A few weeks ago, I made quite the whirlwind trip, flying from Wisconsin to the racetrack at Grattan, Michigan—via Minneapolis and Detroit—and back home, all in one day. I went there to try out the new track package on Ford's high-performance Taurus SHO. The sad part was, we flew right over the Grattan circuit to Detroit and then had to fly back to Grand Rapids, near the track, hours later on another plane. I wanted to save valuable time by parachuting out, but the stewardess wouldn't let me. They never do, especially in coach. All you can do is eat those five pretzels and watch the track slide by beneath your wings. How like a god is Man, yet he's trapped by a folding tray table. Long travel day aside, the Taurus SHO turned out to be a very nicely developed car, quick, balanced and easy to drive on the track. The added $1995 Performance Package gives you racetrack-ready suspension, brake and cooling upgrades to an already potent awd sedan whose 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 cranks out 365 bhp. The idea is that you can take your family car to a track day and stay out there all day long without overheating or overtaxing any component on the car. This is something that was not possible with my dad's 1962 Ford Fairlane 500. Or even the standard '66 Mustang coupe he replaced it with. But until recently there were really very few cars you could take straight from the street onto the racetrack without severe misgivings—otherwise known as roll-overs, spins, blown tires and fried brake rotors. Those who tried quickly discovered that racing and driving fast on the street are about as different as war and fly fishing, and that racetracks are incredibly hard on equipment. When I got interested in sports cars in the early '60s, only a few exotics were really built for both street legality and lapping at speed—Ferrari GTOs, Porsche 904s, Shelby Mustang GT350s and the like—and even those had to be carefully prepared. The first sports car I ever drove on a race circuit was an H-Production Bugeye Sprite, which I bought in 1973. To be competitive with other SCCA production cars of that era, the Bugeye needed beefier, lowered springs, a big front sway bar, thicker shock oil, Ferodo DS-11 brake linings, better rear axles, a Panhard bar, a locked differential, wider wheels, better tires, an oil cooler and a heavily modified engine. All in order to get around the track with any kind of regularity. Even then, the Sprite broke something or blew up about every 20 minutes. Despite all these chassis modifications (or maybe because of them), my Bugeye didn't really handle all that well—mostly because I was either too stupid or cheap to put on a heavier front anti-sway bar than the spindly aftermarket device that came with the car. If you got the back end loose in any sudden maneuver, it had a tendency to snap-spin. Like, right now. The car just wanted to go backward. It was a hairy little crate to drive. Also, the spring rates were chosen on the "any suspension will work if you don't let it" theory, based on a long tradition of English coal cart technology. A minor road seam could knock all your fillings out. Meanwhile, back on the street, I was driving a dead stock Bugeye Sprite I'd restored. While giving my friend Lee Heggelund a demonstration of true sports-car handling in our park-like Arboretum, I managed to spin out and do a complete 360 in a 45-mph corner. We missed all the nearby trees and Lee was quite impressed, once he stopped hyperventilating. I think the problem here was a set of mismatched bald recaps that came with the car. As I recall, only two of them were the same brand. Or maybe only one was the same brand. Anyway, they had no detectable grip and were quite narrow to boot. If my two Bugeyes were not perfectly balanced, at least they merely went into a flat spin instead of flipping over. I personally witnessed two Triumph Spitfires and a racing VW Beetle do just that. In all three cases, the driver lost the back end for a second, corrected, and the rear swing axles tucked in, causing the car to do one big hop and then leap into the air like a frog and land upside down. Quite spectacular—and just exactly what you don't want your car to do. Not until SUVs were invented did this become a more generally accepted handling trait. I co-drove the VW in an endurance race at Blackhawk Farms and actually got it up on two wheels in Turn 2, weaving down the road on the knife edge of balance, like some kind of half-trained stunt driver. Luckily, it flopped back down onto all four tires. My co-driver then took over and actually rolled the Beetle in the same spot. He was unhurt, but the car looked like a ball of brown aluminum foil. This experience led me to dub swing axles "One of the 10 Worst Ideas in Human History." What we needed, of course, was some kind of droop limiter, and this is what Triumph eventually added to make their later Spitfires safer. Further proof that any suspension will work if you don't let it. When I got into Formula Ford, things improved considerably, but even my short-wheel-base Lola 204 had a slight tendency to oversteer in fast corners, so you had to stay alert. I think the first car I ever drove on a racetrack that was truly set up perfectly was a Datsun 280Z. This was a school car I used while doing a story at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at Sears Point in late 1983. You could place this car anywhere on the track or make the back end hang out and then correct it with steering. The sudden reality of proper handling almost brought tears to my eyes. O, the lost years.... After that, I had a series of racing cars that were similarly good, a Crossle 32F, a Lotus Super Seven and a Reynard RF88 Formula Continental. All eminently driveable and forgiving. But I never drove a dead-stock street car that was really good on the track until I came to work for R&T in the early '80s. In doing a variety of comparison tests at Willow Springs Raceway, I discovered that both the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (ditto Camaro Z28) and Porsche 944 were not only safe and stable at race speeds, but genuinely tossable and fun to drive. You could cruise comfortably from our Newport Beach offices to Willow Springs, drive straight onto the track and have a good time. You actually didn't want to come in when your session was over. Since that era, things have improved dramatically, and the world is now relatively awash in nice street cars that can happily head out of pit row with no serious misgivings. Among my favorites in recent years are various Miatas, the Porsche Boxster S and Cayman, Caterham Seven, Lotus Elise/Exige and several recent Corvettes. The Aston Martin Rapides we drove last year at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in our 24-hour test were also astonishingly good, for such large luxury 4-seaters. So good, in fact, they got me all fired up and back into racing. The four 2012 Corvettes we tested at Spring Mountain earlier this year merely added fuel to that fire. Particularly the Z06—which has maybe the best road/track balance I've experienced. Many cars—especially American cars—when I started at this magazine were engineered to generate big numbers on the skidpad and slalom, but didn't have much feel or finesse at the steering wheel. Not so with that current generation of Corvettes. They've got the whole package working together. And so—remarkably, for a family sedan—does the Taurus SHO I just drove. These are very good times for an enthusiast who wants to do laps, pick up the dry cleaning or drive across the country, all with the same car. One that doesn't spin, blow up or leap into the air unexpectedly. Or come equipped with four mismatched recaps and the wrong sway bar.