Follow along as our SoCal Retail Manager/WR.com Editor Peter Nelson fills us in on how his first high-performance driving school went. We encourage our employees and customers to seek out quality instruction, as any investment in seat time (or making seat time more valuable, such as schooling) is always a wise investment. Check out listings for driving schools over in our showroom, next month (September 2019) Vision Motorsports will be hosting another group of 1 and 2-day driving schools, check out the flier here.
The 710 and 5 freeways in Southern California seemed to open up for me like some sort of transportation miracle. Normally, attempting to travel from Long Beach to Willow Springs International Raceway starting at 6 AM on a Wednesday is poor decision. Well, maybe not a poor decision, but a decision that leads to a long time behind the wheel and having to deal with a lot of headaches for just over 100 miles of driving. This time, however, I was heading to the track for a very special purpose. Perhaps the universe took note and parted the seas of California freeway traffic to make the trek as easy as possible, and save me a ton of energy and focus for what this purpose would be.
What was this purpose? A very special opportunity: taking part in Vision Motorsports’ 1-Day Craig Stanton Performance Driving School with Randy Buck as co-instructor. This would prove to be an excellent opportunity to review over performance driving basics, as well as learn new techniques that come in handy behind the wheel of just about everything; from autocross, to time attack and wheel-to-wheel competition.
The weather at the track was absolutely perfect as fellow participants started rolling up: mid-60s and sunny with a light breeze. The organizers, Jim Salzer and Dwain Dement of Vision Motorsports, were there to greet us and led us to the track diner for a filling breakfast. Craig and Randy came in and introduced themselves to everyone and instructed us to head over to the Streets of Willow circuit where the day’s activities would unfold.
“I love this!” Craig said as he directed me where to park next to the front straight. He was referring to my freshly-washed 2014 Mazda2 which I’d be wheeling around on track all day. I replied with much appreciation and we proceeded to briefly chat about fun, slow, momentum cars and the late Pirelli World Challenge TCB class (RIP). “Those were so cool to see diving into corners door-to-door in World Challenge a few years back!” he said. This helped elevate my excitement for a day of instruction with these guys. Besides my 100-horsepower, 2300 lb. econohatch, most of the other cars taking part were 997 or 991-generation Porsche 911 GT3s, with a 981 Boxster, Mini Clubman, and some prepped GT3 and GT4 race cars thrown into the mix. Outgunned by even the Clubman, I made a mental note to maintain my default, slow-hatch plan of watching my six and giving tons of point-bys later on when we’d be lapping the tight, technical track.
Intro And Classroom Session
Instruction began by convening in the building adjacent to the track to introduce ourselves, share our driving experience, and discuss the plan for the day. In addition to each participant’s brief spiel, Craig and Randy shared a bit more about their extensive backgrounds in racing and coaching. Craig has a massive resume of pro driving and crew chiefing in World Challenge racing, as well as coaching for Porsche Pirelli Trophy West and Ferrari Challenge teams. Randy Buck is the former chief instructor for Skip Barber Racing School and Lucas Oil School of Racing, and is currently the race director for Porsche Pirelli Trophy West and coach for Ferrari Challenge. We were certainly in good hands.
After that we got right to it and started discussing key subjects: types of turns, defining what late and early apexes are, going in-depth about friction circle, threshold braking, weight transfer, balancing the throttle, steering, trail braking, and so on. Craig and Randy discussed these in depth, provided detailed graphs and examples, and answered everyone’s questions thoroughly. Even though the majority of participants were driving Porsche 911s with plenty of power being pushed out from behind the rear wheels, they still discussed all of the different chassis out there and their particular characteristics.
On Track: Braking And Turn-In Basics
Following this classroom session, we split into two groups: beginner/moderate drivers, and advanced drivers. People determined for themselves which group to join; I chose beginner/moderate as my experience is entirely autocross and HPDE, no wheel-to-wheel just yet. Craig instructed us to get in our cars and line up for some braking drills.
