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Taking The Fast Track

There are many different ways to express your need for speed.

Compiled by Jefferson Bryant & AE staff - July 05, 2012 10:00 AM

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How about some pointers from Bob Bondurant himself? You get that at the Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving. Put your skills to the test and push the limits.

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A full-service school, the Bondurant facility has it all, including a handling oval and skid pad training area. The skid pads (the large round circles) look small in this aerial view, but notice the car driving on the entry road to the right.

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The classroom is where you will learn the techniques and track rules. You didn’t think you could get out of the classroom portion did you?

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Spring Mountain is more than a school, it is a full-service country club centered on a race track. That is pretty cool by itself.

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Ever want to drive uninhibited on wet pavement like they do in car commercials? At Spring Mountain it is just a regular part of the curriculum.

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Spring Mountain’s Ron Fellows School uses Corvettes as learning tools. They even have a ZR1 owner’s course.

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At the Texas Motor Speedway infield road course, you will be put to the test. A long track, even a challenging one, gives you more time to adapt to the track. The short one-mile single elevation track used in the Texas Motor Speedway’s Ride and Drive Experience does not give you much time to set up, adding to the challenge. It also makes it really fun.

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The C5 Z06 Corvettes used for the class have been tuned up with suspension, brake and engine upgrades, making a little over 450 horsepower. A full roll cage and harness keeps the driver and passenger safe.

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The smaller class size at the TDE means more personal time with your instructor. Since the class is only about two hours, the more private instruction you can get the better. This is a great way to get a taste to see if you really want to go for a multi-day class.

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The Motorsports Park at the National Corvette Museum will be an SCCA-rated course designed to emulate two of the greatest tracks in the world, including the Nurburgring. Can’t make it to Germany? Don’t worry, Bowling Green, Kentucky, is working on getting one.

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At NCM events, you will mostly find Corvettes, but sometimes you may find yourself driving alongside a Mustang or Porsche.

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The NCM conducts events all over the country for Corvette enthusiasts. There are different levels of race classes, including the Prime Drive, which gives you some instruction on race etiquette. Safety First.

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The Sportscar Driving Experience allows enthusiasts to enjoy the sun and fun in the southeast corner of the country. Doing so in the driver’s seat of Corvettes just adds to the fun!

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Ford fans can have brand-safe fun at the Miller Motorsports Park. This team of horses will haul you around the track in style and speed. Image: Miller Motorsports Park / Jeremy Henrie

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You can use your car during open-track events or at autocrosses. These parking lot events typically feature a bunch of cones to carve around and, they also are considered slow-speed events. Being smooth is more important than how fast you can go in an autocross.

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Everything from Ferarris to Dodge Neons can participate in an HPDE and as your skill level increases, you can also increase the potential of your car by adding stickier tires, stiffer suspension or more horsepower.

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No matter what you’re driving, you will have the opportunity to bump shoulders (not fenders) with supercars and stock daily-drivers.

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No matter the age, you can participate in driving your car, so long as it’s mechanically sound.

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Expect to have your car checked by officials before being let on the track. Check the organization’s website, many times, they have a checklist for you to go through before the event.

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Yes, convertibles can run, so long as they have the necessary safety equipment, like a certified roll bar.

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The increased interest in vintage auto racing has fostered some interesting participation on the track. This Daytona Coupe spends some time on the track, where it was designed to run.

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Cutting corners isn’t always a bad thing. Many enthusiasts secretly dream about being able to do just that on any one of our great nation’s racetracks.

The only problem is that many times, it remains a dream and they never really take the opportunity to scratch that itch for performance driving.

With the number of opportunities that are available today, it is becoming easier than ever to try your hand at high-speed driving and carving out the perfect corner. And, with the availability and quality of instructors today, there is no better way to both learn and have fun.

 

Get School’d

Sometimes, the best performance modification you can get is your driving skills.

In order to legally drive a car on the streets and highways anywhere in the United States, you have to pass a basic exam. While all states have different laws, the basics are the same: don’t break the rules and always drive safely.

But just because you passed written and practical tests when you were 16 or 17 years old does not mean that you are a good driver, much less have the necessary skills to handle a serious competitive track. As gearheads, we all have delusions of grandeur that we are better drivers than everyone else on the road.

