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Palm Beach Driving Club Offers a World-Class Experience

JUPITER, Fla. —  Palm Beach Driving Club, the pre-eminent members-only club for automotive enthusiasts in the United States, is located at Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter, Fla. The elite club offers weekly, year-round track programs to automotive enthusiasts and allows drivers to tailor the program to fit their lifestyle.

The club’s membership is made up of drivers of all levels of experience with a desire for practice sessions and races under the guidance of professional drivers. The club hosts street-car enthusiasts, as well as amateur and professional race teams. There are sessions for novices and advanced drivers with no two nights ever the same.

Palm Beach International Raceway is a 2.2-mile road course, built in 1964 and repaved and reconfigured in 2008. It features a fast 6/10-mile back straightaway and several challenging corners. The track has served as a home for multiple driving schools, and a test facility for both IndyCar and NASCAR drivers. Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and NASCAR veteran Kyle Petty are among the drivers who have tested at PBIR in recent years.

This year alone, the road course has hosted large-scale corporate programs with Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentley and Cadillac to name a few impressive automotive brands.  

Palm Beach International Raceway, which includes a 1/4-mile drag strip, sanctioned by the International Hot Rod Association, and a karting center, is undergoing an expansive, multi-year capital improvement project.  It includes new state-of-the-art client hospitality and a higher-level lighting system.

To share the true experience of Palm Beach Driving Club and Palm Beach International Raceway, we enlisted the help of Shane Lewis, the resident pro driver at PBDC, and club members Jeff McKee and Mike Zapetis.

SHANE LEWIS, professional race car driver and resident instructor at PBDC

What do you see with Palm Beach Driving Club members?

Lewis: “People around here have active lifestyles and they love cars. When they come out here, there is a camaraderie, but guys also like to see who can outdrive each other. You must be somewhat of an A-type personality. But, it’s not thrill-seeking. These are calculated, smart individuals who are focused.”

Talk about the unique aspect of club members working directly with a professional racer.

Lewis: “The access to myself as a professional race car driver and the experience I have driving race tracks all over the world, there is a safety factor to it. The guys find out they can’t have their cell phones and they’re just focusing on one thing. It’s driving to the best ability they can on the race track with the vehicle they have a passion about.

“It’s also a unique experience for me. I see them start with just the basic driving set and I can bring them up to a medium skill level. Some, I even teach to go racing.”

How do you see Palm Beach Driving Club connect with members on a physical and emotional level?

Lewis: “You can be a member of a tennis club, a golf club and those are a lot of fun. But here, you are matching the enthusiasm people have for the car culture and you’re driving fast with that single-mindedness of doing the best lap you can, every lap, and sharing that experience back in the pit lane with everybody. It’s not just about what happens on the race track. It’s the social atmosphere of like-minded people enjoying themselves and having a great time.”

It’s competitive, but it’s also easy to see the close bond of the club members.

Lewis: “Everyone is supportive of each other. They all want to outdrive the other person, but they root for the other person to be better on the race track.  We will drive for hours, shut down and have dinner together, bench race and talk about what we did out there. We have business meetings out here just like at a golf course. People get out here, get the adrenaline going, stop, socialize and talk business, but they have to forget about that for a while when they go back driving.”

JEFF McKEE, PBDC member from Delray Beach, Fla.

Mr. McKee hit a top speed of 155 mph behind the wheel of his 2016 BMW M6 Gran Coupe during a driving club session on Wednesday, June 21. He described what the sessions at Palm Beach Driving Club means to him.

McKee: “This soothes long-term passion for racing. I don’t get to race that often, but I’m able to come out here every Wednesday night and bring a different car, whether it’s a street car or race car. I will bring my son out here and take him for rides, and I’m able to hang out with my friend and get a bite to eat. When you combine the social atmosphere with the cars, it’s the greatest.  I look forward to Wednesday night and my week goes so much faster because of it.”

What is the most exotic car you’ve driven at Palm Beach Driving Club?

McKee: “The most exotic car that I own and drive out here is a 2005 Ford GT, which is the holy grail of Fords. I also own a Super Performance GT 40 that I race in historic races, that I’ve had out there. Then, I bring my street cars like the BMW M6 Gran Coupe and a Corvette that will beat most of the Ferraris and Porsches.”

What is it like running a 1:31 lap around Palm Beach International Raceway in a BMW street car?

McKee: “It feels incredible. Emotionally, it is such an adrenaline rush when you are out here. I have a tough time sleeping when I get home. I leave here at 9:30 or 10 o’clock and it takes me until midnight before I start winding down.

“Physically, it’s a lot to deal with because you’re pulling quite a few G’s (G-Forces) with the acceleration and the cornering.  You’re beat by the end of the night from doing it. Many times, I will go to Palm Beach Karting Club next door before I get on the road course to prepare myself for this.

“Mentally, you have to be spot on so you don’t make mistakes and put your car in the wall. You don’t drive beyond your abilities.  Be aware of your car’s limits and your own limits, and you won’t have any problems.”

 

MIKE ZAPETIS, PBDC member from Jupiter, Fla. 

Zapetis enjoyed two distinctly different experiences on June 21 by driving a stunning, black Corvette street car and a Mazda Miata race car around the track on the same night. Like McGee, he also owns a Ford GT race car among his collection. With the variety of cars and the changing conditions of the track, he said that no two nights are ever the same.

Zapetis: “We enjoy bringing our cars out here and pushing them to the limit in a controlled environment. You get in a street car like the Corvette and it’s seat-of-the-pants. There are no driver aides or anything like that. The G-Forces, when you’re going through the corners, it’s exciting. The whole experience is exhilarating.”

How do you and the other members connect with the club on an emotional level?

Zapetis: “It’s our therapy. When you get in the car, you forget about everything else and it’s a nice distraction. Then, the social environment at the club, you’re here with so many nice people and you get to see so many cool cars. You have members with vintage race cars, up to new Corvettes, Porsches and other great cars. It’s a great crowd of people.” 

How does it feel when you turn a fast lap?

Zapetis: “We have a scoreboard now where everyone keeps track of their times. There is also one standardized car which you can use to test yourself against each other. Then, we have the fastest street car, the fastest race car which gets posted on the board at the clubhouse. When your name is at the top of the list, it’s exciting.”