From driving a real race car to riding in a vintage aircraft, the region has thrills galore

Satisfy your need for speed by turning some laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Racing Experience.

STORY: Karon Warren

While Atlanta certainly has a lot to offer, it could be hard to find some entertainment that really gets your blood pumping. That’s where Henry County comes in. Just an hour south of town, it overflows with adventure for all excitement levels.

Those with a need for speed will find it at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton. While the track is home to an annual weekend in February full of thrilling NASCAR events, why settle for just watching the races when you can ride in a car yourself? That’s exactly what I did during my visit. Through the NASCAR Racing Experience, I climbed into a real race car with an experienced driver, and within minutes we were speeding off pit road and entering turn one. Seconds later, we were flying around the speedway at more than 150 mph.

At first, it doesn’t seem that fast; in fact, in the beginning it feels eerily similar to darting around Interstate 285— obviously not during rush hour. But it doesn’t take long for those G-forces to kick in as you enter yet another turn. And if you want a true sense of how fast you’re going, look out the window at the wall. Seeing the blur of those numbers and words painted on the concrete definitely clues you in.

If you’re more ambitious, consider signing up for a driving class so you can take the wheel yourself. If that seems more than you want to experience, you always can take a track tour or attend a race instead.

One of the adventures available in nearby Hampton is taking flight in a historic military aircraft.

Surprisingly, riding in a race car is not the height of adventure in Henry County. Right behind the speedway, you can take flight with the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation. Composed of veterans, their families and numerous volunteers, the foundation actively seeks out and restores flyable historic aircraft representing Army aviation from the Vietnam War to present day. The inventory includes Cobra AH-I and Huey 66-16624 helicopters, a Cessna 01-D Bird Dog airplane and more.

The foundation takes the education of these aircraft beyond just the spoken word. The public can ride in them at air shows, special events and regular flight days at the foundation’s hangar in Hampton. I can’t begin to describe how amazing it was to take off in a Huey 66-16624 helicopter, riding in the back with the door open (yes, we were strapped in). Having flown in a Huey as a high school JROTC student, I thought I was prepared. Not even a little. Back then, we didn’t fly with the doors open; that was a brand-new experience. Couple that with the stories the foundation’s veteran pilots share about their flying time during their military service, and it provides unique insight into the situations they faced on a daily basis.

Get ready for a unique tree-climbing experience at Panola Mountain State Park.

If you’re looking for adventure closer to the ground, make your way to Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge. Here, you can step back in time to the days when climbing trees was a regular pastime. This climbing is quite a bit different, however, as you use a harness and pulley system to reach the treetops. It’s an interesting and entertaining challenge as you try to hoist your way up into the branches.

I never quite got the hang of the pulley system, and thus didn’t make it high up into the tree. That’s OK, though. It just gives me a reason to make a return visit for another fun filled Henry County staycation.

DETAILS:

Army Aviation Heritage Foundation
armyav.org/rides-programs

NASCAR Racing Experience
nascarracingexperience.com

Panola Mountain State Park
gastateparks.org/panolamountain/excursions