We started by taking turns accelerating, then at a designated cone, turning left under braking and coming to a stop at a cone just a tad beyond it to simulate basic trail braking. The main purpose was of this exercise was to get a feel for how our cars reacted. This was low-speed and setup on Streets’ front straight. After each drill Craig gave us some quick feedback and made any necessary suggestions. We then upped the ante by expanding the turn’s radius and increasing the speed. While I obviously didn’t get as high up to speed as the Porsches in my group, I certainly put on a show by lifting the inside wheel high in the air. We tried different techniques and paid close attention to balancing the brake input with the steering wheel. I found it all to be quite helpful and the post-drill-discussion drove the concepts home.
After that, we joined the advanced group and went on a track walk on the first-half of the track. Craig and Randy pointed out braking areas, apexes, how to read surfaces, what the racing line was, some basic race craft, and so on. I’ve been on Streets of Willow many times in the past 3 years, but some of the things they pointed out were brand new to me. Track walks really are useful; I wish I had the opportunity to do more of them at the many events I attend every year.
On Track: Apexes, Braking Points, And Tying It All Together
Following a break for lunch, my group went out first with a lead-follow session with Randy at the helm, where we took turns maintaining P2 around the track examining his line. When we were given the checkered flag we pulled back into the pit while the other group went out, and had a brief download session discussing line, braking, and so on.
When it was our turn again to head back out, we performed a couple of drills centered around differently-placed cones. These cones marked where the various turns’ late and early apexes were located; the objective was to understand how our cars reacted making late and early apexes. There were also braking cones setup; Randy made some great recommendations about how I could read them and figure out the best way to trail-brake through certain corners, making the most out of my little Mazda’s momentum. After these drills we received solid feedback from both Randy and Craig, both of whom were out on track watching from corner worker stations, taking notes on how we were doing on track.
We had a final download session where Randy was sure to answer any remaining questions we had, and in the friendliest way possible. I brought up the usefulness of using curbs on tracks when possible, such as Buttonwillow Raceway Park, and Randy tied-in that strategy with the various techniques and terminology of the day. In fact, this was the main heme of the entire day: tying classroom instruction, understanding your vehicle’s traits, and praxis altogether.
After that, we had a little time left so Craig and Randy encouraged us to go out one more time and continue trying different lines, braking points, etc. I made a quick trip over to the gas pumps for some track-price 91 octane as I was running close to empty. I made the mistake of taking my eye off the counter for about 10 seconds; it quickly became the most expensive 3 gallons of gas I had every purchased.
When I returned to the paddock I quickly put my helmet on and headed out on track. After wheeling my little Mazda for 2 laps on a very open Streets of Willow, I was feeling pretty good with some new knowledge freshly implanted in my brain. Sure enough, after 2 laps I shaved a significant amount of time off of my previous Streets of Willow Clockwise PB; talk about value-added education!
After a few more laps the checkered was rolled out and we returned to the pits. During a final download session I received some encouragement to keep attending events and keep learning; if that isn’t the best motivation to improve as a driver, I don’t know what is. Finally, to finish off the day, Jim and Dwain held a small awards ceremony where they passed out certificates of completion to all of the participants. You better believe my certificate proudly hangs above my college diploma in my apartment.
I definitely recommend this class, or their 2-day class, to anyone looking for some solid instruction, regardless of their level of experience. It is very useful for beginners but considering the immense combined knowledge of Craig and Randy I’m certain anyone would pick up some great knowledge and insight. The relaxed, friendly, and encouraging environment was a massive up-side as well. It’s important to note that schedule, activities, and so on may vary with future classes. While they might not run exactly the same as the class I took part in, you can count on the instruction being thorough and quite valuable. We at Winding Road Racing certainly encourage everyone to get out there and take a class to learn more about performance driving, understanding the physics of momentum and adhesion, inputs and braking, finding lines, race craft, and so much more. There is always more to learn, and more to practice.
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