The instructor is in the car...
The instructor is in the car with you, and can help with even the basics of starting the engine if it's your first time in a race car.
Each school is different, but the Buck Baker School allows anyone who has signed the waiver to be behind the pit wall, around the students and cars. Only students and instructors are allowed beyond pit wall. Our instructor for the day was Allan Johnstone, who has been with the school for six years and knows how to get around the track and how to teach students to do so.
In lieu of a classroom session, Johnstone spoke for a few minutes from atop pit wall and then took us for a track walk. Along the way he pointed out how to get around the track by showing us where to apply the gas or brakes, where to turn into the corner, where to let the car float out to the wall on the straightaways, and more. We also took the time to check for any debris on the track that might have been missed during track prep. In the case of North Wilkesboro, the track has sat vacant for 12 years, so it was especially important to check for debris. (For more on North Wilkesboro Speedway see the sidebar, The Return Of An Old Friend).
During the walk Johnstone emphasized over and over that the class was not about speed. We weren't going to drag race down the straights and then lock up the brakes to get in the corners. No, just like any track, the idea was hitting the marks and getting the rhythm of the track. Once you accomplish that the speed will come.
Even though the car and the track might be different, the same concept applies as in other forms of racing. You have to hit your marks and have a rhythm to get around the track successfully.
Because Buck Baker started...
Because Buck Baker started the school as a true racing school, passing is allowed, but under controlled circumstances. All passes are to the outside and only after the car in front moves down a line and waves. Bad things can happen otherwise.
For example, at Wilkesboro you come out of Turn 4 on the gas. Let the car float out to the wall and then let off the gas just past the flagstand. A tap of the brakes, then you turn into Turn 1. Hug the bottom into Turn 2 and when the car is set, it's back on the gas and let it come out to the wall in the backstretch.
Just past the crossover gate, let off the gas and tap the brakes. There are bumps in Turns 3 and 4. You'll turn into 3 and pretty much miss the bumps, but in Turn 4 you need to either be down at the bottom next to the apron or up a half a lane to miss the bumps. This is crucial because you're getting back on the gas as you go over the bumps. If you're in the wrong place it'll be pancake time in the wall.
You then repeat that for several laps and the addiction kicks in. After that, you're hooked and ready to go for a few hundred laps and get your speed up to qualifying speed. Of course, depending on your experience this probably won't happen your first time in the car or on the track.
Now, it's time to climb into the car. In the passenger seat, that is. Each car has two seats. Your instructor will drive you around the track for five laps showing you where the line is and your marks for gas and braking. Once you come back into the pits, you swap places with the instructor and head out for your first set of laps.
Each school will have various packages to meet your financial or racing needs. In our case, we got four 10-lap sessions. Other schools may do it differently but the Buck Baker School instructors ride along with the students for at least the first session. During that session they will give you hand signals letting you know when to hit the gas, when to brake and when to turn into the corners. They may also adjust your line by moving the steering wheel. In our case, they even grab a hold of your leg to get you off the gas! Oops!
After each session the instructor will go over how you did-where you hit the marks, where you missed the marks, and how to correct that. The post-session discussions are the most important part of the day. The saying, "Practice makes perfect," only works if it's perfect practice.
Because this is a school and...
Because this is a school and not a race, they will keep some distance between the cars. There's no reason to be close when you're in a new race car. Learn the car and track first. Then you can step up to side-by-side racing.
Depending on the racing school...
Depending on the racing school the flagman may use hand signals as well as flags to tell you what's going on. Here, Johnstone demonstrates the "think about what you're doing on the backstretch" signal. Because you're going uphill on the backstretch at North Wilkesboro your braking point is little later than the front, but you need to be on the right line so you can apex Turn 3 correctly.