The Petty Track Experience and the SRT8 Driving Experience

Rex Sagle added in 2013:

I attended the SRT8 driving experience yesterday, held at the racetrack south of Houston. My reason for attending was mainly that I had advised me 86 year old dear friend to purchase a Chrysler 300 SRT8. He had asked my advice on the purchase of a new car, and I told him for the money, you can not even come close to the SRT 300C unless you spend another $30,000 or more, and probably still would not have the exceptional components that are found in the build sheet of the SRT8 line of Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles. So he took my advice and purchased one from River Oaks Chrysler.

Ricky Haynes and the SRT8 staff were both compassionate and kind to my friend, and soon had him feeling that he was doing the right thing by attending the SRT8 Driving Experience. Other owners and guests were also patient and courteous to Bill and this certainly also assisted in ridding him of the apprehensive feelings he had at the beginning of the orientation.

The end of the ceremonies brought a round of applause from the staff and participants, that he had tried very hard not to make any driving errors, and Ricky also thanked me for accompanying Bill to the event.

Everyone, including me, was marveling about the performance and the handling capabilities of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, all recorded times were faster when the Jeep was driven by both the instructors, and the participants. The SRT Driving Experience is first class driving event, and for the allotted time covers a lot of information in a well structured orientation at the beginning of each driving module. I would say it is worth purchasing a SRT8 Vehicle just to attend the SRT8 Driving experience.

Saturday June 16th 2007 might have been the best day of my life. I did the SRT Track Experience at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). Chrysler builds SRTs in several flavors but first what is an SRT? These are cars that have steering, braking and suspension components that are race duty parts and each part is designed specifically for that car. Chrysler somewhat believes that SRT is an acronym for Street and Racing Technology. After I nearly ran over a new Mustang at 130 MPH on the 56 Freeway I firmly believe that those letters are for Short Rocket Trip.

There is a 4 cylinder based on the Caliber (replacing one based on the Neon), then comes the SRT6 which was the Chrysler Crossfire, a two seater, and four V8s, the Chrysler 300c, a Jeep version (the fastest and thirstiest SUV on the market), the Dodge Magnum (the elongated thing that hauls 12 2 x 4s and a guitar), and the Dodge Charger. The SRT10 is now only the Viper, as production of the SRT10 pickup has ceased. Their claim is that any of these cars are ready to go to the track, but actually racing them will void your warranty.

The purchase of any new SRT vehicle gets you one day of racing school. Chrysler furnishes the vehicles and you drive alone as fast as you can go without wrecking. On the track you are behind an instructor and he will go as fast as you do. There is no real danger of you being held up by the instructor. These cars are used for one year then dusted off and sold to the public

I had already done this with the Skip Barber School of Racing in November of 2006. The 2007 events are with Richard Petty Enterprises and I received an invitation to participate. Chrysler should know that I had already done the thing with Skip but they now wanted me to do the Richard Petty version. At the Skip Barber School they said these cars do not break, they put on a new set of tires and brakes after every school day. They also said we use a lot of gasoline.

The schedule for Richard for the first half of 2007 shows no road courses but does have Las Vegas and Phoenix. As season ticket holders for the NASCAR events at PIR, we naturally chose PIR. I didn’t get any email confirmation so about 3 days before the event I inquired as to what day I had registered for. My credit card company caught wind of the fact that I had registered a guest and that was on my bill.

We didn’t know what gate to use and didn’t know that the starting time had moved to 7 am because of the heat. While driving to the track the outside temperature was 105° degrees; we arrived at 8 am and were able to catch up in about 10 minutes, either breakfast was incredibly good or there were slow individuals holding the herd back. During this day I drank more water than any fish you can name.

I enjoyed being able to drive my car to places that are pedestrian only during NASCAR events. We drove to the Oasis via the narrow road that goes alongside “the hill;” my wife Dinah saw Jeff Gordon driving a Corvette on this road. We eventually parked directly in front of and a few feet away from the Allison Grandstand. On race weekend vendors will occupy this space but today there is a beautiful array of Chrysler 300Cs, Chargers, Jeeps, Super Bees, and one SRT4.

Very soon I was in a Crossfire, going through a maze of cones, most of which were so small I thought this must be a vision test. I am not a big fan of this type of driving; the penalty for driving off the roadway is much bigger than pinging a cone. On this course the Viper stays in first gear.

The autocross is another bunch of cones with even tighter turns but here you get to practice in a Crossfire and for the competition you drive a Jeep. Our group was doing well until the last man fell off of the seat. He was critically short. Then he stopped again because he was afraid we would beat the crap out of him for taking us out of contention. I equate this type of driving to a video game, it ain’t real and I don’t do well at either.

The dragstrip is long enough to get a speed of near 60 mph. Since the truck SRT10 is no longer in production, there were Magnums (which are also no longer made, but were at the time) in the lineup. Later we were allowed to race mixed breeds, and here is the truth about the Jeep. It kicks a Charger’s butt then rubs your nose in it.

I raced twice against a Jeep and with the same results. The initial launch wasn’t bad but after 20 feet the Jeep is clearly accelerating faster and this continues to the end of the strip. The Jeep quickly pulls a half car length then the Charger begins to slow the rate of pull away, somewhere ahead the Charger should overtake the Jeep. At the end of the strip the rear bumper of the Jeep was near my front tire. Since we were racing windows down I got an earfull of Hemi under full power.

In the drag event, most people got all of the driving they wanted. No one would come out to take any car so I just kept driving the Charger. The class size here was smaller than at Skip Barber, I don’t know if the limit is less or if this class wasn’t full.

Now let’s go to the track. We were taken around the track in one of the new Dodge Sprinters. They have the entry, apex, and exit cone for each turn, plus braking zone cones before to entering the turn. We then got our head condoms to protect us from the helmets’ last users. They were black with SRT written in silver; my wife left mine at the track as she is not a Raiders fan.

We were paired behind an instructor and in the Charger and Crossfire, I was behind a woman. She did well in the Charger but I could have gone faster. Then we got the Crossfire and she smoked the wheels off of the thing, I was working hard to keep up. I gave her a high five after the Crossfire drive and later my wife tells me she previously raced stock cars on dirt.

The track uses almost the entire front straight away, allowing for some real speed, maybe 130 mph. It has some very tight turns that made me feel that spinning out was a real possibility. I got very comfortable on this track, far different from Laguna Seca, where I was never comfortable. The fact that there were no hills didn’t detract from the thrill. In place of the hills you were driving very close to some formidable structures and these prevented you from seeing the track ahead. We were told that some student brushed the wall today. Six demerits for you!

Our nametag had a zip drive attached, and each track car had three cameras mounted in it; during each drive your zip drive was to be plugged in. One camera was looking at the track and another at your face, I don’t know what the third camera was recording but they all had sound. We were cautioned to take the lanyard off before inserting the zip drive. In 4 to 6 weeks we got a cd with the video, nice. I could have spent much more time on the track.

Now I see that Richard has some road courses in the schedule. The Willows is showing up in late fall and I want to go again. I guess I will buy another SRT but which one should I get?

Our personal cars had been parked facing almost due south when I started the car the cooling fans for the engine came on. These virtually never run. The temperature was 113°.

I liked the Richard Petty version better because we were given more instruction and each driver had more seat time.

This article was written in 2007.

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