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Auto Racing: Anything but a casual drive at Autobahn

TinAkouris with driving instructor Tony Kester. | Supplied photo

Tina Akouris with driving instructor Tony Kester. | Supplied photo

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Updated: July 25, 2013 6:46AM



I am a gearhead.

My friends and family know how much I’m into auto racing and that I understand more about cars than they do. They don’t seem to get why I like cars so much — hence, the nickname.

So when I got an invitation to ride in a Radical SR3 race car at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, I had to say yes because if I didn’t my reputation would take a severe hit.

These open-cockpit Radicals are the newest addition to the Autobahn, an automobile country club out on CenterPoint Way. It’s so remote that your average GPS most likely won’t give you the right directions.

Even though the club’s 350-acre spread is technically for members only — the one-time initiation fee for individuals is $35,000 and yearly dues are $4,000 — there are some events this summer that are open to the public.

New to the club is a Radical racing school held July 20-25. There are three two-day sessions available to the public for $4,800. Each two-day session is limited to only seven drivers and the sessions will max out at 10 people.

“We have six people signed up and this is the first year we are doing this, but once word of mouth gets out, then we hope this keeps growing,” Autobahn owner and president Mark Basso said.

There’s also an age limit with the sessions. Basso said anyone 18 and over can register for the classes. But for drivers under 18, they will need to provide a resume and references of their race driving experience.

Basso brought the Radical to the club’s fleet in April and members are allowed to take the racer out for a drive. There are two Radicals at the track but Basso said the club is bringing in 10 for the racing school.

“We have a relationship with Spring Mountain country club outside Las Vegas and they have a fleet of these cars,” Basso said. “They’ve been doing this (racing) school and we figured if their members liked it so much, ours would too.

Each Radical is produced in England and costs about $100,000. It has a motorcycle-type engine and weighs only 1,050 pounds.

Basso said he hopes to have a bigger fleet of Radicals at Autobahn next summer.

The school isn’t the only public event at Autobahn. The track is also hosting the Grand Fondo on Sept. 28, a road race honoring retiring cyclist and Lemont resident Christian Vande Velde.

There’s also a defensive driving academy that includes lessons for teenage drivers. Basso said teens can drive their own cars and they can learn emergency breaking and accident avoidance.

Don’t get sick

I kept hearing, “Bring a barf bag” before my ride with driving instructor Tony Kester.

The Radicals are lightweight, can whip around curves and go from 0-60 mph in three seconds.

Kester and I agreed on a series of hand signals if the speed and turns got to be too much.

“Just remember: pretend that you’re doing the driving and you won’t get sick,” he said.

It worked.

The open cockpit helped and I wasn’t claustrophobic. But the sharp, fast turns started to get to me on lap three and I told Kester to stop. I wanted out before I started to feel sick. I think I quit just in time.

These cars can get up to 160 mph at a track such as Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and they reach 120 at the Autobahn.

“So what was our top speed?” I asked.

“About 75,” he said.

That’ll give my rep an even bigger hit.



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