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In the Driver’s Seat at Daytona2’s car guy, Michael Bettencourt, test drives this hallowed mecca for good ol’ boy NASCAR racing.

Image of checkered flags.

Blasting around corners in a 600-horsepower NASCAR race car wasn’t the most gut-clenching part of driving the Daytona International Speedway. Nor was tailgating the race instructor at upwards of 245 km/h, called drafting in racing circles, a death wish on the highway. No, the most eye-opening portion of driving on this famed track was during the preliminary familiarization laps we did in a white full-size passenger van: Daytona’s famous corners are banked at a pocket-emptying 31 degrees, which our driver told us would literally tip the van if he went too slowly.

Once in the cockpit, one tries not to think about the deaths here—race legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. died here in 2001—especially when you’re at a maximum neck-straining gravitational pull at all 31 degrees of banking. The wind whips past the netting that would be a driver’s window on a road car, and you can’t help but give the steering wheel and your derrière a massive clenching when you hit what feels like invisible speed bumps in the middle of a corner, with a panicky little jump to the rear tires that actually helps your line but not your heart rate.

What’s tricky about these cars is that they’re set up to continually turn left, as they’re always travelling counter-clockwise on the ovals, which makes it easier to turn into the corners. You have to fight to turn the steering wheel right so that the car goes straight, while whizzing by you on your right at 220+ km/h is a very hard wall. The last thing your brain wants to do is turn the steering wheel anywhere in its vicinity at that speed. At the end of your eight laps, your forearms sore from battling the wheel, you’re in awe of how the real pros can drive relatively safely at much higher speeds, up to averages of 338 km/h for 200 laps straight.

Michael Bettencourt test drives more than 100 new vehicles a year and is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.