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Spring Mountain Motor Sports
Spring Mountain Motor Sports
courtesy Spring Mountain Motor Sports

Father's Day is fast approaching. You've already consulted the many useless online gift guides filled with terrible gifts you should never buy Dad. And just when it seems like the Internet is of no help at all in your time of need, coupons for NASCAR-like racing courses are popping up like so many weeds sprouting through the cracks in the pavement that Dad hasn't tended to yet.

Normally, we at Money might steer you to the best Father's Day freebies and deals (which are still a great value if you're short on cash and long on love) instead of an extravagant token of your filial appreciation. But in this case we'll make an exception—especially if buckling up and shifting into high gear (without risking a ticket!) sounds like something your dad would enjoy. After all, the best kinds of presents are experiences, and this one is hard to beat.

Before you drop the flag on this gift, though, here's what you need to know.

Speed doesn't come cheap

For a full-time racecar driver, operating costs include that of the car, engines, testing, staff, and travel, which can run up to $5 million a year. Of course, those costs are covered by revenue generated by drivers themselves as well as team sponsorships, according to former Formula One driver Allen Berg of the Allen Berg Racing School in Fontana, Calif. (the Berg school has other locations in California and Arizona.)

Still, an amateur day at the track doesn't come cheap. At the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience (a few dozen locations across the U.S. and Canada) “experiences” range from $199 for three to five laps on the short track ("Taste of Speed" package) to $3,000 for 50 laps on the Super Speedway. Keep in mind that Dad will have to sit through a few hours of classroom instruction before hopping onto the track if it's his first time out.

At the Skip Barber School (which features celebrity alumnus Patrick Dempsey on its website), with five locations nationally, you'll pay a minimum of $995 for a one-day racing course, which the site says is perfect for first-time drivers. Prices for other courses vary depending on which track you've chosen, according to the school's website.

There are ways to minimize the costs, starting with the tons of Father’s Day promotions available. First, check out deals sites like Groupon for discounts on packages. For example, the American Muscle Experience at Connecticut's Thompson Speedway offers a $149 package that includes a "three-lap muscle car road-racing experience," normally a $299 value. That 50% price reduction extends up to an eight-lap run, which normally costs $699 but is available for $349. The Allen Berg Racing School is also running a 25% off Father's Day promotion through June 19.

Dad may need special certification

In most cases, Dad will need to take a one-day crash course (no pun intended) that offers basic instruction on how to operate the vehicle and other useful information. But if he really wants to go the extra mile, taking a three-day course like those offered at the Skip Barber school may be worthwhile: He'll be eligible for a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) regional competition license (at an additional cost, of course.) That certification allows holders to hop onto any racetrack across the country, Berg says.

Know what he's liable for if he wrecks the car

Some other considerations before you commit to one of these courses: The typical auto insurer won’t cover you if something happens on the track. Unless you purchase damage liability insurance from the school itself (the Berg school damage liability insurance, for example, is optional to purchase for $189 a day) the driver is on the hook for any damages to the car in the event of an accident. Most insurance purchased through these programs limit the driver's damage liability to a few thousand dollars.