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January 19, 2015

I-Drive NASCAR: Orlando's Newest Thrill

(Click on any photo for full-size)


I've been trying to take my area exploration a bit further lately. 
After all, there's so much more to Orlando than theme parks! The growth of Orlando's I-Drive tourist district is becoming impossible to ignore - and even harder to resist. With so much to discover, I specifically set out on a mission to challenge myself with
a few excursions that fell beyond my comfort zone. No costumed characters, no parades, no roller coasters, but also... no lines, no fear of Mother Nature, and no need to rearrange the family budget to accommodate the "hit". The first stop on my journey - I-Drive NASCAR Indoor Kart Racing.


Orlando has no shortage of go-kart amusement opportunities, but I-Drive NASCAR is entirely different. For starters, it's indoors. This aspect alone is a display of brilliance, as indoor attractions are rapidly gaining in popularity here. Whether it's rain, oppressive heat, or any of the other factors weighing in on the area's unpredictable climate, shelter from the elements helps to insure that nature won't dampen your quest for fun. 


So, how exactly does indoor karting work? Better than you'd expect! This 65,000 square-foot building features a half-mile of track. The state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, electric karts are capable of reaching speeds of up to 45 mph. While this may be the main attraction at I-Drive NASCAR, it's far from being the only attraction. Beyond that winding half-mile of challenging twists and turns, the complex also offers a four-lane bowling "cafe", full-service restaurant and bar, an impressive modern arcade, gift shop, and over 5,000 square-feet of meeting/party space.


I-Drive NASCAR opened last month, just off of International Drive, on the northern end. It's hard to miss the giant blue structure behind Hash House A Go Go. Parking is free, plentiful, and dedicated to the complex.


While most people love the rush of racing karts, I have been an observer for a long time now. When we visit go-kart venues, I am the family photographer. Though I always handled go-karting on residential streets just fine, my childhood is tainted with a slew of episodes where I found myself stuck and frustrated on tracks, to the ire of many go-kart attendants. The loose steering just didn't combine well with the tight turns, I suppose, but I've never been able to maneuver a go-kart on a track. Rather than continue to annoy myself, attendants, and other racers, I swore off the little machines years ago... until the day I visited I-Drive NASCAR. And yes.. I'll admit it... I was TERRIFIED! I shared my concern with Marketing Coordinator, Stephanie Strobel as she helped me prepare for my test drive. I warned her that I would give women drivers a bad name. Stephanie was incredibly reassuring, offering encouragement, and even a tip - just like on the highway, stay to the right if you just want the solo driving experience rather than the competitive "race". 


Let's take a closer look at the full I-Drive NASCAR experience...



There is no "cover charge" to enter the complex. This means that you can enjoy whichever amenities you choose without paying a small fortune just for walking through the door. Upon entering the main area, racers are asked to register at the I-Drive Hub. After entering the requested info via touchscreen monitors, guests receive their "Racer Card". This card is yours to keep, and it will store and keep track of your races and information for future visits. At this time, racers are assigned to their "heat", which is their race time and group. 




If crowds are low, chances are that your heat will be called rather quickly, but if you do have a wait, this is a good time to check out the rest of the amusements on-hand. There are over 60 games at I-Drive NASCAR, including arcade favorites, as well as pool, air hockey, and of course - racing games!





The bowling cafe provides a sophisticated, unique bowling experience for the entire family. The lanes are slightly shorter than standard - allowing for less frustration for younger players, while still maintaining a challenge for adults. Comfortable contemporary seating and modern scoring features are the icing on the cake, but the truly original touch... no need for special shoes! So forget the hassles of finding the right "used" shoe size, paying for shoe rental, and changing footwear. Just get out there and bowl!


I-Drive NASCAR features a full-service restaurant with seating for up to 80 guests. Everything from quick snacks to full meals are on the menu, with a well-stocked bar to boot! BUT... you may want to save the liquor for after your race. They have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and racing, and they do have breathalyzers handy. Rest assured, there is no hidden police force waiting to hand you a DUI based on your results, but you won't be given the opportunity to show your drunken donut skills on the track.





