Before me and my fellow journalists were let loose on the track at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Dave Castelhano, our instructor, gave us a few tips.
"You are going to get a chance to do something very few people ever get. Itís better than coffee, driving a cool car will wake you up faster," he said. "You are going to be going faster until you go as fast as you can go."
However, he warned us that if someone should choose not to listen to the driving instructor in the passenger seat, the carís speed could be dialed down manually.
"If you hear a little louder tone in your instructorís voice to brake you better brake," Castelhano said. "Fortunately we know a lot of amateurs would be coming out and doing a lot of training. So if they drive off the track they can just laugh and get back on.
"If you donít listen fast enough when your driver says Ďbrakeí and he tells you to go straight off the track, go off the track."
The cars we would be driving were introduced in a presentation put together by the Exotic Driving Experience.
Drivers would be in one of the following: Porsche 997, Audi R8 v10, Lamborghini Gallardo 560-4, Lamborghini Superleggera, Ferrari 430 Scuderia or a Ferrari 458 Italia.
We chose randomly from a selection of cards that were turned over.
I grasped the deck, shuffled the cards beneath my fingers and hoped for anything but the Porsche.
Despite the fact I have never driven a Porsche, the Porsche is the cheapest car to take out in the Exoctic Car Driving Experience at $119 for six laps. I shuffled and closed my eyes and pulled and flipped over the card – a Ferrari 430 Scuderia. I was happy and keenly aware that this may be the only chance I would ever get to be behind the wheel of a car that is more work of art than race car.
The Ferrari 430 Scuderia I drove cost $175,000 in 2008 when it was brand new. Although it has lost a little of its value now, the idea of driving something so expensive off the track was terrifying.
The closest I had ever been to the Ferrari was a matchbox car a friend of mine had nearly twenty years ago. Even then I was enthralled by the unique design, knowing nothing about the innards of the exquisite vehicle.
Dave filled me in on the specs - although the Ferrari 430 Scuderia was less costly and had a smaller engine than the Ferrari 458 Italia, it was lighter and was able to make up for its diminished horsepower by its stripped down interior. Still weighing in at 490-horsepower and with the capability of going zero-60 in 3.5 seconds, it was much faster than anything I had ever climbed into before. And climbing in was another thing altogether.
As the track crew prepared me for my ride, one of the crewman did a double take. At six-foot-one and 250 pounds I am not the most likely candidate to be driving a tightly constructed car such as the Ferrari.
"Are you sure you want that one?" he said.
"Yeah, I can squeeze in," I said.
And I did, but only by moving the seat back as far as possible and trying not to worry too much about my helmet pressed against the roof of the car.
My helmet on, my butt in the seat of the car, I met my passenger and driving instructor, also named Dave.
He told me the preliminaries to make sure I knew what is expected of me, but truthfully I was too nervous to take in everything he had to say before being told to turn the key.
Finally the time was there. I turned the key and...nothing happened. My crewman reaches in the open window.
"Youíve got to hit the button," he said.
He pointed at a starter button on the steering wheel.
I pressed the button firmly, the engines purred, almost there.
Hitting the gas pedal just barely I pulled up to pit road and noticed the rearview mirror was turned away from me. How was I going to see who was behind me as I merged onto the track? I reached up to grab and turn it when I realized I would not have to see behind me. My instructor will be doing it for me. He reached to intercept my hand before I realized my mistake.
After a white Lamborghini Gallardo passed us he gave me the go ahead.
"Ok. Weíre ready to go. Step on it," Dave said.
And out onto the track I went, hesitantly at first. By instinct I tried to turn my head to look behind me for other traffic before putting my full trust in Dave and punching the gas out onto the speedway.
I took the first lap slow, as we were instructed to in the precursor class, going just over 40 at times but staying mostly in mid to upper 30s through the S-curves and only posting just over 120 mph on the straightaway. But my time gets progressively better as I get a better handle on the paddle shifting system. I hug the corners a bit better and start accelerating more and more at the apex of the curves. By the time the fourth lap came around, everything clicked. I took the S-curves in the 70s to lower 80s waiting for a reproach from Dave at any minute, but not being able to stop myself from pushing the Ferrari as far as I could take it.
"Way to feel the track!" Dave said.
Much to my surprise, Dave told me to keep hitting the gas.
On the sixth and final lap, I posted the highest speed of all the journalists for the day at 141 miles per hour on the straightaway and could have pushed it more, but with 20 yards to go before the braking signs I got a little scared, backed off and depressed the brake too early.
"Keep accelerating until you get to the signs!" Dave said.
But it was too late. With one lap to go I slowed back down and took it easy before taking pit lane back to the covered enclosure and the end of the ride.
Stepping out of the car - my body buzzing with adrenaline - my crewman pulled me to the side to gather my helmet.
"Have fun out there?" he said.
"Most definitely! I didnít want to stop," I said.
"No one ever does!" he said.
The race was over and I was already starting to scheme about to get myself in the position to take a Ferrari out on the course again.
For those interested in taking the Exotic Driving Experience, prices range from $169 to $419, depending on make and model, with extras including track photos for $49 and a drive video for $99.
For more information you can visit www.nolamotor.com.