8 Hours, 10 Supercars, Pure Bliss
Here I am, coming off the carousel onto the main straight as I quickly squeeze the paddle shifters through 4th then 5th gear, throttle firmly planted on the floor. I glance down at the yellow tachometer and speedometer of the bright red Ferrari F430 just long enough to see the needle passing through 155 mph, as I fill the air with expletives that are barely perceptible over the wind noise and that glorious 490 horsepower V8. I pass through the orange highway cones marking my braking point for the right-hand off-cambered 90-degree turn, brake hard, shift down two gears and apex the corner at a mere 75 mph, then back hard on the throttle.
This is all happening with my driving instructor, Darius Grala, a highly experienced Daytona Prototype racecar driver, in an identical Ferrari F430 just four car lengths ahead of me, playing the leader. Behind me are two Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG black series, two Porsche Turbo 997s, two Lamborghini Gallardos, and two Aston Martin DB9s, blasting around the New Jersey Motorsports Park's 1.9-mile “Lightning” road course, with their drivers all screaming expletives, too.
After two hot laps, we pull into the pits. Everyone gets out of their respective cars and moves on to the next. My next car is the CLK63 … I'm going to spend all day doing this … Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
Supercar Life is the creation of owner Jan Otto, who wanted to give his customers a one-day driving experience unlike any on the market. The company is now breaking into the incentive market, offering individual and group trips (customizable according to size). The concept is simple: Allow people to drive these cars the way they were meant to be driven. The company's mission statement is just as simple: “Having fun with supercars.”
The day starts off with a catered breakfast trackside and an introduction to the driving instructors and staff. The instructors are an impressive list of who's who in the racing world, including Ryan Hunter-Reay, recent Indy car winner at Watkins Glenn, and Matt Plumb, currently in the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.
The morning is spent rotating between the classroom, skid pad, and racecourse. On the skid pad and racecourse, the instructors guide participants through all five cars with acceleration, braking tests, slalom course, and track familiarization. By lunch, everyone has sampled each car and gets an opportunity to sit and talk with the drivers.
In the afternoon, participants start exploring the capabilities of the cars on the racecourse in a brilliantly conceived lead-and-follow. They follow their instructors, who are driving identical cars, and are allowed to push them to their personal limit. Then they get to ride shotgun with them. By the end of the day, everyone has spent hours in all the cars.
All this, in combination with the luxury package (see below), exceeded my expectations in every way. Pinch me … I must be dreaming.
Cost: $4,990 for the Track Package, including driving, breakfast, lunch, personalized in-car DVD, post-event champagne toast, and photo with your favorite car; $5,690 for the Luxury Package, which adds luxury accommodations for one night and VIP transportation to and from the track and airport.
Location: New Jersey Motorsports Park, Millville, N.J., full corporate programs can be scheduled almost anywhere, depending upon track availability.
— Ian Scofidio
Now They Can Say They've Done Everest
Take their breath away — literally — with a trek to Mount Everest base camp. This high-altitude adventure demands a certain degree of fitness, but the rewards are spectacular views of Everest and the surrounding peaks, sightseeing in Kathmandu, and visits to remote Nepalese villages, monasteries, and teahouses. While trekkers spend at least part of each day hiking up and down at high altitude, plenty of time is built in to relax, soak up awe-inspiring views, and enjoy a mix of traditional Nepalese and American meals. Nights are spent in the best-available accommodations — everything from tents to local homes to four- and five-star lodges. Send one winner or a group — optimally between 10 and 20 people. While the standard offering is 17 days, custom-length trips are available for corporate clients.
Cost: Prices start at $2,815 per person, double occupancy, based on four persons traveling together, including meals and accommodations.
A Chance to Experience Zero Gravity
Give new meaning to the term “move about the cabin” in Zero G's specially modified aircraft, which uses parabolic flight — the same method NASA has used to train astronauts for the past 45 years, and the same way Tom Hanks floated in Apollo 13 — to defy gravity without heading into space. As the plane crests a parabola, passengers experience weightlessness for 30 seconds, during which they can fly across the cabin like Superman, attempt to drink floating drops of water, and catch M&Ms as they drift by. The plane has three sections, each accommodating 11 flyers, for a maximum of 33 people per flight. Reserve one section or charter the plane. Zero G offers regularly scheduled flights from Las Vegas and the Kennedy Space Center outside Orlando, but the plane can be chartered to travel anywhere in the United States.