While you may be able to handle 400 horsepower on the street in a straight line, autocross and road course driving takes different skills and requires a whole other mindset from street driving. Want to test your mettle against others on the track? You would be wise to seek some professional training before you leave the pits. In other words, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

As you walk into the classroom of any driving school, you need to leave all preconceived notions behind, along with everything you ever thought you knew. Most of us know just enough about performance driving to be dangerous. Listen to your instructor; they are much more experienced than you are.

We recently spoke with a few high-performance racing schools and attended a couple of classes. We learned a lot about driving on a track, and it changed how we drive on the street, too. Some things do cross over. This is not the end-all-be-all list of driving schools, but they are spread out across the country; just about every major track has a school, so chances are there is a school near you.

 

Bondurant

Dubbed the “Fastest 60 Acres in America”, the Bondurant racing and training facility is located across from Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona, and is a multi-million dollar complex. Bob Bondurant raced with Carroll Shelby, Ferrari and Chevrolet in the 1960s before a 150 mph crash in 1967 ended his racing career. His teaching career began shortly thereafter at Shelby’s Riverside school. In 1968, Bob started his own school, with Paul Newman and Robert Wagner among the first students. The Arizona facility opened in 1990, and is the largest of its kind in North America.

Designed by Bondurant, the 15-turn, 1.6-mile road course is special, in that its purpose is for high-performance driving and racing instruction. All levels of drivers, beginners to professional, will find challenges on this track with various corners and elevation changes. The road course is not the only track at the school’s disposal; Firebird’s three tracks as well as an eight-acre slab of asphalt used for all manners of training such as accident avoidance, handling ovals and skid pads.

The Bondurant School of High Performance Driving offers the most courses of any driving school we have found. There are six racing courses (where you can earn an SCCA license), three high-performance courses, two teen driving classes, four short driving/racing experiences and five military/security courses. If you can’t find a class that fits your needs at the Bondurant School, it likely doesn’t exist.

Bondurant School of

High Performance Driving

(800) 842-RACE (7223)

www.bondurant.com

 

Spring Mountain

The Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch is more than a racetrack, it is a full-on country club with racing facilities. Located near Las Vegas, Nevada, Spring Mountain is likely the most unique country club in the world. With private garage rentals, condos, kart driving, this is a lifestyle club. There is even an indoor firing range for gunplay. A club membership gets you unlimited access to the club on any designated Club Member day to use the full facility, including the road course. It is a run-watcha-brung facility, but you can rent a club vehicle if you prefer.

The track runs a total 2.2 miles with a 37-foot minimum track width and a total elevation change of 50 feet. The upper 1.5 mile course has seven corners, including an exact duplicate of the famed Mosport hairpin, called Moss Corner. Designed as a training track, the course maintains a constant state of transition. This provides a big challenge for any driver, including motorcycles.

Spring Mountain Advanced Driving School offers several courses for all skill levels, including the Road & Track Driving Experience, Ron Fellows Performance Corvette Driving School, Radical School for Performance Driving and Safety (using Radical SR3 racers), Lotus Driving School for Performance, SCCA licensing school, Las Vegas Teen Driving School of Safety and private instruction.

The Ron Fellows Corvette School sets students up with champion Corvette Racing driver Ron Fellows and the Spring Mountain instructors to learn the ins and outs of high-performance driving in three skill levels. Level One includes two or three days of intense classroom learning with serious track time in Grand Sport, Z06 and ZR1 ’Vettes to push you past what you thought were your limits.

Day one includes real braking training with skid control, wet pavement and ABS versus conventional brakes training. A specially designed “skid car” was built to reduce traction both front and rear learning for skid control. The day is finished with heel and toe downshifting. Day two starts with some warm ups and then the rest of the day is filled with shadow-laps. The instructors show you the line, how to cut an apex and how to balance the car. The final day of Level One starts with some shifting and shadow lap warm ups then it is all-out racing on your own. Level Two builds on the skills learned in Level One with more track time and advanced activities like the Power Circle.

Looking for something a little different? Try the shifter kart school. Directed by Karting champion Alan Rudolph, shifter karts are the closest to Formula One in terms of acceleration, braking, steering and handling ability. Regardless of what course you choose, you will be learning from champions at Spring Mountain.

