Here’s the scene: 22 women from all over the country are invited to spend a few days in Palm Springs, California with Lexus. It’s close to the holidays and so many family obligations so what do you do?
a. Decline and say, “thanks but cars aren’t that important to me.”
b. Ask for more information and then make a well-informed decision.
c. Immediately respond saying, “I’m in!”
After a brief check-in with my husband, I went with c and after you see the actual invitation, you might change your answer.
“Lexus has teamed up with Heels & Wheels and would like to invite you to Palm Desert to experience the performance side of the brand. On December 9th, Lexus will be hosting a female-focused performance driving event featuring our F brand vehicles (RC F and GS F) on a local track, and our F SPORT vehicles on surface streets. The lineup of F SPORT models will include all of the new 2.0-liter turbo vehicles added to the Lexus stable this past year (IS 200t, RC 200t, GS 200t).”
So here’s what it came down to. A media trip with expenses covered by Lexus so that I could go hang out with a bunch of badass women, talk about cars, and drive like nobody’s business. A yes quickly became a HELL YES!
Most impressive about this event wasn’t the luxury accommodations (yes, Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage with a view to die for)
What set this trip apart is that Lexus realized that women were well suited to their own media “wave.” We were brought in before more traditional journalists to talk about how Lexus is addressing the needs of women and millennials – two groups that have recently piqued the interests of marketers.
In order to set the stage, we started the event in a living room setting, a place where Lexus wanted us to feel comfortable and at home. We listened to Leigh Anne Sessions and Peggy Turner from Lexus Communications as they recognized what so many of us know. Women influence 80% of car buying decisions and it’s time to start catering more to their needs.
A few of the more innovative ways include introducing a signature scent for each Lexus dealership – a bit of salesmanship via aromatherapy. In fact, they asked us for our input on the scents we liked best. True to form, our opinions were wide and varied (although I’m sure mine was right).
They’re also consider who sells their cars. They want to bring more women into sales roles but recognize that not every woman gets excited about putting on a polo shirt and khakis to go to work. As a result, they’re working with a designer to bring a line of professional options to their women’s teams.
But after a lovely meet and greet, we were really there to talk about one thing: cars. I’ll admit that while their product specialists were talking about their performance vehicles, I had to pull up the Lexus website to follow along. Luckily, I’m going to give you the remedial version.
Lexus makes a F-Sport version of many of their popular vehicles. Think of it as a performance modification and badge not unlike the M models or Mercedes’ AMG. It’s a badge that symbolizes performance and handling. But as with other luxury brands, Lexus also caters to the performance crowd with the F series, models that are designed specifically with performance in mind.
When we woke early the next morning, we fueled up (ate breakfast, that is) and then headed out to the line-up of F-Sport vehicles. I nabbed my driving partner on the way out (Joni Gray from Autobytel.com), we hopped into the shiniest blue car we could find, and headed the 70 miles east to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway.
And that’s where the adventure began.
We had a few laps where we were driven around, another few practice laps for us as drivers, and then we were literally let loose onto the track, after suiting up, of course.
Before I headed out, I stuck around for what’s known as the “chalk talk” although chalk was nowhere to be found. Tracks have modernized to using whiteboards. We were given a track overview and a reminder of how to handle each turn (keep the car in the straightest line possible for maximum stability).
I drove a lap with a professional driver in the passenger seat to give me pointers. (His name was Shawn and I told him I already had lots of practice yelling that name.) Then I thought I was tough enough to handle it myself. And I pushed myself to the limits and pretty much scared myself silly. I was pretty sure I was done. Until Howard said he’d ride with me.
While I could “handle it,” it’s definitely worth it to take advantage of professional driving instructors who are there to give you tips and tricks and keep you on target. With his help, I pushed the RC F up to 100 mph and mostly felt like I knew what I was doing.
After that lap, I was ready to go out on a high note. I chose not to head out with the professional drivers behind the wheel because I was pretty sure I might wet my pants or lose my lunch. But I made sure to live vicariously for the other braver souls.
All good things must come to an end. When the hot laps were over, we once again grabbed a driving partner and started making the 70 mile trek back.
Yes, they did have to remind us that the highway is NOT a racetrack.
I kept it mostly to the speed limit (which is hard to do) and Cynthia and I decided to take the road less traveled. We saw a sign for the Joshua Tree National Park and thought it would make a beautiful backdrop for the car.
Unfortunately, it would have been another 45 minutes deep into the park before we even caught a glimpse of an actual Joshua tree but my shadow proves that we were at least there.
Beautiful setting, amazing women, awesome cars. But all good things must come to an end. As I boarded the plane to head home, I felt ready to drive with a renewed sense of excitement and confidence. And I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for these beauties on the road.