Want to Drive 170 MPH?

Some men buy flashy sports cars. Some take up hunting wild animals, and others more simply turn to lifting weights to lose the extra padding they've added since they hit 40.

And then, there's something thousands of other guys do to spice up the monotony of midlife, to experience something other than a day at the office, chaperoning their daughter's school dance or a weekend trip to The Home Depot.

These men head to one of the dozens of race-car-driving schools around the country where average Joes can speed around a track at upward of 170 mph in authentic stock cars once driven by some of today's top racers.

Others might make a trip to one of the 10 Mario Andretti Racing Schools in the United States to get behind the wheel of a 600-plus horsepower Indy-style race car that drives "like it has a jet engine," as one student described.

Recently, the school in Charlotte, N.C., held a "Mario Andretti Fantasy Day," where, for roughly $1,000, students could drive eight laps in an Indy-style race car and then meet Andretti trackside for a photo-op.

Students could also choose to ride as a passenger in an Indy car driven by Andretti, but with no meeting or photo-op.

Rafael Fernandez, 44, is a father of five from southeast Florida, who runs a successful business and says he works "a lot." As an early Father's Day gift from his wife, he traveled to Charlotte for the Fantasy Day and opted to experience the thrill of driving an Indy car for himself.

"It was one of those 'Thank you, Lord' moments," he said. "It was like I was flying. It was incredible."

Fernandez says he averaged 154 mph during his eight laps, but quickly pointed out that "average" means he went a lot faster at times.

"I love cars," he said. "I've got two Alfa Romeos, an old 1969 Jaguar and a 1960 Cadillac limo that I had to build a special carport for."

His experience racing in Charlotte was so life-changing that he's now contemplating buying one of his own Formula race cars.

Meeting Andretti was an even bigger dream come true for Fernandez.

"He was really down to earth, very friendly with everybody," Fernandez said. "He's small, at first. I'm 5 feet, 10 inches and he's shorter than me. But, he's a giant in my heart."

Steve Haight traveled all the way to North Carolina from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for the Andretti adventure. Haight said he'd been a car enthusiast and Indy fan since he was "knee high to a grasshopper" but it's never too late to fulfill a childhood dream.

The trip was a present from his wife who, he said, "must have gotten tired of me returning the ties."

So, she purchased the Fantasy Day for him and slipped the school's brochure in his birthday card, and watched as Haight processed the magnitude of the gift he was receiving.

"I was thrilled … floored," he said. "Meeting Mario Andretti. … He's one of my biggest heroes!"

North Carolina resident Greg Hill, 54, also received a day at the school as a gift from his wife of more than 20 years. He opted for the meet-and-greet with Andretti and to take a few laps as his passenger.

"Talk about a fantasy!" he said. "I just didn't think that sort of thing could even happen. It's so far beyond anything I could have imagined."

Hill, who runs a medical transcription business, said he worked seven days a week and needed a break. The morning of the event he anxiously watched from the stands as more than a dozen people "took their ride" before him. Finally, it was his turn.

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