Spring Mountain Motorsports Club

(888) 856-5870

www.springmountainmotorsports.com

Texas Driving Experience

The only woman-owned driving school in the country, the Texas Driving Experience offers several classes held on the infield road course at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Taught by professional drivers, there is plenty to learn. The one-mile road course is very quick, keeping the car in transition throughout the entire lap. Turn 1 is a hard right, followed by a series of chicanes and then a long right and short left-hand chicane into the front straight, where an experienced driver can easily reach over 120 miles per hour. Having been on this track several times, we know this firsthand.

There are four main classes offered at TDE: Ride and Drive, corporate programs, private instruction and the Skills Teen School. The Ride and Drive is a Corvette thrill ride experience where students spend about 30 minutes in a classroom, then take a ride in a van around the track where the professional drivers demonstrate the line of the course. Finally, the helmets are strapped on and you run up to 20 laps. A course instructor is in the car with you guiding you through the turns. Once your laps are done, you switch sides and the professional driver gives you a thrill ride of epic proportions around the track at top speed. The Ride and Drive is a two-hour experience, where as other driving schools run two to three days. This means it costs less to get a feel for track driving. When we took this class, we opted for the DVD option, which is a keepsake video of your ride and drive. If you forgot some of the things your instructor told you, it will be in the video, plus you get to see what your mistakes were and how you made them, a really good learning tool.

Want more? Then the private instruction option is for you. Using your car on the TMS infield road course, track time is purchased and you get a day of classroom instruction, a shadow session and two 30-minute open track sessions. The High Performance Series is open for novices to experienced drivers with lead/chase sessions, open sessions and professional instruction throughout the entire day of driving. You are using your car, so the cost is very affordable, starting at $175 to $300 per day.

Where the Texas Driving Experience’s passion lies is the Skills Teen School. These classes are offered for both parents and children to learn good driving skills, and unlearn bad driving habits. Available in one- and two-day camps, this is a serious hands-on intensive training course that teaches teens the skills they need to become safe drivers. The Skills parent/teen camp is a half-day course in accident avoidance that pits parents versus teen in several skill challenges designed to teach both students better skills in a fun and safe manner.

Texas Driving Experience also offers the Roval, which is a full-fledged driving experience where you start on the NASCAR oval track and then drive in (at speed) into the infield road course and back out to the oval. These are held about once a month. A calendar of events is posted on the website.

Corporate retreat programs and events like the Texas Auto Writers Association Spring Challenge (where we got to drive the track) offer companies a unique and rewarding experience for team building.

The infield road course is fast, short, violent, and fun. It is unlike most other road courses because it is so short. This makes it very challenging; the course changes very fast, and you have to adapt quickly to get speed. We have driven this course in everything from a Suzuki Kizashi to Corvettes and a Viper ACR, and it is a handful. You can have fun on this track in a Camry or you can be scared to death in a Viper (it was truly scary hitting turn one at over 120). Everyone should experience this track at least once.

Texas Driving Experience

(817) 430-4343

www.texasdrivingexperience.com

 

National Corvette Museum

The NCM holds several events all around the country at different venues. This means that you can sign up for a Corvette track day somewhere close to you and drive your own ’Vette. Your experience level is determined during the registration process and most events consist of six levels.

Prime Drive is the intro level and gets you into a classroom session, a drive session and a ride session, each with personal instruction. Next up is the Green Group, which is a beginner’s group (you can skip the Prime Drive if you choose). This is a driving group with no instruction, as are the rest of the groups in increasing experience level. You don’t have to have any experience to take part in one of these NCM events, just a Corvette, a license and the registration fee.

Since these NCM events fill up so fast, the NCM is in the process of building a motorsports park. With over 300 acres of land, the park will have everything you could imagine. Two road courses, one modeled after LeMans in France, the other designed to emulate the Nurburgring. A chicane connects the two tracks, similar to the Bus Stop of Watkins Glen. A ¾-mile kart track will be built as well. The facility will also include a 10-acre autrocross track, a skid pad training center and a quarter mile dragstrip, something that most facilities do not incorporate.