Assuming you held off on the libations, when your heat is called, you'll be gathered into a "racers only" area where you'll view a brief video providing you with all the instruction you need to put the pedal to the metal. Various colored flags are used by attendants throughout the race to communicate with racers. If you're unfamiliar with the messages the flags convey, you may miss out on important instructions. Failure to comply means the end of your race. Safety is paramount, after all!



Another important thing you'll learn in the briefing is how to adjust your vehicle. These karts allow more adjustment and customization than any I have ever seen. The seat adjusts, the steering wheel tilts - practically everything can be shifted to suit your individual body style. After the briefing, you'll put on your headsock and helmet (many sizes to choose from). Ladies, it wouldn't be a bad idea to come prepared with a hair-tie!





Once everyone is adjusted, checked, and double-checked... you're off! In my case, it was more of a careful, cautious creep out of the pit, but away I went. Stephanie was kind enough to shoot a video of my first lap. I felt pretty accomplished when I made it around once without hitting anything or getting stuck, but then I watched the video. I knew I was lapped by my fellow racers (probably a few times, if I'm to be totally honest), but I had to laugh out loud when I actually saw it.


I lost count of how many laps I took around that track, but I started feeling more confident with each one. By the third lap, I caught myself letting out a little "woohoo" with my regressive self. I remembered how much I enjoyed go-karts as a kid, and even felt a little tinge of regret for passing them by all these years. 


I firmly believe that if it weren't for the sharpness of turn #7, I might have been able to gain some pride-redeeming momentum... maybe. Personally, I felt pretty big and bad every time I faced my favorite - turn #4. Racing results are revealed on monitors, so those who aren't joining you in the race can watch and cheer you on from the main gaming floor or restaurant. 


Once you've had your fill of racing and gaming, redeem your arcade points for prizes before you leave. Unlike many arcades, you won't be playing 50 games of skee ball for a Tootsie Roll here!


On your way out, take a moment to look around the gift shop, where you can find officially licensed NASCAR gear, and handy gadgets available for purchase.

 

Every little detail behind I-Drive NASCAR helps to drive the point home that this is go-karting 2.0. Absent are the smells of gas and grease; ever-present are touches of class that take the entire idea of karting to a whole new level. Even the restroom facilities are a cut above what anyone would expect in a simple arcade or kart complex. Note the design on the walls - meant to resemble tire treads.


I-Drive NASCAR is a worthy venue for any event or meeting as well. The area committed to conference space is behind a wall, buffering out the sounds of the race on the other side, but still providing tinted windows overlooking the track for the best spectator seats in the house. The space (much like the karts) is customizable to suit the needs of your event or group. Partitions can be put up or split to create the space you require. While this is a fantastic place to host a birthday party, it is elegant enough to appeal to corporate clients with a teambuilding goal as well. The staff at I-Drive NASCAR is ready, willing, and able to transform this meeting space into whatever you need. Past events have included setting up a full-scale nightclub, and even hosting Miss Brazil USA!


  

I-Drive NASCAR is a remarkable, first-of-its-kind entertainment venue that truly does offer something for everyone. As a tourist, stop in and do it all for an easy half-day away from the theme park rush. As a local, you can even consider this a weekly pit-stop for light amusements, a meal, or a place to catch a game - and, not just NASCAR either. Monitors throughout the building will televise many sporting events of all types. When a friend or family member pops in for a visit, this is somewhere to consider taking them as well. Even if they think they've been there, done that... they've never done it quite like this.  



I-Drive NASCAR is open daily from 10am - 11pm. Prices vary based on available package options. Discount for Florida residents, and plenty of perks with membership. Visit I-Drive NASCAR on the Web for more information, or join them on Twitter or Facebook. I-Drive NASCAR is located at 5228 Vanguard St., Orlando, FL 32819.