Do your research. If you're shopping for a race school, that's the best advice we can give. Ultimately, finding the correct school requires shopping around. Since more racing schools exist now than ever before in the history of mankind, we put this handy guide together to help make shopping around a little easier. Driving schools typically come in three flavors: serious race driver training, fan experience, and then there are ones that cater to both audiences. For the fan who wants a taste of driving a real race car and has no serious intentions of competing, there are many schools from which to choose. The weekend racer who seeks serious training has fewer options. In fact, most schools across the country cater more to the fan audience. But this is America, and somewhere and somehow, somebody is probably selling something you want. (If somebody's not selling it, figure out how to sell it, and then you can drive a Cadillac Escalade for the rest of your life.)
Schools that teach race car drivers technique, chassis setup, and more are available, and many are quite good at what they do. In order for racers to get the most from the course, however, they must be honest about their skill level and what they really need to learn. In all cases, big egos and delusions of knowing what you're doing need to be left with the horse you rode in on.
For weekend warriors, spending money on a race school may be hard to justify when that money could be spent on the race car. Look at this way: Getting that hunk of "dumb metal" around the track requires a smart driver. Do parts and quality construction make the car go fast? Do drivers make the car go fast? The obvious answer is both. While there's no substitute for experience and pure skill, a race-training school can help inexperienced drivers accelerate the learning curve (and help them go faster without adding miracle parts or tearing up equipment by repeatedly learning the hard way).
Questions Everybody Should Ask* Does the school use open-face or closed-face helmets? Closed-face helmets offer much more protection. Even in the closely monitored environment of a school, tires can blow, parts can fail, and people can wreck. Do you want the front of your face to hit something inside the car? The last thing you want is to look like you got beat over the head with a race car.
* What is the school's policy if you wreck, and who defines whose fault it is? Is insurance available?
* What is the school's policy regarding cancellations or inclement weather? If it starts raining while you're there, can you expect a refund for partial completion of the course?
* Does the school use radios? If so, are they one-way or two-way?
* Do the cars have rev limiters or any speed-restricting devices? They may sound like fun-limiters at first, but really, they're there for your own safety. There's a big difference between 150 mph and 170 mph.
* Do instructors sit in the cars, or are students driving solo? Some people like the instructors sitting next to them; others don't. An inside instructor can get the students up to speed faster. On the other side of the coin, an inside instructor can also be intimidating and distracting to some people.
Group Discounts And Corporate ProgramsWhen you have to write that big proposal and tell the boss it's time to take care of employees and clients, racing schools can be one of the most impressive incentives out there. Many schools offer packages designed specifically for that purpose.
Important Disclaimer!By including a school in this listing, Circle Track is not implying that we know with firsthand certainty that it is a safe operation, or even a good one. Getting behind the wheel of any race car always involves a high amount of risk-a lot more than sitting on the couch and eating potato chips made with Olestra, so proceed cautiously and at your own risk.
Stock Car Racing SchoolsBrett Hearn Driving SchoolDept. CT01P.O. Box 1175Vernon, NJ 07456973/702-0811www.bretthearn.com
This school comes to life once every year under the watchful eye of DIRT Modified driver Brett Hearn at the Orange County Fair Speedway in Middleton, New York (a 51/48-mile clay oval). It costs $300 if you bring your own car, $600 if you rent one of Brett's cars. The school begins on Friday with classroom instruction and concludes on Saturday night after a day of driving on the track. As of this printing, the date for next year's school has not been announced.
Buck Baker Racing SchoolDept. CT011613 Runnymede Ln.Charlotte, NC 28211800/529-BUCKwww.buckbaker.com
Buck's school uses former Winston Cup cars at Rockingham (North Carolina) Speedway, Atlanta (Georgia) Speedway, and Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway. Instruction ranges from ride-alongs to one-, two-, and three-day courses. It covers everything from basic to advanced courses that include one-on-one instruction to meet the needs of each driver. Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, and Joe Nemechek have gone through this school. Prices for driving courses start at $410 for a half day and go up to $2,300 for a three-day course.