Cost: $45,000 per section, $135,000 to charter the plane
Location: Scheduled flights from Las Vegas and Florida, charters anywhere in the country
Dare to Fly on a Trapeze?
Winners can join the circus for a day with a trapeze lesson at one of the few full-time circus schools in the country. At the end of just one lesson, participants will swing high in the air, hang by their knees, and even attempt a catch if they're willing. (Most people who work up the nerve to attempt the catch wind up succeeding.) Strength and physical fitness are not really necessary: Trapeze school is more about physics, momentum, gravity, and timing. And of course, focus. The hour-long lesson can accommodate four people, who rotate through climbing, jumping, catching, and observing.
Cost: $240/hour for four people
Location: Oakland, Calif.
Baseball Fantasy Come True
Pair your top performers with former Major League Baseball players and let them live their dreams of being in the big leagues. Teams of 12, each with at least one former pro as manager/coach, play four games over three days, leading up to a championship game on the final day. Players also mingle with the pros over cocktails and meals throughout the program. Companies can rent the entire camp for up to 96 players in eight teams. In addition to the scheduled games, players also receive practice time, and hitting and pitching instruction from the major league players. The Florida-based camp provides the equipment and the uniform (personalized with each attendee's name and number of choice). Participants supply their own gloves, cleats, and protective gear.
Cost: $2,995 for an individual player, includes accommodations and meals. Discounts available for groups.
Location: Fort Myers or Vero Beach, Fla.
Drive Like You're Five
Picture a giant sandbox with supersized Tonka trucks and you get the idea behind Cloud 9 Living's Dig This! experience — the only place in the country where attendees can play with full-size construction equipment. After a safety lecture and 20 minutes of vehicle operation instruction, participants are assigned their own workspaces on a private 10-acre work site and a vehicle — a CAT 315 Excavator, CAT D5 Bulldozer, or CAT 246 Skid Steer. They learn to move sand, gravel, rocks, and dirt; dig trenches and ponds; build dams; or stack rocks in a pyramid. A half-day experience includes one machine; a full day gets winners a turn on two different construction vehicles.
Cost: Starts at $365 per person for a half-day. Full facility rental available.
Location: Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Sailing, America's Cup — Style
There's nothing like slicing through clear blue waters at breathtaking speed aboard an America's Cup 40-foot yacht. Under the watchful eyes of an experienced team, participants become crew members in their own regatta, handling everything from cranking the massive sails to taking a turn at the helm to filling support positions such as bartender. Each crew — a minimum of nine and a maximum of 12 participants, plus three staff crew members — sails one of five famous America's Cup yachts for two to three hours, depending on weather conditions, around a shortened America's Cup course. For an exclusive group regatta, count on a private briefing, exclusive use of yachts and professional crew, a victory rum punch, and customized crew shirts.
Cost: $78 per person; exclusive regatta priced around $2,050 per boat plus 12 percent gratuity.
Location: St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
Do the Warehouse Dash
Simulate a TV game show by allowing participants to run through aisles of brand-name merchandise, stocked from the Hinda Incentives warehouse, grabbing what they want. Music plays and coworkers gawk as winners fill carts with big-screen TVs, golf clubs, grills, camcorders, MP3 players, and just about anything else in the reward catalog. The average participant grabs between 18 and 20 items during a 60-second dash. The event originated in Hinda's warehouse in Chicago, but now it has hit the road with “Dash to Go.” Hinda will stage a shopping spree anywhere, setting up stations with name-brand merchandise, even supplying music and decorations. Companies choose an award budget per person, and Hinda stages merchandise to reflect an appropriate spree: Some lucky winners have walked away with $10,000 in loot.
Cost: $5,000 for set up and staff, plus the cost of merchandise grabbed
Location: Hinda's Chicago warehouse or anywhere in the country
Top Gun Thrills
Give winners the chance to engage in a dogfight at 30,000 feet. After attending ground school to learn safety procedures, flying maneuvers, rules of engagement, and how to counter the physiological effects of g-force, participants grab a helmet and parachute and jump into the cockpit of a high-performance Italian-built fighter craft. For about an hour, the first-time pilots are at the controls (side-by-side with a licensed fighter pilot, of course), scanning the skies in search of an enemy airplane, pulling G's, making quick decisions to get the enemy in their sights and firing away. Air Combat USA has scheduled stops in 34 cities around the country and can arrange to travel to other destinations as well. For a group experience, they can handle a maximum of 36 people per day.
Cost: $1,395 per person
Location: 34 airports around the country
— Jeanne O'Brien Coffey