Any car-loving Houstonian’s dream is closer than they could have ever imagined—it’s tucked away on a side road off Highway 288 in Angleton, to be exact. Drive past herds of cows grazing in beige farmland and rows of hay bales, and you may hear the faint, far-off whirr of a Lamborghini’s engine across the fields.
That Lamborghini can be found along with dozens of other high-end machines at Fittipaldi Exotic Driving, where anyone with a driver's license can get behind the wheel of a Ferrari, a Porsche or a Nissan GT-R. Each one is sleeker, more beautiful and more expensive than the last—enough to make someone sweat as they slide into the driver's seat. I was certainly sweating as I climbed into a royal blue Lamborhini Gallardo last Friday to take a test spin around Fittipaldi's track.
Fittipaldi Exotic Driving is as new as its shiny line-up of cars; it officially opened for business this month. The cars are only in Houston one weekend a month at the MSR Houston race track, as the lot is then hauled to Dallas and Austin on tour. CEO Bill Scott and eponymous professional racer Christian Fittipaldi met through Scott’s former position with NASCAR team Petty Enterprises. They started the company, said Scott, fueled by Fittipaldi’s love for introducing average people to racing.
“It’s a bucket list item for a lot of people,” Scott said. “People see these cars on the road and they dream about what it would be like to drive one. We not only let them drive them, we let them drive them in the environment for which they were built: the race track.”
Last Friday, Scott offered a small group of media the full Fittipaldi experience—first by riding with Fittipaldi, then by taking a pick of the lot and driving a car around the 1.3 mile track.
Entering Fittipaldi’s race car requires a feat of contortion to squeeze into the window. The doors, after all, don’t open. Once in, you are strapped in by a spiderweb of belts, locking you firmly in place. They're serious about safety here, which means you’re also in a fire-proof suit, neck brace and a bulbous helmet. The safety measures, you very quickly learn, are there for good reason.
Fittipaldi drives with what must be learned finesse and expertise, but professional racing was not designed with a passenger in mind. Riding shotgun with Fittipaldi feels a lot like riding a rollercoaster: He whips back and forth on the track, and you’re whipped back and forth in your seat along with him, silently thanking the helmet as your head smacks painlessly against the low ceiling. When a clearly amused Fittipaldi asked how I enjoyed the experience afterwards, all I could manage was monosyllabic noises.
For my own turn behind the wheel, I was partnered with the ever-patient Glenn, a Lamborghini expert who guided me through the turns and encouraged me to speed up when possible, giving me a chance to press the gas pedal against the floor and hear the legendary roar of the Lamborghini in response.
By mid-day the side of the track was crammed with onlookers, mostly small clusters of giddy families and couples in addition to groups of employees from MassMutual and Pioneer Investments, there to get some marketing done in between races with clients.
“[It’s] high energy, high impact, what guy or gal wouldn’t want to come out and have a good time in a high-end sports car?” said Joe Hinojosa, a wholesaler with Pioneer Investments.
“First couple laps, you’re cautious, getting the feel of the car," Hinojosa said of his own trip around the track. "After that, your confidence builds up and you can just really put the car to its work. Once the tires are warmed up, and you start sliding around a little bit, you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, which is pretty cool.”
Fittipaldi Exotic Driving, 1 Performance Dr., Angleton, drivefittipaldi.com. Fittipaldi is open to Houstonians two days a month, and costs $99 a ride. Through Feb. 14, get 20 percent off all driving experiences and $30 off race car rides (regularly $99; currently $6)9 with the code DRIVE20.