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Want to drive like Hinchcliffe? Here’s where to learn

Driver James Hinchcliffe.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

The Honda Indy rolled into Toronto last weekend to deafen fans from across North America. For all the automotive enthusiasts out there who didn't get enough of the action, remember the best seats in the house are actually in the car: the race car. That's what my old boss, Brett Goodman, owner of the Bridgestone Racing Academy, used to say. Actually, I'm sure he still says it.

Most racing schools offer professional race training as well as racing experiences, which are designed for people who just want a taste of driving real race cars on real racetracks. But while the sizzle might be the racing, an ancillary benefit is the fact that the skills you hone to learn about racing can make you a safer driver as well.

While the Bridgestone Racing Academy has trained professionals, like hometown favourite James Hinchcliffe, who now drives the Andretti Autosport Go Daddy car, it also entertains the regular public and companies who want to venture away from the tried and true golf tournaments.

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Courses start at $295 for individuals. For super fans, that's a bargain in exchange for the thrill versus just watching other people drive.

But perhaps rally racing is more your cup of tea. There are schools and experiences for that too. Drag racing? Ditto. For the more comprehensive full day and multi-day experiences or training programs, you're generally looking at roughly $1,000 per day and up, but consider that all the equipment is provided and your financial responsibility for damage is limited. In some cases, there is no responsibility for damage. If you had your own inferior race car you could be on the hook for the entire value of the car if you wrote it off. Plus you might be the one doing all the wrenching.

For non-enthusiasts, advanced safety-oriented driving schools might start at the few hundred dollar range, but they can have clear real world applicability while still being fun. To be clear, these are not the basic driver's ed courses. Rather, they involve dedicated defensive driving training. Some schools use giant foam boulders that they throw at you, and others bring in water trucks to simulate slippery conditions as necessary.

You'll often be expected to bring your own car. These schools focus on skid control, emergency driving responses and, most notably, developing skills to avoid accidents altogether. The drills you practice can be almost as fun as being on a racetrack.

Other drills can save your life. You would be surprised how many people have no idea what anti-lock brakes are supposed to feel like when engaged (depending on the car, they can pulsate violently). Some drivers take their foot off the brake in response to feeling it the first time. You don't want that first time to be in an actual emergency stopping situation. You want it to be on an open, private lot with nothing around you.

Spending a few hundred dollars to watch some of the best race car drivers in the world won't get any arguments from me. It's definitely one of my vices. But spending a few hundred dollars to try your hand in an actual race car or for a proper advanced safety driving school can not only be fun, it can be a good investment too.

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About the Author
Personal Finance columnist

Preet Banerjee is a consultant to the financial services industry. You can follow him on twitter at  @PreetBanerjee. You can find his conflict of interest disclosure on his website. More

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