This post is 100% off topic, it’s about my “exotic car” experience through 877stockcar.com. In general, my blog is for tech stuff, but I figure it might be fun to write about something non-tech for once. This is about the https://877stockcar.com/experiences/exotic-experiences/ located at Pocono Raceway.
I wanted to write this for anyone that might be thinking of dropping up to $700 on their package, so you know what you’re in for. My wife got me the mid-tier package for Christmas (best gift ever) because she knows I’m a pretty big car nut.
In case someone reads this that’s not familiar with my review style, besides going over the pros and cons, you’ll find that my assessment will be blunt. While I may have a degree of diplomacy in my views, the point of my review style is to be brutally honest.
In my case, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. 70ish and sunny, with no rain for days, which meant the track and waiting area was dry.
As usual, I like to start with the good before digging into the bad.
- For the most part, the cars they had are what I would consider pretty respectable. I personally drove an Audi R8 (v10) and a Maserati MC. If you’re thinking to yourself “those are six figure cars” I get it, but they’re low six figure cars, as in less than 200k.
- The cars were clean inside and out. I’m only bringing it up, because you’re paying for an experience and no one wants a dusty dash, and a dirty car. No it doesn’t affect how they drive, but I know it can skive some folks out.
- They provide something that best I can describe is a head glove, so you keep your germs to yourself. Similar inside the cars, the seats are covered, although I suspect that’s more to protect the interior of the car than the driver.
- The instructors I had were all friendly, and knew the track like the back of their hand.
- They had the apex’s all coned off for you. Short of painting a driving line (more on that later) you knew exactly where to go if you were trying to maximize your speed.
- Similar to above, they had the breakpoint marked off for their one straight away.
- The helmet they offered fit my large head, which was good. It was honestly a concern I had going in.
- For the little amount of time you do get with the cars, it is a fun experience.
This was my “exotic car” experience. I’m not trying to imply the whole experience was negative, it wasn’t. However, as you’ll see it was far from perfect.
- Where am I supposed to go? So, I plugged in the address, as marked on the site, and arrived to a locked gate. A few thoughts on this:
- We tried calling them to see what’s up. We were greeted by the “we’re closed today, but you can leave a message”. Here’s the thing, If I’m dropping (or I my wife in this case) anywhere from $250 – $700 for a course that lasts maybe 20 minutes, your ass can staff someone to answer a damn phone during the hours of the event.
- When I called to make my reservation, there was zero mention of where to go specifically, or that the main gate would be locked. The only thing I was told was make sure I wear socks and sneakers, that’s it. In my not so humble opinion, I think pointing out something that I imagine is pretty common would make sense to do.
- Related to this, I did find on their website (https://877stockcar.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Directions.pdf) directions on where to actually go. Now I can see how this being partially on me for not looking (like I’m sure most people don’t), but I’m totally calling bull shit on their inability to provide a set of GPS coordinates (let alone bring attention to the main gate not being the right place to go). So, you’re telling me, NO ONE in the whole facility, with all the revenue this place probably brings in, can afford or has access to GPS? Right…
- Why not place a sign right in front of the main gate, saying something like “go here, wrong entrance”? Again, just to brow beat the concept, I can’t imagine I’m the only one to do this.
- Once we started driving down the road (knowing there were a few more entrances) we saw that they had small post signs that eventually led us to the right entrance.
- Where do we park? I’m not trying to nitpick here, but knowing where to park wasn’t made abundantly clear We guessed where we parked was fine, but there were no signs saying park here. Actually, adding to that, there were no signs even letting us know we were at the right spot. I mean it was kind of obvious with a bunch of Lambos running around and a large tent, but there was no official indication that we were at the right spot. For all we knew, it was some crew area.
- The check-in: To be honest, the guy at the check-in acted like I was bothering him, and was clearly pre-occupied with something else. Here’s the thing, it’s my first time (and probably my last with them) and I have zero clue what the process is. He didn’t ask if it was my first time, he didn’t ask how I was, it was “sign here”. So after checking in, I basically had to keep asking questions in order to figure out where I’m supposed to go, how the process works, etc.
- The introduction: After standing there for a few minutes, some random employee walked up to the area and asked if anyone just arrived, and the few of us flocked to him. He proceeded to rapid fire off a rough set of instructions on how the process works, doesn’t ask if anyone has questions and walks off. He was a nice guy, but you could tell he did this all the time, and was probably on auto pilot. Meaning I think he just assumed everyone understood what to do.
- So when do I drive? After standing around for a bit longer and frankly pretty frustrated, I started observing what others were doing and basically figured out that helmets get dropped off at a table, and we’re supposed to just go fight over them. Once you figure that out, the next part is just standing in a random area near the drop off / pickup. And again, it’s more or less a diplomatic fight for going after whatever car you want.
- Instructor: Alas, I’m finally sitting in an R8. The instructor is a super nice guy, and goes over adjusting the seat, and basic instructions to get the car into go mode. We take off for my “warm up” lap, and he takes me through the course showing me the apex’s (while holding the steering wheel, really weird). And then mostly lets me have at it. He continues coaching me on trying to hit the apex’s but other than that, pretty much along for the ride.
- Cool down lap conversation: I figured since we were basically driving as fast as I do in a school zone for the cool down lap that I’d break the awkward silence and try to have a conversation. I tried asking him about the cars to which he didn’t have much knowledge (or didn’t want to chat). I get that you don’t need to know the cars to be a good driver, but this is kind of a driver enthusiast experience, I’d think the instructors could talk all about the cars. I don’t know, maybe they’re just busy keeping an eye out for other drivers too.
