Scott Muir straps into Skip...
Scott Muir straps into Skip Barber's No. 99 car during open lapping and passing sessions. Barber's goal is to get students to where driving responses and choices come naturally, almost like a reflex. Because when you're heal-toe downshifting into turns at over 100 mph, you don't have time to think about it.
Come on, admit it, you've got it too-the nagging. When you chomp your corn flakes in the morning, it's there at the back of your mind and you just can't shake it. How can I become a better racer? Don't deny it-you and every other Circle Track reader is blessed (or burdened) by the same drive, the same passion. So what do you do now?
That's exactly what Los Angeles native Scott Muir asked himself recently. Scott's just like the rest of us-works a job, supports his wife, pays the bills, and escapes all-too-seldom to the racetrack.
So what does it take for a regular Joe like Scott-or you-to take it to the next level? How can you turn a weekend dare-we-say hobby into a bona fide professional racing career?
Well, for starters you've got to be a well-rounded racer to make it to the upper echelon of motorsports today. That means going beyond just wheeling your street stock around the local bullring. It also means familiarizing yourself with different forms of racing at different types of tracks. A road course is just the ticket to spread your wings beyond the four turns we're all used to, and it'll make you a better short track racer too. But exactly how and where to gain that extra experience?
Barber's lead instructor,...
Barber's lead instructor, Mikel Miller, didn't keep students in the classroom very much. The small size of this particular class-just twelve students-afforded a bit more drive time than normal. The majority of the time-upwards of 70 percent-is spent in the car.
To find out, we shipped Every-Day-Joe Scott and his cohort Jim Frye out of L.A. to the cooler climes of Monterey, California, the West Coast home of the Skip Barber Racing School at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. After Skip Barber, the pair continued north to Jim Russell Racing Drivers School at Infineon Raceway. Skip Barber and Jim Russell are two premier West Coast road racing schools where you can get on your way to being that well-rounded racer along with a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competitive racing license.
Scott's first stop: Skip Barber. "It's well respected, and it's been around a long time," said Scott. "Plus it's at Laguna Seca-a world-famous track with the world-famous Corkscrew."
Patrick Linn, a drag racer from Orlando, Florida, came to get his regional license with plans to take the two-day advanced course in Sebring, Florida, for a national license. "This is my first race school ever," he said. "And my first time on a road course. I'll never drag race again."
Under the hood of a Barber...
Under the hood of a Barber car: a Dodge four-cylinder motor and a Ricardo Engineering five-speed sequential gearbox are tucked inside a steel-tube chassis with a fiberglass shell.
Matt Thill, from Phoenix, Arizona, said, "Besides getting my license, I picked Skip Barber because it has its own race series, and that's a big selling point. You can go race its car, race its stuff, its tires, and you don't have to have the heavy outlay of cash for the vehicle and the maintenance."
The Skip Barber car is an open wheel, single-seater Formula Ford, with a Dodge four-cylinder motor that tips the scales at 1,250 pounds. You get 150 hp at 5,800 rpm with maximum torque reaching 126 lb-ft at 5,200 rpm. Cranking through the Ricardo Engineering five-speed sequential gearbox will get you to a top speed of 135 mph on BFGoodrich g-Force Traction T/A street tires.
These cars were built for racing; there wasn't much civilized about them. "You can't just flick it around like a street car," said Scott. "Shifting gears takes a good pull or push, not a wimpy little movement." But that's not to say the car wasn't responsive. It was quick to react to load transfer, steering inputs, braking, and acceleration. "Because the car weighs so little," said Scott, "it takes no time at all to react to your inputs."
The Track-and That Famous Corkscrew OK, let's get this out of the way-the Corkscrew is fun. Plain and simple. "It's a pure joy to drive," said Scott. "The approach was actually scarier than the Corkscrew itself." You can't see where you're heading as you crest over the hill-you need to set yourself up correctly from the beginning, because there's no time for correction once you're in. "It's an absolute thrill."