Fast cars, high speeds and unfamiliar maneuvers can easily become disastrous and dangerous. If you lose control of the car, make no mistake -- you're liable. Your own car insurance policy won't help you out, unless you happen to carry a miracle policy that covers other cars driven off the street in what insurance companies consider to be a competitive environment. If that's the case, consider yourself lucky.
Generally, in the event of a crash, students must pay for any damage they cause. This includes whatever vehicles are involved and the facility itself (such as pavement, walls or other structures). Many schools offer optional insurance, which must be purchased or declined before your event starts. In most cases, the insurance will simply reduce the amount you'll have to pay, but it won't let you off the hook entirely [source: Houston]. Read the fine print carefully.
Racing School Cars
The fleets at most racing schools are a point of pride. For example, Skip Barber uses a variety of high-end performance and street cars, including Mazda, Lotus, Lexus, BMW and Porsche; the Bondurant School uses only GMs, such as Pontiac and Cadillac.
Once you're strapped into a street car, instructors will lead you through a series of exercises designed to show you how the car will respond to driver input -- what you, sitting behind the wheel, tell it to do. This will make you more comfortable, allow you to concentrate better (since it'll be more familiar) and reinforce the notion that the skills you'll learn are applicable to everyday driving. Straightaways are used for acceleration and braking instruction, and you'll practice handling an out-of-control car on skid pads. Instructors at the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving have been known to demonstrate these concepts with participants packed into a bus [source: Stein]. Learning how a car behaves and responds in any situation -- accelerating, decelerating, skidding, going straight or sideways -- will help you become a better, more confident driver.
If you get track time, this is where you're likely to hit your highest speeds. First, you'll probably sit in the passenger seat while an instructor drives you around the course at top speed. This is called a "hot lap" session and will help you learn "the line," or the fastest way to get around the track. You'll also have "lead-follow" sessions, where you take the wheel and follow the instructor around the track, using the techniques you've been practicing.
Some schools put mechanical limiters on the cars to prevent extremely high speeds, but others place that judgment with the instructors and students. Some programs even run lap sessions without a pace car (the lead car that "limits" drivers' speed -- when there's a pace car on track, passing it is forbidden). In general, though, you won't have much opportunity for triple-digit speeds in a basic or beginner program. At Skip Barber, for example, students in the 3-day school don't reach top speeds until the final day.
At racing school, you'll also learn why the sport is notorious for its outrageous expenses. Let's see how much this endeavor will set you back.