School Selection

By Tim Suddard
Apr 21, 2008 | All | Posted in Shop Work | From the Feb. 2008 issue | Never miss an article

Planning on going road racing? If so, the first investment you should make is in a race driving school. The racecraft learned there will stay with you forever, and your improved skills will help you lower lap times, avoid accidents, devour traffic and, of course, win races.

However, there are many factors to consider when selecting a racing school, and simply vouching for the nearest or cheapest program isn’t the best way decide. Here are 10 tips for making the best choice for you and your situation.

  1. Experience and Reputation: Established road racing schools have earned their favorable reputations by providing experienced instructors, reliable equipment, quality facilities and accredited licensing programs for SCCA and NASA. If any of the aforementioned are absent, keep searching.

  2. Insurance and Safety: Sure you want to attend a school that uses Porsches, BMWs, Vipers and Vettes, but what if you write one off? Basically, you’ll be the new owner of one expensive heap of metal. Therefore, make sure that your chosen school offers an insurance option and buy it. Also, inquire if its cars have fuel cells, full cages, five- or six-point harnesses and on-board fire systems. Every school provides crash helmets and driver suits, but today that’s just not sufficient.

  3. Fitting Your Racing Goals: Each school has its own fleet, so consider those that best fit your road racing aspirations. Want to race formula cars? Then look toward a school that uses them. See a front-wheel-drive production sedan in your future? Then go with a school that leans that way. There are enough options out there that one of them should meet your needs and goals.

  4. Price and Location: In addition to tuition, travel and lodging expenses need to be considered when shopping a racing school. However, these factors should be secondary to getting the best training possible. While the $4000 spent on a three-day school might initially sound expensive, learning how to avoid just one crash pays back everything. There is a reason why price and location are fourth on our list. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

  5. In-Car vs. Sideline Instruction: Some schools put the instructors in the passenger seat, while others let them watch from the sidelines. Both arrangements are effective, but many experts favor the in-car instruction. An on-board instructor can better critique your overall driving, including your footwork, braking and downshift techniques. Instructors observing from outside the car can’t provide this detailed feedback and their input is not instantaneous. (However, it’s obviously difficult to have a passenger in a formula car.)

  6. Track Time: The longer the instruction program, the better. A two-day program might teach the basic racing techniques, but it won’t provide adequate time to perfect them. Spend the extra money for a three- or four-day program and strongly consider some of the available advanced programs. This will not only give you a chance to learn the basics, but plenty of time to internalize those techniques.

  7. Simulated Races: Many racing schools feature integrated starts, racing and passing in their curriculums. These exercises teach you how to safely work in traffic. SCCA and NASA licensing requires that all rookies learn these skills, so be sure they are included in your course.

  8. Formula Car Ladder Racing Programs: This is important if you aspire to single-seat racing but do not want to own a formula car. In addition to using single-seaters as teaching tools, the Skip Barber, Jim Russell, Bertil Roos and Bridgestone schools also host their own formula car racing series.

  9. Advanced Instruction: Okay, so you went about things backward. You did the bare minimum to get your license and began racing. You learned the rules, but your technique is sorely lacking. You realize you need help with your driving, braking and passing.

Here’s an easy way to determine whether you’re ready for advanced instruction: If you’re running at the front of your class but are not yet winning, then it’s time for some advanced schooling. When shopping for graduate-level instruction, request the names and resumes of the advanced instructors. Ask for instructors who are experienced, successful race drivers. If, however, you are running mid-pack or worse, then you need to go through a complete racing school course to “unlearn” those bad habits and replace them with proper driving techniques.

  1. Test Driving a Race Car: Not entirely sure which car is for you? Spending a few bucks on an extra school or two is much less expensive than buying a car and finding out that it’s not a good fit. Or maybe you’re a licensed race driver and you think you might want to try a different car—could be a Formula Ford, Radical sports racer, Spec Miata or whatever. An advanced course at a school that uses your potential next purchase is an easy, smart way to take a test drive.

Parting Advice: This nugget of wisdom applies to all racing schools: Check your ego at the door. No matter how good you think you are, you will only get better if you listen to the driving tips offered by your instructor. Oh, and please leave your Ferrari driving suit at home.

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vweezly New Reader
12/11/08 9:15 a.m.


Crish Bronze
Crish Bronze None
7/21/11 2:03 a.m.

Good information for choosing proper Driving School.

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