Tracks and Schools
Where Can I Find Out About Tracks And Track Events?
[KS - 99/09/22] For listings of drivers schools, check out AutoWeek's special "track" issues. Other good lists can be found at http://www.na-motorsports.com/Schools for tracks in North American and http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/tracks/tracks.html for tracks around the world.
[KS] The BMW Car Club of America has an extensive schedule of outstanding driving schools all over the country. They have an extensive web page at http://www.bmwcca.org In particular, check out their calendar of driving schools and other events at http://www.bmwcca.org/l2pages/calendar.htm.
The most comprehensive description of a whole bunch of tracks: http://www.na-motorsports.com/Tracks (for tracks in North America)
What Are People's Experience With Various Schools?
[DH] Wayne and I just got back from the 4 Day Grand Prix course last night to get our SCCA competition license. Bob Bondurant runs a FIRST CLASS operation, it was amazing, a lot of fun, and a lot of track time.
I would highly recommend it. Spend the extra money for the Grand Prix course as opposed to the High Performance driving. The four day course gives you the following over the three day course:
- Way more race track time
- 10 lap race in their mustangs
- About 2 hours of seat time in the Formula Fords
- You can use the full loop of the racetrack in both the Mustangs and Formula Fords
I believe you have to pass the grand prix course(or a similar course from another school) before taking the advanced road racing.
Russell / Fast Lane
[RLW] I've done both Russell and Fast Lane at Willow Springs. They're both excellent courses with good instructors, at Russell I used the Formula 2000 cars, open wheel single seat racers, at Fast Lane I used their Toyota's and my NSX. Cost is comparable, although I got more track time at Fast Lane at Willow Springs. The other advantage of fast lane is that the instructors can ride in your car and see what you're doing. There were only 4-5 people who did the entire 3 day school, and so we had the track to ourselves from 8:30 to 5 every day, with about an hour of classroom. The drivers were pretty advanced, so the instruction was mainly done in the cars, and during breaks, not by pulling us all off the track into class. They did not have the staff at Fast Lane to time us, which was okay, they do time you at Russell, but in the beginning of doing this, most people's times are pretty lousy.
[JA] I attended the Russell several years ago while it was at Laguna Seca. I enjoyed the experience. Seemed like we got a lot of track time. I also feel that the ability to run several laps between critiques allows you to get into a groove. They did flag you off and talk to you if you did something really weird, dangerous or were sliding in the corners. A spin was an automatic "return to the pits".
I would do the Russell school again and am thinking about doing their advanced school sometime.
[WSC] Well folks, just got back from the 2-day Skip Barber Driving School..... and let me tell YOU, this was a lotta FUN!
First the players:
The Dodge Ram V-8 Pickup..... light rear end, great for throwing around and doing double axels
The Dodge Neon RT...... 16V 2L screamer with no low end-torque, front-wheel drive, tons of undesteer at the limit and a tendency to pick its inside tire off the ground during hard braking in a turn (yes, I have video of this).
The Dodge Viper RT/10 and GS..... the antithesis of the NSX...... a BIG brute car, with a BIG brute engine (8L V10), and a BIG ass set of tires.... .its just...... BIG and BAD.
Basically I paid $975 to spend 2-days trashing somebody else's cars and trucks.... spinning them in lurid 360's on the figure of 8 skidpad (I have video of this exercise which has no redeeming social value...but it sure looks cool when you can make the V-8 Dodge Ram pick-up dance on its back tires). Yes, there was useful safety training applicable to everyday driving, like the emergency lane change manuever (practiced time and time again in a Dodge Neon RT). Instruction was excellent overall with names some might recognize (Vic Elrod..... 1971 24hr Sebring champion in a Porsche 917, 6-time winner at Nurinberg). On the Chin scale I would give the school a 8 out of 10.
The best features were the instructors and the vehicles, particularly the Neon RT. I now have much more respect for this little 4-banger. The instructors showed incredible patience with those of us (moi) who already drive cars that can oversteer, fumbling around trying to control the back end of the pick-up with the throttle.... sometimes doing several 360's on the wetted down concrete. The autocross circuit was a blast. Believe it or not, I liked it better in the Neon than the Viper (nimble vs. brute force). Times were within 1sec. per lap...prettly respectable given the 450 additional horses in the Viper. We had a team competition at the very end...... you know the 12 hours at Sebring.... well, we had the 12 minutes at Sebring. Each team member got to drive the autocross 3 times and then we had to switch drivers and do it again. There were 5 people on a team. It was amazingly close. Our team came in second (only 3 teams!) a total of 7 sec. behind the winners.
The slalom was a lesson in smoothness. We almost had an "incident" on this event. The slalom is a series of cones placed in a straight line about 20 feet apart which you weave the car in between in a series of S curves.... a good way to learn smooth transitions under throttle. There is a staging area at each end. Well, one Viper driver "lost it" at the end of a run, went sideways and came within feet of hitting the other Viper sitting stationary at the staging area. That would have been an expensive lesson in vehicle dynamics!
Boy did we go thru tires. Easily 2 to 3 sets per vehicle in the skidpad. Thank goodness Michelin is a sponsor. Had one blowout to boot.
