A fast and mobile classroom can teach you how to drive a race car “” and do it almost anywhere in the United States.
By Jim Brightly, F358406
I can still remember my parents telling me how they had to hike uphill “” both ways “” for miles through the snow to attend school when they were youngsters. While I didn’t have to slog through snow “” I grew up in Southern California for the most part “” I did have to walk miles each way to school throughout all grades. (We could do so without fear in those days.)
I also remember the day famed drag and off-road racer Mickey Thompson brought several of his cars to my high school for display (Mickey’s shop was in my hometown of Long Beach, California). I almost didn’t attend classes that day; I wanted to see, touch, drool on, and learn everything I could about the cars on display. That was also the day I began dreaming about being a race car driver. (According to the highway patrol around Long Beach, that was the day I began practicing to be a racer as well.)
Twenty years later, albeit in a completely unforeseen format, I became an off-road race driver and had the extreme pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Mickey when I raced in an organization he founded, SCORE International, which presents the grueling Baja 1000 and other racing events each year.
Why am I taking you on this stroll down memory lane? Because through my family, I’ve discovered that there are schools for nearly everything a person might want to try. You can attend chef schools and quilting classes; take flying lessons; learn rock climbing, RV repairing, and so on. How did my family help me discover these educational treasures? For my 70th birthday, they gave me a chance to run 20 laps behind the wheel of a full-on NASCAR-type late-model stock car at the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, a half-mile oval track in Southern California. The session also included a class in safety and driving techniques. (There’s a little more to know than just how to turn left.)
This live-adventure driving school got me to thinking about the abundant opportunities we RVers have to learn something new during our travels; so, I did an Internet search for similar driving schools. I quickly found 10 such organizations, which are listed at the end of this article. I also discovered that these racing schools can be found all over the United States, at nearly every paved oval track (and even some road courses). And they all have huge parking lots where it’s easy to park a motorhome, no matter how long it is.
Thanks to the RV lifestyle, we’re not restricted to educational opportunities that are offered in our neighborhoods or hometowns. We can add other interesting classes to our itineraries, or even arrange entire trips around the locations. When you’re planning your next motohome journey, take a few minutes at the computer to do an Internet search on classes about subjects in which you’re interested.
As far as driving a race car is concerned, the organizations listed later in this article offer multiple locations around the country. I suggest that you pick one of the smaller tracks “” such as the Irwindale half-mile oval that I drove on “” for your first time out. This gives you the whole sense of speed without cracking the triple digits that you likely will achieve on the one-mile and larger ovals. Baby steps.
Many of us who are now retired once may have sipped from the adrenaline cup during our salad days “” either through our avocation or through our vocation “” which some of us now miss in our dessert days. If you wish to chew on a chunk of adrenaline cheese again, take a peek at the sites I’ve listed. By the way, if you’d like to experience the thrill of speed without the worry of driving yourself, most if not all schools also offer laps riding beside a professional driver who will take you up to the speeds that are attained during typical NASCAR races.
Some schools offer rides in or on other types of vehicles, not just stock cars. For instance, the Great American Days organization gives would-be racers the opportunity to drive a dragster, a dream car, a quad ATV, an off-road vehicle, and a rally car, not to mention the chance to pilot a Corvette, an IndyCar, a high-performance kart, and, of course, race a NASCAR-type late-model stock car or mini truck.
Through one of these organizations, you should find a class or experience that works for you. In other words, if you “feel the need; the need for speed,” one of these groups can feed that need.
Although each group will have its own itinerary and procedures, here’s how my day at the track went. The organization supplied participants with all the safety gear needed. Each prospective driver was issued a helmet; Nomex driving suit and gloves; and even a sanitary, disposable “do rag” to cover one’s head before strapping it into the helmet. We were given an hour-long class in safety and radio commands. That’s right; they even provide a spotter with radio communication right into your helmet to tell you when you can pass safely (there were four cars on the track when I drove), when you have to move down on the track to allow a faster car to pass, and when to move back up on the track after being passed. The spotter also can call out a “Red light, red light!” if an emergency occurs on the track, signaling drivers to stop as quickly and safely as possible. The spotter is needed because you are strapped into a form-fitting racing seat with a full-face helmet, which provides plenty of safety but extremely restricts head movement. (Drivers can’t see anything to the sides or behind them.) But trust me, you’ll come off the track grinning from ear to ear, head ringing from the roar of the open-exhaust engine, adrenaline still drying out your mouth and throat, and you’ll wish you had more laps to run!
Once you’re off the track and your breathing is back under control, the bench racing begins, as all the drivers in the group tell each other how much fun it was to pass, to hit the corner dead on the mark, to accelerate down the back stretch, and to hit the brake hard going into the corners. And, of course, plans are already being made to do it again “” at the same venue or a different track. It’s fun, and it’s addictive!
Now, let’s see. Where was that brochure for Fighter Pilot for a Day “” Air Combat USA (www.aircombat.com)? Now that I know how to drive a race car, I may want to move up to actually flying a fighter jet.
Experience The Thrill
Below is a list of driving schools and racing experience organizations that will put you behind the wheel of a real race car. Most utilize NASCAR-type stock cars, but others offer sports car and open-wheel driving experiences. Some are located at a single facility and others rotate among well-known tracks used by the top drivers in the world. If you’ve always dreamed about strapping into the seat of a real race car and doing hot laps at your favorite track, one of these companies can make that dream come true.
Bondurant High Performance Driving School
Cloud 9 Living
Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure
Drivetech Racing School
Great American Days
Los Angeles Racing (Toyota Speedway at Irwindale)
NASCAR Racing Experience
Richard Petty Driving Experience
Skip Barber Racing School