Other than getting on an airplane, there's no place in Austin where you can go as fast, safely, as you can at the Driveway Austin Motorsports Academy and Retreat
There's the thrill of holing out from the rough. There's the satisfaction of putting in a long run before most people are out of bed. There's the bracing metabolic kick of a plunge into Barton Springs on a cold winter day. But the older I get, the more it seems that what excites me most is exactly what had me agog as a little kid: going fast.
I think it's a midlife crisis thing.
Other than getting on an airplane, I'm pretty sure there's no place in Austin where you can go as fast, safely, as you can at the spread that Bill Dollahite has carved out of the brambly bottomlands along the Colorado River, east of Highway 183. The place is called the Driveway Austin Motorsports Academy and Retreat, which struck me as a rather hifalutin name for what I had expected would be a half-assed operation, where a bunch of good ol' boys drive souped-up Chevy's around a rutted dirt track. Taking a high-speed spin around the 1.7-mile Grand Prix track in a tricked-out Mazda Miata, I admitted as much to Dollahite.
"We've kept it very low profile by design," he said. "We want to get it right, to make sure it's at a world-class level. I spent two years searching for this site, and it's perfect. But every corner, every elevation change, every straightaway has been carefully designed." Designed, that is, to evoke if not replicate features of famous Grand Prix tracks around the world, from Ferrari's test track in Italy to Laguna Seca's swooping corkscrew turn in California. In other words, Driveway Austin is not some boring banked oval NASCAR track. After breaking ground only a year ago, the facility is on a fast track to becoming the best road-racing training facility in the country, rivaling the best in Europe. And it's aficionados of European motor sports who have been drawn to the place – i.e., people with some serious money.
"It's not all Dellionaires, though," says Dollahite's son Scott, who turned down an offer to join a Formula 3 team in Italy, taking an academic scholarship at Kansas State instead. No, maybe not all, but with a pit stop full of Porsches and Lotuses and Vipers, not to mention a few privately owned Formula 1 cars, I sensed that the sport may be a little rich for my blood. Like, if I had a hundred grand to spare .... Even so, I felt a definite affinity with these guys. I didn't have their money or their rides, but I could see it just as plainly in their eyes as they could see it in mine – the abiding itch to take a car, any car, even my car, and experience something close to its full potential.
Dollahite surely appreciates the feeling. Even while working in high tech, he raced professionally for some 25 years. But the multilevel training classes at Driveway Austin (starting at $295 for the all-day foundation course) are not, he insists, about speed. They're about control. "What wins races is not guts," he says. "It's about who plays the best chess game. That's what we teach."