On the negative side, the lane change manuever was difficult to master because they used overhead traffic lights to tell you which lane to change out of. Unfortunately they were activated quite late where the lights got hidden in the tinted portion at the top of the windshield. That made for some interesting driving decisions (it looked like I was color blind a couple of times). One topic they never addressed (which I think is important) is how to sit in the driving seat properly (George Csinadi at Trackspeed should have done his talk here). I saw people sitting too far away from the steering wheel, others reclined too much so they couldn't reach the stickshift. This was especially true when driving the Viper which has SO much torque and lateral grip that you must be seated properly to have ANY chance of controlling the car. Also be prepared for the heat. Almost the entire session is outdoors on the concrete fields of the Sebring airport. Bring lots of sunscreen and a hat. Drinks were in coolers and always available.
I wished I could have driven the NSX on the autocross circuit. I think I would've dusted the Viper. If nothing else, I would have fewer bruises on my legs after finishing (several students burned their legs on the Viper door sill which sits right next to the exhaust manifold..... good design). Both Vipers overheated and had to have cool down laps (another common problem I have heard).
One of the 6 instructors runs the local Martin Autocross held the second Sunday of the month in the Lockheed Martin parking lot here in Orlando. He invited the NSX guys to participate. The next event is Dec.13th. I'll send any info I receive to all of you. It would be a really neat event to attend as a club. They never have any NSXs show up. An autocross course in an empty parking lot is a great place to learn the limits of your car. No concrete walls or telephone poles to hit. If you spin, you spin.... that's it.
The 15 students came from all over, as far away as Caracas Venezuela! People came in everything from Landrovers to a Viper GTS (with a mean looking rear wing), to an M3. Two instructors wanted to take MY car out for a spin (and I let them). One fell in love with it instantly (and remember he drives the Viper all the time in this school)...made me proud. Another asked if he could tape the sound of my exhaust with his videocamera audio? It was nice to see a swarm of people around the NSX when there were formula 1 Dodge race cars, Vipers, etc. right nearby.
Would I recommend this school. A resounding yes. Portions of the curriculum should probably be mandatory for all new drivers (two moms attended with their 16 yr old sons who had JUST received their drivers licenses....only 16,000 more tenage drivers to go). Perhaps if there is enough interest we could arrange a private session with these guys in the future.
Hope you all had a great weekend. I certainly had one to remember.
Track Time / BMWCCA
[KS] I have driven in perhaps thirty track events held by TrackTime, although none in the past few years. They are highly reputable. Nice bunch of folks, extremely competent at track driving as well as at communication skills which are helpful for driver schools.
The only reason I stopped going to their events is that I found that the driver schools held by BMW CCA provide almost the identical experience at about half the cost. (TrackTime events are usually $595 for two days; sometimes they discount events, particularly for a block purchase or an early-season purchase, to $495. BMW CCA events generally run $200 to $300, depending on the track; non-members must pay an additional $35, I believe, to sign up for an event, which goes towards a year's membership.) In fact, many of the BMW CCA instructors are current or former TrackTime instructors. TrackTime sometimes comes across as perhaps more "polished" than BMW CCA in how they present themselves, but I really think you will find them quite similar.
I highly recommend the drivers schools held by both BMW CCA and TrackTime.
[CMI] I won a two day "lesson" with Track Time and my experience is that the BMW schools we attend taught you just as much if not more for a lot less money.
[MCA] They offer programs similar to the Skip Barber and MidOhio deals for what seem to be a lot less $$$ (2 day approx $500, versus approx $1100 with MidOhio; Skip has a $2500 3-day that uses Formula Dodge cars [day 3 is for
the most part a lapping day]). Skip Barber seems to be hit "technique" harder (heel-and-toe, double-clutching, etc) than others... IMO as these are typically required for (non sequential-shift) racecars.
I met some of their local area instructors... good guys and some are great drivers. Any opinions/experience/comments would be appreciated. They can be reached at 330-759-1868.
What Drivers Schools Are Open To Teens?
[LE] You cannot enter any "open" track events (like those put on by BMWCCA, Car Guys, PCA, NSXCA, etc.) I agree with Ken that someone just learning to drive shouldn't be in an open track event.
However, there are a few teenage-only drivers schools run on tracks. I'm not sure what the exact age/licensing requirements are for some of them, but I know they are targeted at people just learning to drive. I think this is a great idea.
The Mid-Ohio School runs a Teen Driving Program open to teens with a learners permit or license. It's a one-day event that covers a morning and afternoon classroom session and several different in-car exercises (wet braking, skid control, etc.) $300, 10% discount if your GPA is 3.0 or higher. You use an Accord EX. (614) 793-4615.
Skip Barber runs some in the northeast (Mass/Conn area.) You can call them at 800-221-1131 for the details. I think they mostly do it for area schools or other organized groups, but perhaps you could go with a group that already has a session scheduled. Skip Barber is a well respected performance driving school.
There's another program called Car Control that specialized in teaching new drivers. I'm not sure exactly who runs it or how good it is, but it's sponsored by Saab so I'd expect that it's decent or they wouldn't put their name on it. Go to their web site at http://www.carcontrol.com for more info.
[SH] I recommend [the Mid Ohio School's Teen Driving Program] highly. Both of my children attended as a prerequisite to getting their driver's license and both benefited greatly from the experience. The skid car alone is worth the price of admission. Real skills that can be used every day are taught in an environment that is fun and serious at the same time. I sat in on all of the class room sessions and I learned a thing or two that I didn't know before.