"Brake, brake, brake... downshift, turn-in. Don't do that! Don't do that! OK, throttle, throttle... nice!" The STi Killer was flying down the front straight. "Wait for a point-by. OK, pass him!" As we dropped another GT500, we shot under the East Walkover and positioned the Camaro far right, just enough to get it set for Turn 1 before easing on to the big Baer brakes, shedding 50 or 60 miles an hour, one full gear and then turning in to the apex, a tiny spot obstructed by the inner wall and the turn itself. "Great, nice and easy...throttle on, squeeze it, brake, wait for it...turn in. Perfect!" Three turns down, fourteen more to go, and I am having the time of my life. Brock, my instructor for the weekend, may be having a different time over in the passenger seat as I ham-fist my way around the track, but he hasn't puked, prayed, tried to escape, or told me to pull over yet so I can only assume we're doing something right. Let's back up a second and talk about how we got here.
Short of being born into a Formula 1 family or growing up racing go-karts from the age of 3, your chances of becoming a professional race car driver are pretty slim. Fortunately, that doesn't mean you can't take your car out on the weekends and run on the same tracks you've watched on TV and lay down lap after lap like a real racer. For the price of an XBox system and a copy of Forza, you can actually be out on track with your ride, feeling the power in the seat of your pants, hearing your engine blast down the straight and smelling the brakes as they beg for mercy lap after lap, corner after corner. The best part? These events are held all over the country, every weekend and can become an affordable hobby that you, your family, and friends can enjoy together. And trust me, there is nothing like changing 1,000-degree brake pads in 100-degree weather in between rounds to tell you who your real friends are.
For our first event, we teamed up with Track Guys Performance Driving, a group that runs several track days a year under the watchful eye of Jeff Lacina and Dell Hughes, a couple of guys who have probably forgotten more about high-performance driving than some of us will ever learn. Track Guys, like any quality high performance school, rents time at a track, splits that time into run groups and then sells spots to enthusiasts. Track Guys also specializes in instruction and as such, fosters a sense of community within the paddock. If you've ever wanted to be on track, you want to do it with a group like this. It didn't hurt that we found a Track Guys event at the world famous Sebring International Raceway, which is not only close to our World Headquarters, but also offers some of the most historic, fast, and respected asphalt in the country. After a quick online registration process, a couple of long nights, and a ride down, we were ready to get on track and show our friends who had the fastest car in the office, but fortunately for everyone else on track, these events don't go down quite like that.
High-performance driving isn't secret code for racing. It is about car control, honing skills, and as such, it begins in a classroom instead of a race car. While the majority of time is actually spent out on track, getting one-on-one advice and feedback from an instructor, each Track Guys event also includes several sessions of classroom discussion, which is equally as important and valuable as the live on-track instruction. Jeff Lacina, president of Track Guys was on hand for our classroom sessions and took the time to walk beginner and novice drivers through several steps of instruction, including general track rules, vehicle dynamics, car control, situational awareness, and tips and tricks to mastering tough corners or tricky sections of the track. On top of general instruction, Jeff also spent time talking to students on a one-on-one basis, making sure they were comfortable with their run group, instructor, and the track in general. Remember, there are no stupid questions here and if you need help, chances are several other drivers do too, so don't be afraid to speak up and get help.
Being on a world-class road course is one of the most exciting and thrilling things a car enthusiast can do. Dropping into a corner at over a hundred miles an hour, feeling the car and tires working together to pull you around the track, and then slowly applying power to pull you into the next corner is a thrill like no other. That said, it is also one of the most intimidating automotive events one can partake in and, if you're new to on-track driving, it can be a lot to take in during the opening session. When things go wrong on track, they happen in a hurry and, while rare, serious consequences are just one missed turn-in or braking zone away. For this reason, high-performance driving relies on a series of groups, the beginning of which always start with an instructor who will ride with you in your car for the entire event and help you get up to speed. Think you're too cool for an instructor? You're not. In fact, no matter how good of a driver you are, you can always learn something, and on-track this is especially important.
For my sessions, Track Guys paired me up with Brock Ivers, a long-time high-performance driver and someone with a ton of experience wheeling a high-horsepower rear wheel drive car around a racetrack. Brock, like all of the Track Guys staff, is an enthusiast who blends driving skill, years of knowledge, and hands-on open track experience into a scientific formula, which he slowly reveals lap after lap. During our first session, Brock actually drove me around in the STI Killer, taking two slow laps around the course to familiarize me with the environment, show me the corner workers, the lines, and the lay of the land. After that, I jumped in the driver's seat and took it slow for a while, working on finding my marks, understanding the corners, and getting a feel of the car on the racing surface. These slow intro sessions are a great time to talk to your instructor and let them know what you would like to focus on during the event. Everyone learns at different speeds, so don't worry if it takes you a couple of sessions (or events) to get everything working. Remember, it takes a lifetime to master a track; you're not going to get it in a weekend, so take your time, listen to your instructor, and learn at your own pace.