The first thing I noticed when I walked into the garage in the centre of Myrtle Beach Speedway’s track was the ten-foot wide poster hung on the back wall like the centrepiece of an altar, the word Speed scrawled across it in bright red letters. Printed behind the word was its dictionary definition annotated like a verse from the Bible – fitting, I suppose, since this was NASCAR country, where the sport is like a religion to many. And while I had never been to a NASCAR race in my life, I was more than ready to get high on the idea of high-octane gasoline and RPMs with a 160km/hr ridealong with a veteran driver. And what an adrenaline rush my NASCAR Racing Experience turned out to be!
The NASCAR Racing Experience at Myrtle Beach Speedway
As the number one spectator sport in America, NASCAR racing inspires the need for speed in millions of fans, many of whom include driving a race car on their once-in-a-lifetime wish list. For these wannabe champions, Myrtle Beach Speedway is the place to go because it is here where everyday drivers get the chance to make their speed dreams come true with a wide selection of NASCAR Racing Experiences available.
NASCAR Experience Self-Drives
For people who want to get behind the wheel themselves, there’s everything from the popular Rookie experience that lets you drive a car for 8 minutes around the track to a full-on Checkered Flag package that gives you 24 minutes of heart-pounding action behind the wheel in three back-to-back racing sessions complete with pit stops.
Not Just for Macho Men – for Speed Sisters, too.
NASCAR racing IS a real family affair for many Americans, with 40% of its fan base being women. So it probably comes as no surprise that although the majority of the NASCAR Experience visitors are men, Myrtle Beach Speedway sees its fair share of women guests as well.
In fact, the oldest participant to circle the track was a 93-year old woman who had always wanted to check this thrill off her bucket list. (She may only have gone about 30 km/hour but I say kudos to her for just being able to get into the car in the first place – not an easy feat since the doors don’t open and you have to climb through the window!)
Of course, I couldn’t resist asking the staff who the better drivers are, and was happy to hear that generally it’s the women because, as the instructors explained, ‘women listen to direction’. (Ha!)
TIP: There’s an Outlet Mall beside Myrtle Beach Speedway which is a great option if your guy prefers to do some shopping while you race!
NASCAR Experience Ride-Alongs
For people who still want the thrill of hitting the track but prefer to leave the driving to others, the NASCAR Racing Experience offers a Pace Car ride-along (great for young children or groups with up to 3 passengers who may want a slightly calmer ride) or the option that I chose, a ride-along with a professional racing instructor while I rode shotgun. Knowing I wouldn’t do the car or the track justice if I drove myself, I put myself in the hands of Bill Zacharias instead.
Meet Bill Zacharias
Myrtle Beach Speedway’s owner-operator Bill Zacharias has NASCAR in his blood. From a racing family himself, he officially started racing at the age of 16, although he was only 14 when he ‘borrowed’ his mother’s driver’s licence so he could get out onto the track. This passion for the sport led him to quit school and make a living from racing instead, and he’s passed that love onto not just his son Steve, but his granddaughter Morgan as well.
Now close to 60 or so, Bill is a man of few words, even fewer smiles, and with the weathered cowboy look that speaks to hours in the South Carolina sun. But there’s no doubting his racing expertise, and I felt totally confident climbing through the window into the passenger seat beside him. Tricked out in official fireproof racing gear and strapped tightly into my seat, I was ready to see what all this NASCAR fuss was about.
G-Force and Fun with Physics
As prepared as I thought I was for the 160km/hour speeds we would reach, I wasn’t prepared for the G-Force that I felt almost as soon as we took off from the inner track. I could definitely feel the effect of our rapid acceleration push me back into the seat, even despite the snug seatbelts strapping me in. After we got up to speed it was all centrifugal force, friction, deceleration and the rest of the physics that I vaguely remembered from high school, coupled with the thrill as we raced within inches of the outside wall on the ‘upper groove’. (that’s ‘Nascar-speak’, by the way.)
Three laps flew by, quite literally, and when we rolled back into the inner lane, I was all thumbs up and smiles as I unfolded myself through the passenger window. Even though I hadn’t been driving, the ride left me on an adrenaline high, fuelled by the roar of other cars racing around the track.
Icons and Iconic Cars
In its 60-year history, Myrtle Beach Speedway has seen its fair share of driving legends, with all of the greats of the sport having driven here, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. when he was first starting out. In fact, it was when Bill started talking about Earnhardt that his eyes lit up, he cracked a rare smile and asked if I wanted to see one of his prized possessions.
Bill led the way to a garage in the centre of the track where he proudly pointed to the authentic #8 red Chevrolet Impala once driven by the champion himself. Myrtle Beach Speedway purchased the car in 2017 when it was ‘retired’ from the official NASCAR circuit, to coincide with the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and it has been since refurbished with the kind of care you only get from a driver/fan like Zacharias.
TIP: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car can be booked for drives or rides as well until the 2018 season ends in November when the will be moved to a museum.
My first NASCAR Experience complete, and having seen more of Bill’s trophies and memorabilia (Bill was all about sharing stories by this time), I ended my visit by asking him what he thought made a race car driver tick.
“Do you need to be an adrenaline junkie?” I asked. “Yes, but with a cool head,” he answered. “That is, until you get behind the wheel, and then you’re just in the moment.”
My moment may only have lasted 3 laps, but it was definitely a thrill I’ll remember for a long time.
TIP: Prices for ridealongs start at $20 U.S. for the Pace Car experience, and go up from there. For complete descriptions of all the packages offered, check out the NASCAR Racing Experience website.
Myrtle Beach Tourism who hosted my stay and to Myrtle Beach Speedway who treated me to the fastest 3-lap ride of my life.Special thanks to