- Track: IMO, the track sucks. Here’s the thing, it’s not that the track was badly maintained or anything like that, it’s just the thing is so damn small. Their straight away, I’m fairly confident isn’t even a quarter mile. You spend more time trying to whip through corners (which IS fun) and you never really get a chance to get the car over 100. Now, being fair, I suspect a good deal of that has to do with my skill, but ALSO the skill of the drivers in front of you, more on that in a sec. So, when they tell you 4 laps, it’s like ten minutes tops, and that’s if you’re poking around.
- Other people: The fact is, they have way too many people on the track at a given time. During both of my group of laps, the busyness varied, but it was very rare that you’d have even close to a wide-open track in front of you. By the time I was in the Massaratti, I got to a point where I was mostly getting stuck behind other drivers. The instructor kept telling me if I could catch them we could pass them. I was like a car length and a half, and that was only because I didn’t want to rear end anyone. So I’m not sure what’s defined as catching, but if you think you’re going to be passing slower drivers, I’ll say you’ll typically burn 25% of your laps before you get the opportunity. That said, I know they said it’s not racing, so just make sure you have your expectations in line.
- Picking the car: I kind of knew what I wanted to drive, but they didn’t ask what I wanted to drive. Hell, they didn’t even tell you what all the cars were, specs or anything like that. Being fair, they mentioned which cars were RWD vs. AWD. It was also really disappointing that a few cars were only available for the folks who had the $700 package, more specifically the McLaren. Although, it sounded like there were reliability issues with it, so maybe not a big deal.
- The cars: To be blunt, I wasn’t impressed with the car selection. It’s not that they had bad cars, they lacked variety. I think the fastest car they had was the R8 or the McLaren when it was working.. A lot of their cars were convertibles (lame), and really the variety was lacking. I would have much rather seen one of a few different types of cars, than having a pick of four or five cars that are basically all the same. I mean, going to the Lambo and the R8. It’s basically the same car with a different skin.
All in all, the experience is plagued with terrible customer service, practically zero training / overviews, a complete lack of organization, overcrowding and ultimately, it’s a ton of money to dump on what is essentially 20 minutes at most of driving. It was certainly fun to drive the cars, but I’d never give them another dollar of my money. Instead, I’d probably just spend a little extra and go to a Porsche, BMW or the like driving school. I suppose if you just want to know what its like to drive the car, it’s an ok experience, but for the money you spend, you could probably rent the car for a whole day. At least then, you’d get some real seat time with the car.
What would I do differently?
- The registration process should include detailed directions emailed to you (and discussed over the phone). I would also send a reminder email, along with a restatement of where to go, and where to park.
- If the main gate is locked, I’d put a sign right in front telling folks to turn around and go this way.
- I’d staff a person or two on the phones (how about the registration people?) to answer calls during the event times.
- I would run the event as batches of people, rather than make it a free for all.
- Everyone would have a helmet
- The cars would be lined up, with specs and performance numbers outlined.
- I would let folks look at the cars for a few minutes at the very least so you can see what you might actually want to drive.
- I would document which cars folks wanted to drive, and have a program that organizes an order when driver x gets car y and how long the wait is estimated to be.
- I would have the instructors take each person out for a lap to show them the course before having the driver do it.
- I would then have the instructor take a driver out in something like a Miata for a few laps so they can get familiar with the track in a fuel efficient, affordable sports car.
- I would limit the track to no more than three cars at a time. At least if we’re talking the track layout they had. MAYBE, if the track was longer and they had an actual straight away, they could get away with more cars, without spoiling the experience.
- Rather than doing “laps” it would simply be a timed event. You get 15 minutes for every $300 or whatever would make business sense. This way faster drivers don’t lose seat time.
- And that would be 15 minutes, with the car you want, and with no more need to “warm up”.
- Cool downs? Just let the car sit for five minutes or so when they’re done. If people are really seeing brake fade, equip the cars with some better pads. And if the car can’t handle having the piss beat out of it for at least 15 minutes in a row, it’s not exactly a great exotic car.
- I would have GoPros on the helmets and the cars themselves. I would record videos that could be purchased, provide lap times, top speed, most g’s pulled, etc. They had none of that stuff.
- I would have a larger variety of cars, and 100% of them would be coupes. If you want to drive a freaking convertible, go get a Solara. To name a few…
- Corvette ZR1
- Audi R8 (was a good pick)
- A real Ferrari, like a 488 GTB
- BMW M5
- Ford GT 40
- Porsche (maybe GT3?)
- Ariel Atom (ok not a coupe, but it’s allowed to be excluded).
- For Pocono Raceway specifically, I would open up the track so that maybe you could end up on the actual race track for a bit, so there’s enough room to actually open the car up a bit. What in the world is the point to a car that can go 180+ if you can’t even get it to 100? Maybe offer two options, an open track for speed demons, and a closed track for folks that like to feel the G force.
- I would paint a driving line rather than relying on cones. Or some similar material.
- How about something for the family to do while they wait? I don’t have a particular idea of what that might be, but I suspect standing around isn’t their idea of fun.
I realize it’s a business and ultimately, it’s about making money. The cars aren’t cheap, and I’m sure they’re getting the piss beat out of them, but I think those are some relatively cheap things they could do, that would make a dramatic improvement in the driving experience.