Instructor Bill Gentry talks...
Instructor Bill Gentry talks with Australian Sprint Car Driver Veronica McCann. She won over many of the instructors with her easy-to-work-with attitude.
Even though Mattioli had experience in so many different cars, he was quick to admit that he learned some very specific and important lessons during the two day school. "I learned a lot about throttle control. It was all about being smooth. In the past, it was something where I would just let my foot right off the pedal and it would do so much to me in the turn I never even knew about it, especially doing my oval stuff," explains the soon-to be college freshman. "Going and racing road courses, you'd think coming back and doing an oval would be so much easier but it's a totally different world and if you think you can pick it up just because you can drive that, you're wrong."
Mattioli wasn't the only road course racer in the bunch. Twenty year old Amy Elizondo has accomplished much behind the wheel in her 13 years of racing from wins in quarter midgets to legends cars. But she made her mark in 2005 in the ASA ProAutoSports Challenge Series in her home state of Arizona. That season, she captured not only the series Rookie of the Year award but also the Series Championship.
Now, you might think that racing full-bodied trucks on a twisty road course like Firebird International Raceway would have little relation to a big oval track like Lowe's Motor Speedway but that couldn't be further from the truth. "What I learned will make passing so much easier even on road courses," says Elizondo, who has her eyes set on ARCA as her next step. "Because setting up for the turns, you still have the apexes, you still have the straightaway, but (the classes teach you) to find the drafting zone and then make the pass smoother without taking one or both of you out. Not that I've ever done that."
Arizona based racer Amy Elizondo...
Arizona based racer Amy Elizondo discusses the feel of the racecars. Amy impressed the instructors with her great attitude and ability to pay close attention to their instructions.
In fact, Amy's on track driving record would make any highway patrolman proud, but that's another story. Her Fast Track experience was a far cry from what she is used to in the trucks. "It's completely different, you have to be smooth with the throttle, be smooth with the wheel, but the application process is very good."
It was pretty easy to tell that the students in this class gained valuable information from the course. Many hung around hours after the class had ended, discussing their experiences, potential next steps and other ways of advancing their racing careers. One of those next steps could be a one-on-one session with Fast Track founder Andy Hillenburg. For those students who are serious about getting to the next step in big track full-bodied stock car competition, Fast Track's Advanced Course is a half-day one-on-one session at the track of your choice. Hillenburg guides you through 100 laps of progressively faster lap times where the best students can actually achieve ARCA competition speeds. Throughout the course, Hillenburg is in constant radio contact with you as you make laps, giving you pointers, adjusting your line and so on.
Whether any of the students in our class choose to take that advanced class, pursue moving up the ladder or remain at the local level, one thing was unanimous: The experience of running these full-bodied stock cars around the big track at Lowe's Motor Speedway is going to make all of us better racers regardless of what we race or where we race it.
While Fast Track focuses on one type of car, there are numerous other schools around the country that tackle other racing disciplines. We'll be hunting those schools down and investigating their programs throughout the year as part of an ongoing effort to help you, our Circle Track readers, become the Ultimate Racer.
For me, going to the Fast Track driving school at Lowes Motor Speedway was a chance to experience the feeling of the car and how it reacts to the cornering forces. I drew on past conversations with numerous drivers and then tried to feel the very same reactions as the car approached maximum velocity through the turns.
The instructors at this school have done this for a very long time and their experience was evident. We were allowed to progress along as quickly as we felt comfortable and as long as, in their observations, we were smooth and hit our marks on the track. The single car session on the first day was our chance to go as fast as we wanted.
I personally feel very comfortable with racecars and have a good feel for what they are doing and wanting to do. So, I progressed fairly quickly. I was afraid they would object, but they did not, only commenting on my high entry to turn three on one lap. I knew what I did when it happened. It reminded me of an old story a friend once shared.
A newer Cup team was testing at Richmond one year and being off by a full second, they asked Dale Earnhardt, Sr. if he could take the car for a few laps to see if he could tell them what was wrong. He went out and picked up almost the full second they were missing. The difference was in how the two drivers modulated the throttle. Dale rolled on and off the throttle while the other driver lifted and accelerated too quickly.
On my flying lap where I missed the turn three entry, I too had to modulate the throttle to get the car down again to properly exit turn four. I could feel what it was like and how the car reacted. So, I learned a bunch. I think it makes me a better race engineer when I have a better understanding of how drivers do their jobs. And that makes experiences like these well worth it in addition to being a blast to do.