Friday, September 01, 2006

High Performance Driving Course

This Monday, I spent the day at the tracks. No, I wasn't gambling away my hard earned ducats on the greyhounds or the thoroughbreds, it was high performance driving. Not racing, mind you, but a great educational experience in a controlled environment.

Pacific Raceways, in Kent, is home to the ProFormance Racing School. There a talented staff, under Don Kitch Jr., teaches people the fine art of "driving a car, not just to be passengers in a motor vehicle." Being a member of the local MINI owner's club, Puget Sound MINI, I was able to participate in a club event at the school. Sure, we got a great deal -thanks to North West MINI, the local deal, but the event was MINI's only. There were 28 MINIs and that was a blast to be with that many other owners.

The morning was spent learning the capabilities of our MINIs and commit some actions to muscle memory, so that, in an emergency situation, we can react, just the way we've been trained. We did several exercises to learn High Vision (to see both the near and the far) and how the car handles under ABS braking conditions. The slalom and ABS braking aren't something that you get to practice every day, but man, do these cars handle well and stop quickly. There was another exercise where we were supposed to use the anti-lock brakes and avoid a cone in the roadway. It was funny to hear the instructors say, "These cars can just avoid the cone at these speeds," (60mph).

We then spent some time practicing emergency avoidance through lane changes and coming off the shoulder and another exericse of braking into a turn. Both of these are scenarios that you could find your self in just while driving around town.

The morning was great and we walked away with a better understanding of how our cars react and how to keep them under our control.

The afternoon was even more fun. We were paired up with an instructor and he drove two laps around the track, describing the reference points, the braking and turning points and the apexes of the curves. We then switched and I drove, at a low speed, around the track while the instructor provided more instruction. We were in two groups and the instructor then went in another car while we visualized the track.

Then we got out and drove. This time, we were wearing helmets with mic and headphones so we could stil talk to each other. First was a lower speed and all the while, the instructor was giving feedback. It was so much fun, just driving as fast as I could. Keeping to the line makes such a difference, because how fast you get on the straightaways is directly related to how fast you exit the curve.

We did 3 of these lapping sessions and it was so much fun! The fastest I saw I was going was 110mph and I passed several other drivers. I got passed, too, so it all evens out in the end. It was great working the shifter as low as 2nd in turn 3 and up to 5th coming out of turn nine. I never made it into 6th gear. Passing was only allowed on the straight aways and only when an instructor waved us past - all in controlled situations.

It was such a blast. I don't look at turns the same way anymore and I know I'm a much more competant and comfortable with the way my car handles.

I'd recommend the ProFormance Racing School. It was a fun learning experience (any count of how many times I said fun?).

My 6 year old daughter thought I went to a race and she asked, "Did you win your race?" The youth soccer coach in me came and my answer was, "I learned a lot and had a whole lot of fun." "When are you going back." "Soon."

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