Track day or driving experience?
Once men get over the age of 35 presents and gift giving are a regular challenge for their families, the gift-giving equivalent of walking over hot coals.
By the time they have mortgages, children, decent sound systems and a cupboard full of driving games, most men are hard pushed to name anything they actually want. And so it is left to those around them to trawl the internet in search of inspiration. And ironically, amidst the plethora of 'gifts for men' websites, there really isn't much. Unless you really do want a particularly expensive business card holder. Or something to do with golf that isn't a set of golf clubs.
Where this search usually ends is amongst the various activity and experience day websites, where driving days tend to loom large. There are a lot of them. £99 track days that is. You're probably beginning to see why. Because what else do you buy the man who appears to have everything and want for nothing?
I've got a confession to make. I've only ever been on one track day. I was 35. When I realised that hiring out old cars by the day wasn't where my business was at I started to research £99 track days. Today Great Escape Cars runs a lot of driving experiences. Here's why we don't do track days, we do driving experiences.
Before you snort your tea, I should add: not all track days are like this. But too many are.
1. The track fallacy
Unless you invest in a top end track day, such as those by Palmer Sport or Silverstone Racing, you're probably going to be driving on an airfield masquerading as a track. The dream you're sold is that on a track you're free from speed cameras and pensioners in Hyundai i10s. True.
But in place of the mobile shopping trolleys and GATSOs you're in a car with a rev limiter, accompanied by a 'driving instructor', aka 'driving inspector.' It's not rule-free motoring at all.
2. The Upsell
The track day market is highly competitive. Consequently prices are low and often being discounted. Providers need to find their profits somewhere else. So when you arrive at the windswept portacabin somewhere in Leicestershire you'll be offered a host of 'special offers. Either 'discounted' track day experiences, professional photos or passenger rides for your guests. You've driven for 2 hours with your family to do this. What is an extra £50?
3. A Gift to Share
Track days are sold on the indulgence, the bucket list fulfilled. But these are actually gifts to share - just not necessarily with the right person. You'll be in the car with an instructor who is ostensibly there to help you drive well. He's also there to protect the car's engine and bodywork - from you.
Meanwhile your friends and family get to stand trackside - sorry, airfield side - each nursing a styrofoam cup of tea and waiting for the 10 seconds in every 2 minutes when they can see you whizz past. Then, 20 minutes later it's all over and you can go home.
4. Blink and you'll miss it
Whichever car you choose, you'll get around 3 laps in it, the equivalent of 6 miles. The actual driving time is 5 or 10 minutes. But it won't feel like that - because the experience is structured to expand the time with briefings, photos and familiarisation, all designed to increase the anticipation. But drill down and what, actually, have you really got?
Classics on the open road
Perhaps I'm guilty of cynicism. Plenty of people enjoy these experiences. And if you want to drive a Lamborghini for under £100, it's pretty much the only way it can be done. But, really, do you?
When we started offering driving experiences we followed the established format and put classic cars on the track. The packages were very popular. But I felt we were short changing people. Driving a supercar requires a race track because you need speed to generate excitement - something you can't do on the open road. A classic car doesn't need that.
Putting a classic car on a race track is like taking a fish out of water - unless you're a member of the Goodwood race track, it doesn't work. Classic cars are about the all-embracing experience, about pootling along on quiet roads enjoying the scenery - whether it's the view down the bonnet or the curve of a Cotswold hill.
That's why all of our driving experiences take place on open roads. It also means we don't have to hire tracks and instructors - so the cost of your gift experience goes into your experience. They cost less and you get more time to go further. So while you might pay £650 to pilot two classic Jaguars around a track for 2 hours, we can charge less than £300 to drive 5 on open roads for 200 miles. Yes, really.
Our Road Trips and Classic Taster experiences start at just £39. They are proving very popular - perhaps because they break all the rules listed above. No windswept tracks, no nannying instructors, no upselling. Just a gift to share with the people you actually know and care about.
You can find out more about Great Escape Cars' driving experiences on our new website - www.greatdrivingdays.co.uk. Or call 01527 893733.