious with an upshift into fifth gear, and hides his disgust when he tells me to downshift. It causes the kind of lingering embarrassment usually reserved for dreams about being naked and late for class in the seventh grade.
The second lap goes better. You start to get a feel for the car and want to outrace your speed-based shame. The turns are still a bit of a learning process, but you start to feel comfortable with all that horsepower, like you might need to put an old Corvette engine in your golf cart, or invest in some sort of turbocharger to scoot around on your office chair.
The third lap is when it all comes into focus. You know the turns and you want to muscle up on the wheel to get through them as fast as possible. Rob’s yelling “Go! Go!” in a way that no longer implies he thinks you’re finally going to be the student to sail the car off the track like the valets in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The Huracan is a growly car to begin with, but when you push it toward 130 mph it screams like King Kong swatting at biplanes. Crossing 125, you want to keep on the gas even though you’re running out of asphalt. Rob calls for the brakes and it starts to sound like a suggestion more than a command. Fortunately, Rob has his own brake, just in case. Common sense snaps my Lamborghini hypnotism and we decelerate into a cool-down lap.
It’s hard to give up a car like that and go back to your daily driver. It’s even harder to keep it under 90 mph as you cruise up the I-15 back to normal life. The cops are going to have a field day hanging around that on-ramp.