California Racing Experience/Nazareth Racing ExperienceDept. CT019615 Cherry Ave.Fontana, CA 92335877/CUP-CARSwww.cupcars.com
Geared more for fans looking to get into the driver's seat, these driving-experience schools operate at the California Speedway (near Los Angeles) and the Nazareth (Pennsylvania) Speedway. Winston Cup cars and Super Trucks can be driven in their half-day, one-day, and two-day courses in which an instructor is always in the car. Students never have to follow an instructor car, can pass cars, drive side by side, and draft bumper-to-bumper. Ride-alongs are also available. Prices to drive start at $395 for a 10-lap session and go to $2,195 for a two-day, 80-lap experience.
David Pearson's Performance ProgramsDept. CT01515 Cherry St.South Daytona, FL 32119904/788-3774www.davidpearson1.com
David's school uses former Winston Cup cars and Allison Legacy cars at Bristol Motor Speedway, Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, St. Augustine (Florida) Speedway, and USA International Speedway (Florida). Driving classes include beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses. To qualify for the advanced course, you must submit a very serious race resume. The price for an eight-hour beginner's driving school costs $500 to $750. Ride-alongs are also available.
Donnie Moran Race Driving SchoolDept. CT014325 Fawn Dr.Dresden, OH 43821740/754-2299
Donnie offers dirt-track Stock car race training at Muskingum County Speedway in Dresden, Ohio.
Drivetech Racing SchoolDept. CT017242 Scout Ave., Unit BBell Gardens, CA 90201800/678-8864www.drivetech.com
Drivetech has a reputation on the West Coast for providing generous seat time in its well-orchestrated program that uses Featherlite Southwest Series cars. It operates at California Speedway, Pikes Peak (Colorado) International Raceway, Altamont (California) Raceway Park, Cajon (California) Speedway, Phoenix (Arizona) International Raceway, Mesa Marin (California) Raceway, and Willow Springs International Motorsports Park (an outstanding road course near Los Angeles). Students drive solo in classes that offer anywhere between 20 minutes of actual drive time up to a two-day course that includes two hours of driving time. Prices range from $250 to $2,395 respectively, but vary according to the track. Ride-alongs are available.
Duvall's Driving SchoolDept. CT01614 S. Green River Rd.Cowpens, SC 29330864/489-3863
Duvall's Driving school offers dirt track instruction at the Cherokee Speedway and Antioch Speedway in South Carolina. The school uses both open-wheel and fendered cars. Prices start at $1,000.
Evernham/Hawley Racing SchoolDept. CT01P.O. Box 484LaVerne, CA 91750877/901-7223www.irwindalespeedway.com
Crew chief extraordinaire Ray Evernham and drag racing legend Frank Hawley teamed up to create this Stock car racing school that operates at the Irwindale (California) Speedway in Southern California (a half-mile asphalt oval.) The school uses Late Model stock cars and Mechanixwear Speed Trucks in its Adventure Programs (fan oriented) and Competition course (beginner to intermediate racer). Adventure courses start at $99, and the competition course (which features primarily one-on-one teaching) costs $1,795. Ride-alongs, data acquisition, and lapping sessions are also available. It's a serious school that teaches the technical, mental, and driving sides of racing.
Fast Track HighPerformance Driving SchoolDept. CT01P.O. Box 160Harrisburg, NC 28075704/455-1700www.fastrackracing.com
Southard has been training drivers and mechanics since 1975. Graduates include Mark Martin, Gary Nelson, Ernie Irvan, and many behind-the-scenes guys in NASCAR. Geared for racers who drive on half-mile-or-less tracks, the school's five-day chassis program with driving costs $2,000. Students can also bring their own cars ($1,000) and have the school help set up and dial in the car. They use a variety of Late Model and Modified cars with no rev limiters! Classes are held at Volusia County (Florida) Speedway (dirt) and New Smyrna (Florida) Speedway (asphalt). The four-day chassis school with no driving costs $500.
Southern Thunder,A Race Truck Experience!Dept. CT011801 28th St. N.St. Petersburg, FL 33713888/403-1444www.southernthunder.com