While all cars are welcome, this is the home of the National Corvette Museum, so the majority of cars on the track will be Corvettes. Once the build is complete, you will be able to get private instruction using the entire facility to make the most of your potential.

National Corvette Museum

(800) 53-VETTE [538-3883]

www.corvettemuseum.org

Sportscar Driving Experience

The Sportscar Driving Experience enables enthusiasts on the southeast corner of the nation to drive a herd of school-prepared Corvettes around several of the most famous racetracks in the lower-right corner of our country.

Tracks like Homestead, Palm Beach, and even Daytona are within reach through the seats and steering wheels of SDE-supplied Corvettes. The list of instructors reads off like a who’s who of drivers, many of which have competed professionally on these tracks, as well as many other widely known venues. The team of cars are equally as able to take you safely into the realm of performance driving. A DVD is available at the conclusion of the event to help you retain not only the instruction, but also the memories.

Sportscar Driving Experience

(800) 453-5506

www.sportscardrivingexperience.com

 

Miller Motorsports Park

If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool blue oval fan, you should feel right at home at the Miller Motorsports Park. They are the “only official Ford Racing high-performance driving school in the world.” Their stable of Ford vehicles can benefit both beginners and advanced driving enthusiasts. They’ve got 30 Mustang GTs, 14 Mustang FR500Ss and 14 Boss 302s for those wanting to turn up the wick a little further. There are one-, two- and three-day classes and they also offer a licensing program, allowing you to race in the Miller Park Racing Series should you feel the need to compete and all Boss 302 owners get a free (provided by Ford) day of high-performance driving training in their fleet of Boss 302s.

On top of having venues to teach both beginners and advanced classes, the Miller Motorsports Park also has open-track days that allow enthusiasts to keep their driving skills sharpened and at the ready. It’s a great way to hone those skills as well as have a great time doing it.

Miller Motorsports Park

(435) 277-RACE [277-7223]

www.millermotorsportspark.com

Run Whatcha Brung!

If your dream is to drive YOUR car, there are options for you as well.

Not only are there a myriad of options available for those who desire to safely drive their cars at speed, but also, it can be a cost-effective means as well. There are high-performance driving events at many tracks around the country. Even beginners can enjoy a weekend of fun because there are several organizations that cater to such events and welcome enthusiasts of all driving levels.

One thing that is common among all of the organizations is the constant focus on enjoying your driving session SAFELY! By checking out the various websites, you can ascertain what safety requirements are necessary, but unless you are already into the higher levels of modification and driving skill, there are some basics that will get you through smoothly. Before attending an event, make sure that your car is mechanically sound. That means don’t show up with duct tape as a structural member and be sure that your car isn’t leaking anything. Tires should have sufficient tread and it’s always a good idea to start out with fresh brake fluid. Think about it, when is the last time you changed it? The Car Guys’ website even has a downloadable inspection sheet that you can use to make sure your car is up to snuff.

Many organizations allow all makes and models of cars to attend their events. That means that whether you have a sports car, or the family truckster, you can still enjoy high-performance driving. We have friends who have a blast tearing up the track in their hi-po’d, daily-driver station wagons. The emphasis is on your driving, not your ride.

The scope of driving is quite varied as well. Whether you simply want to carve up some cones in a nearby parking lot or always yearned to drive at speed on some famous racetrack, there are opportunities for you, and levels to accommodate each experience level. As your experience and confidence levels grow, you can easily move up within the organization. There is little chance that you will ever max-out, or graduate from any one of the groups that cater to performance driving. And, while there is no shortage of parts and accessories to help you go faster, turn quicker or look cooler, unless you’ve already maxed out your current settings, they’re not necessary. Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of instructors like a fully race-prepped car and owner decked out in all the racing gear, sitting in the beginner’s class.

While the most widely given reason for enthusiasts not wanting to try a driving event is the danger factor, the real danger once they get there is in their head. You will not be pushed to go beyond your comfort, or driving level, but likewise you need to have a realistic assessment of what that level really is. Don’t go into any driving scenario with the idea that you’re “going to show them how to do it.” Chances are, they’ve already seen it and it’ll probably get you put on the bench with a strict talking-to. Students learn, instructors teach. Let them.

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