Sunday’s crash at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. — which killed an instructor when a 24-year-old he was riding with lost control of a Lamborghini — has raised questions about the safety of programs that put ordinary drivers behind the wheel of high-performance supercars.
The death of the instructor, Gary Terry, 36, a former race car driver and operations manager at the Exotic Driving Experience attraction, was the third fatality in the past year at racetracks that allow customers to pay to drive exotic cars, the Associated Press reported.
“Honestly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen 15 times a year,” Jack Baurth, a race car driver and Road & Track magazine contributor who works as an instructor at exotic-car driving programs, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“You take people who can barely handle the Honda CRV they drive at home and put them behind the wheel of a car with four times as much power, different seating positions and a frightening immediacy in the way it responds. They have no idea what a Lamborghini is going to do when you crank the wheel at 100 miles an hour.”
Baruth adds that “literally hundreds of times I’ve had to reach over and steer the car with my left hand” to prevent drivers from losing control.
In video shot inside the car of the Orlando crash reviewed by the Florida Highway Patrol, Terry is seen attempting to grab the steering wheel from the driver, Tavon Watson, as the car spins out of control and slams into a guardrail, The Orlando Sentinel reported. Preliminary reports estimate the Lamborghini was traveling 100 miles per hour when it crashed. Terry was pronounced dead at the track. Watson was treated for minor injuries. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation into the crash.
Baruth says that at driving programs run by auto manufacturers — such as BMW's Performance Centers — "the driving is the culmination of track instruction. That's not this. This is a supercar experience. The purpose is not to improve your driving or become a competent track driver, it's to experience a car you cannot afford."
The Exotic Driving Experience at the Disney Speedway is operated by Petty Holdings, associated with NASCAR champion Richard Petty, and allows drivers, accompanied by instructors who coach them in how to handle the cars, "to rapidly accelerate to high speeds while testing the deft handling and braking characteristics of some of the world’s most incredible supercars," including a Lamborghini Gallardo, the car that crashed Sunday, according to the company’s website. (Petty Holdings declined to comment about the crash aside from a statement expressing sympathy to Terry's family.)
Baruth said that most of the drivers he has instructed "have zero interest in being on the race track or learning track craft — they just want to drive a Lamborghini. The dirty secret of these things is that almost all the customers would rather be renting the car for a day, but these track experiences are much cheaper." (The Exotic Driving Experience charges $399 for six laps in the Lamborghini, which sells for $220,000.)
"If somebody said, 'For 500 bucks you could hang out with the Scarlett Johansson and learn how to play chess,' I'm not going to do it to learn how to play chess. That's apparently what I’m forced to do to hang out with Scarlett."
Matt Hardigree, editor-in-chief of the Jalopnik automotive website, adds, “There's nothing inherently wrong with giving people an opportunity to experience what these cars were designed to do. If people want a thrill in a car they're far better off going to a one-day driving school where they'll actually have learned something beyond how loud they can make a car sound or how much they can scare an instructor."