The beauty of the school is...
The beauty of the school is the instructors do just about everything for you, except put on your gloves. Bob had to do that himself.
Once you achieve being smooth and finding the preferred line around the track, you are assigned a partner. Together, the two of you are paired for the remainder of the class. Round one is drafting practice where you take turns following each other around the track a mere six feet apart. By the way, when you're sitting in these full-bodied stock cars, six feet looks a lot closer than it actually is. I was genuinely surprised at how many of the racers in our group had trouble closing the gap, but Holman says that is not at all uncommon even for seasoned short trackers.
The next exercise is a passing drill. Hillenburg's school actually teaches you a very valuable piece of information that you will often read in the pages of Circle Track. That is the best place to pass is coming off of a corner, not going into it. If you don't believe that, this passing exercise will convince you. You gain a far better appreciation of the importance of passing at the right spot on the track in a big, heavy stock car at faster speeds than say in a Street Stock.
The passing drill was a lot of fun but you have to resist the temptation to check out on your partner after you complete the pass, otherwise they'll miss their shot at passing you on the next go-around.
If your line is good and consistent,...
If your line is good and consistent, the instructors will let you turn the wick up. Both Bolles and I ran well in excess of 7,000rpm around the 1.5 mile speedway. In the corners, that is very, very close to race speed.
You perform both the drafting and passing exercises multiple times for ten laps each session, always under the watchful eyes of the instructors. And with each passing lap, both you and your partner get better and faster.
The grand finale which actually takes place on the Day Two of the class is a 16 lap at speed four pack racing session. That exercise is designed to give you a true and accurate representation of what it is like to work a car in a pack. Both Bolles and I were amazed at how much buffeting goes on in a pack even on a mile and a half track. Sure you can watch a NASCAR race at Talladega and see the cars jumping around on TV, but until you feel it, really feel it, you have no idea how important car control really is. Everybody in the class agreed that the grand finale was the most eye opening experience of the weekend.
The school wraps up with a session back in the media center where all the students receive certificates, diplomas in speed, if you will, and then the opportunity to talk more with the instructors. We took the chance to sit down with a few of the weekly racers to see what they thought of the two day education in speed and, more importantly, whether or not it was money well spent.
School is not all work. Here,...
School is not all work. Here, dirt late-model racer A.J. "Sideways" Watson shares a laugh with CT Editor Rob.
"It was all I was expecting and more," said A. J. Watson. "It was awesome. The experience alone was worth everything." Watson, a dirt late-model racer from Georgia, has been behind the wheel for 12 years, eight in go-karts and then four in his late-model, all of them on dirt. He came to the school, his first ever laps on asphalt, to find out not only if he could do it but if he wanted to do it. What he found was extremely valuable, especially about remaining smooth and consistent all the way around the track, something he says he'll take with him back to dirt.
"I don't care if you race go-karts, full-bodied cars, dirt, asphalt, whatever, it's all related someway," says A.J. whose nickname is "Sideways." "I think wherever you race you can take it somewhere else and apply it." The biggest thing Sideways learned? "Keeping smooth and consistent about everything."
Sideways' experience is not unlike the other students in the class. Veronica McCann is an accomplished sprint car driver from Australia who, like Watson, boasts more than a decade of dirt racing experience. She wanted to try her hand at racing paved ovals, but there are really only two types of racing in Australia, dirt ovals and paved road courses.
Instructor feedback is both...
Instructor feedback is both valuable and essential. After each session you spend time with an instructor both in and out of the car. The instructors critique each aspect of your run and let you know where and why improvements are needed.
"I came out to America to run Lyn St. James' driver development program," says McCann. "She asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to run paved ovals. I can't do that in Australia so here was the only other option, which doesn't bother me. I've always wanted to come out to America."
McCann who has run IndyPro cars as part of the St. James program, has attended other racing schools but found her Fast Track experience exceptionally educational. "I think this school is very, very knowledgeable. These guys know what they're talking about so it makes you comfortable in the cars. I didn't stop learning all week."
McCann, a.k.a. "Red Hot Roni" is headed back to Australia for the summer to run a dirt late-model, her first time in that type of car, but will return to the States in the fall to continue her pursuit of an asphalt career. The 24 year old also said that her experience at Fast Track helped convince her of the type of asphalt career she wanted to pursue; full-bodied stock cars.
The youngest student in the class was 17 year old Chase Mattioli, the grandson of Pocono Raceway founder and owner Drs. Joe and Rose Mattioli. Unlike McCann and Sideways, Mattioli has a laundry list of racecars that he has driven; Quarter midgets, Allison legacy series, Legend cars, front-wheel-drive pony stocks, formula Fords and formula Mazdas as well as a Supertruck that he runs at Music City Motoplex, the Nashville, Tenn., half-mile that is home to the prestigious All American 400 late-model race.