What To Expect At Your First High Performance Driving School
Pulling out of pit lane and onto an actual race track can be an intimidating experience as a driver, especially if it's your first time. Fortunately, the vast majority of opportunities out there to experience what it's like to tackle a road course are well-organized, safely-run events that focus on making sure drivers enjoy themselves while they learn how to handle a vehicle at the limit.
What can you expect at your first high performance driving school? Here's a closer look at what a typical day of entry-level race car fun entails.
Cars Beyond Your Capabilities
There are two main types of driving schools out there: those that ask you to bring your own vehicle, and those that provide them for you. The former are typically run by club organizations like the BMW Car Club of America, while the latter are most often professional operations that are private (think Team O'Neill Rally School, Bob Bondurant) manufacturer-based (Porsche Track Experience, Ford GT500 Track Attack), or a mixture of both.
Beginners are almost always surprised to discover that whatever vehicle they end up driving, it is capable of performing well beyond their own abilities when in the hands of an experienced instructor. Having a seasoned driver take you out for a lap or two in your own car is a huge eye-opener, as they will wring out every last ounce of speed from even a stock setup.
At the same time, following a pro driver around the track, whether they're in a modestly-powered open-wheel car or a factory-supplied muscle machine, will quickly demonstrate the gap between the vehicle's limits and those of a first-time driver.
Stay Humble, Stay Safe
Once you've established how much room you have to grow as a driver, the rest of the day is spent polishing your skills, one step at a time. A big part of being able to get the most out of any track day experience is to stay humble and keep an open mind when it comes to taking direction from the person sitting in the seat beside you (or talking you through a lap over the radio in your helmet).
Driving school instructors are focused on one thing, and one thing only: instilling the basics of high speed driving while helping you overcome a lifetime of 'bad habits' picked up from daily commuting. They’re not judging you when you make mistakes, and they're certainly not looking down on you for not being pros like they are. They're incredible resources who are perfectly willing to answer any questions you might have and clarify anything that might be confusing throughout your time on the track.
There's no need to try to impress either your instructor or other students at the school by driving over your head. There's no trophy at the end of the day, and it's a lot safer to focus on building your skills rather than trying to execute the perfect lap, every time.
Paying Attention In Class Pays Off
Another aspect of high performance driving schools that might raise an eyebrow or two is how much time is spent not out on the track, but actually sitting in a classroom. Although not as exciting as tearing down the tarmac, chalk talk is a crucial component to understanding the concepts you'll need to master in order to become a better driver.
Class time offers the opportunity to digest braking zones, friction circles, apex approaches, and track safety in a low-key environment without the pressures of actually driving. Modern schools also often use data logging and video to play back student laps so they can be dissected and analyzed while illustrating a particular lesson. Most of the time, you'll be able to take that data home with you, and if you pay attention in class you'll gain a fresh perspective on your driving that will last long after the school is in the rearview mirror.
You'll Be Overwhelmed, But That's OK
Be prepared to feel completely exhausted at the end of the day after attending your first high performance driving school. This will happen partly from the physical effort of wheeling around a track, session after session, but also as a result of your mind being asked to absorb so much information in such a short period of time.
Driving on a road course demands total concentration, and your brain has to expend significant cognitive effort to digest and then deploy the lessons you've been taught throughout the day. Chances are that there are concepts from your first driving school that might only make sense a few days, or even weeks later, after you've had more time to process them.
It's normal to be overwhelmed by how much you're asked to remember, and feeling drained at the end of a full day on the track is a sure sign that you've put in the effort needed to get the most out of your experience. The next time you put on your helmet you'll be that much more prepared to elevate your driving the next level—and take home a fresh set of lessons to ponder.