The Safety Issue
Racing schools take safety very seriously. You'll probably sit through safety information and instruction before you're allowed near a car, and you'll hear all the rules pertaining to on-track conduct (such as whether or not you'll be allowed to pass). No matter how eager you are to get behind the wheel and break in those new driving shoes, pay attention to the safety lecture.
The school will provide you with a list of stuff you'll need to bring, such as specific clothing (though suits and helmets are usually provided), so there's no need to invest tons of money in equipment until you're sure racing is right for you. Even the best drivers have crashes, though, so at some point you might want to consider getting your own gear. If you can't afford proper safety equipment, you can't afford to race -- if you plan to pursue racing as a hobby or career, make sure you're investing your dollars in the right stuff [source: Bentley].
What Happens at Racing School
First and foremost, racing school isn't about going fast. It's about learning to control your car. Champion driver Ross Bentley says that coaching is a valuable investment, much more important than spending money to make the car faster. Schools are usually founded by "retired" racers who develop qualifications and standards to train instructors. Instructors are selected based not only on racing experience, but on their teaching abilities.
Devouring the vast menu of options can easily leave you confused. First, decide what you're after: Do you want to hit high speeds in a NASCAR-style formula car, or do you want individualized attention to develop street-smart skills? Are you after a vacation experience, an education or a potential new career?
The main types to choose from are:
- General Driving Technique. These courses are marketed toward teens and new drivers, and instructors teach basic precision driving and road etiquette.
- High Performance Driving. Usually taught in a passenger car, these types of classes focus on street driving technique and understanding how a car reacts to driver input. You'll learn advanced precision driving skills such as heel-toe shifting, trailbraking (braking into a turn to improve exit speed) and skid control.
- Open-wheel Formula Car Racing. These classes are for people who want to hit high speeds on a track
Driving and high performance schools focus on improving a driver's skills with an emphasis on how those techniques will benefit you every day. Racing courses are intended to improve driving skills on the track, although they'll also be applicable on the street. In other words, someone looking to have high-speed fun while perfecting technique will probably benefit more from a driving program, though racing courses are also beneficial. According to Bentley, you'll learn a lot by driving both open-wheel (formula) and closed-wheel (production) cars.
When you're competent at handling your vehicle, it's time to pursue speed. On the next page, we'll discuss the cars you'll get to drive.