TOOELE — Growing up in Australia, Paul Russell-Cook was not a novice when it came to the world of car racing. His father was a member of Club Lotus Australia, and it meant Russell-Cook spent plenty of childhood days around a racetrack.
But his first experience with kart racing came on the other side of the world.
Last week, Russell-Cook joined four friends in renting karts and taking in a few laps on the kart track at Miller Motorsports Park. Experiencing the sensation of riding a sled-like distance off the ground and whipping around turns at high speeds simply blew him away.
"Basically, I'm a bit of a speed fan and the karts are great," said Russell-Cook, who is a ski instructor in Park City.
"They handle really well and are fast. It's just great — the whole thing. And the track is really good here too. Really mixes it up."
For fans of speed like Russell-Cook, Miller Motorsports Park is fast becoming a must-see and must-experience destination.
When the late Larry H. Miller first set his sights on constructing the track, he initially envisioned it as something akin to a personal playground that would satisfy his own need for speed. In a way, elements of that original sentiment linger because the park is now becoming a playground for racing enthusiasts from around the world. Here's a quick look at some of the racing opportunities available at the park.
Nothing draws in amateur racers to Miller Motorsports Park quite like having a chance to take a spin on its outdoor kart track.
The track is 0.89 of a mile long and features a main straightaway 900 feet long and 30 feet wide. It has subtle lane changes and can be configured in multiple ways to accommodate a variety of racing classes. Classes are broken down using a range of factors, including age groups, engine size and the level of complexity of the individual karts.
There is enough speed to satisfy both beginners and pros, and it doesn't take much to hook a first-time kart driver into coming back.
Shelagh Moore, a Park City resident originally from Toronto, experienced karting at Miller Motorsports Park for the first time last summer. She couldn't wait to return with a group of five friends — which included Russell-Cook — last week.
"It's kind of addictive," Moore said. "It's fun. We're all skiers, so we like things that go fast. And this goes fast."
The kart track not only hosts people seeking the occasional thrill, but it also serves as home for amateur kart leagues. Starting last month, the Ice Breaker Kart Championship has featured a race every two weeks with a finale scheduled for May 23. That sets up for another series, the Utah Kart Championship, which features 10 races stretching from June to October.
These series have proven to be a hit with local racers statewide.
Mike Price, a Heber resident, has two daughters, Sophia (7) and Sydney (5), who routinely compete in kart races. Price spent much of his childhood racing as well, and loves the fact that he and his family can experience a world-class track that is located only a couple of hours by car away from their home.
"Having this available to us is obviously huge," Price said. "Having this in our backyard is something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime in Utah."
A driver's license is not needed to go karting at Miller Motorsports Park. The only requirements are that a person be at least 50 inches tall and wear closed toe shoes. Bringing a full wallet is probably a good idea, too. Ten minutes on the track costs $22.50, a 30-minute session costs $55 and an hour of track time costs $100.
For a person who has ever wondered what it feels like to be behind the wheel on a racetrack, Miller Motorsports Park offers a chance to experience that sensation with its driving schools.
There are several driving schools offered to the public. These include the Ford Racing High Performance Driving School, a teen driving school, a karting school and a highway survival school.
In the Ford Racing school, drivers can sign up for one to three days of instruction that teach multiple elements of racing — including braking, downshifting, cornering and skid car exercises. The school culminates in lap sessions that offer all driving school students an opportunity to navigate the main track themselves.
For those who feel more hesitant to get behind the wheel, there is an option to sign up for "hot lap" sessions where a person can ride shotgun with a professional driver as they take a few spins around the track.
Of the driving schools, one of the more popular ones has been the teen driving school. Essentially, the program is like taking a driver's education course. Teens learn a variety of safe driving skills and get to enjoy driving on a racetrack at the same time.
"That's been a really popular program for us," MMP spokesman John Gardner said. "It's really picked up this year. Of course, we've done a better job of promoting it, too."
Teen driving schools are available spring, summer and fall.
One element Miller Motorsports Park is introducing this season to draw in more racing enthusiasts is the concept of wide-open Wednesdays. From May through September, the park will open up practically everything it has to offer to the public at a discounted price on one Wednesday per month.
On these days, free tours through the facility and the car museum it houses will be offered. The museum features an impressive collection of vintage Shelby Cobras and other race cars purchased by Miller over the years.
In addition to tours, local racing enthusiasts have an opportunity to try their hand at a number of courses. Motorcycle riders can test themselves on a motorcycle skills course. There is also a course open for off-road vehicles. And karting enthusiasts can go around the kart track at discounted rates.
A key offering on these wide-open Wednesdays is the chance for visitors to turn their own vehicle into a temporary race car. This offering is in the form of an autocross course that allows participants to race their own vehicles at top speeds — for the cost of $1 per run.
Wide-open Wednesdays will occur once a month. The first one is scheduled for May 13. With all the features the park has packed into that single night, Gardner hopes it will appeal to a broad spectrum of fans.
"We tell people if you can't have fun here, you don't have a pulse," Gardner said.