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TO THE EXTREME...

The WJON News Team is starting a news summer series on extreme driving experiences in Central Minnesota. Listen as WJON's Jim Maurice tells us what it's like to get behind the wheel of a race car at Brainerd International Raceway.
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It's an experience a lot of us dream of: the speed, the turns, the adrenaline rush...the chance to strap on a helmet, sit in the seat, and test your courage.

I had the opportunity to do that recently, and you can too, at the Performance Driving School at Brainerd International Raceway.  Owner Gary Curtis says they've seen a wide range of people at the school, now in it's 20th season.

"A wide range.  We get everything from people that never, ever thought they'd ever be at a racetrack because they get it as a gift. Or people that's kinda their bucket list item, they've always wanted to do this -- kinda like you, I'm sure -- and everything in between."

When you arrive for class you're there for just a few moments before you're whisked away in an SUV for a few high-speed trial laps around the track.

Next stop is the classroom for a two-hour crash course (no pun intended) on the basics of race car driving.  They teach you about the different flags and what each color means, how to correctly navigate your way through a turn by looking for the turn-in point, the apex, and the turn-out point, and finding the driving line.  They also try to break you of some of your bad habits from street driving, like the importance of accelerating through a turn -- not breaking.

A lot to learn in just two hours.

(Gary Curtis again)

"It's somewhat intimidating, obviously, when you first get here, particularly if it's your first time here. We see the jitters, we see the smiles that are kind of half-smiles because they're trying to look cool. But bottom line is once you get out there, all that goes away and all you're concentrating on is having fun."

Not all of the students in the class are novices like me. Rick Chaffey from Plymouth has driven his own Corvette on the course before, but he was back to try driving one of the school's spec cars.

"Well, this was a Christmas gift from my kids because I've been up here with the Corvettes and that and they thought it would be kind of neat to take out a different car and just a different driving experience. So I'm very excited about this opportunity."

Chaffey says he's driven several other tracks around the country, and the one in Brainerd is one of the best.

As for how I did in my first experience as a race car driver -- I don't think I broke any track records for speed, but I didn't cause any crashes, and I kept the car on the track, so overall I'm calling it a success.

If you want more information, the phone number for the Performance Driving School is: 1-866-511-7606


NEXT WEEK: WJON's Lee Voss flies an airplane over the St. Cloud metro.