The date was February 17, 2006, my first day at the Skip Barber Racing School at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. I grabbed a suit and helmet and headed into the classroom where I introduced myself to the class consisting of about ten people. “Hello my name is Eddie, I’m 17, from Michigan, I drive a Saab 9-3 and I’m here to become a better driver.”
After a quick briefing on under steer, over steer, turning points, apex and braking, it was already time for us to hop into a Formula Dodge race car. Although I did not show it, I was scared to death for I had no idea what to expect. It seemed to me like everyone in the class had prior racing experience. To make matters worse, it was raining pretty heavily outside. We proceeded to the autocross course where we were simply asked to drive through a short course marked by cones and get a feel for the car. When it was my turn, I was sweating despite it being uncharacteristically cold outside because I was so nervous. I was asked to test the gears while a mechanic rocked the car. It just made me feel more nervous. I could not seem to get a feel for any of the linkage and when the instructor signaled me to proceed onto the course — I stalled the car. I tried again, but with no luck. I could not find first gear. Finally after about a minute ― that seemed like an hour — I got it, but not without doing a small burnout out of the pits. My first time around the course I was very timid, afraid of spinning out. For my second run, the instructors told me to drive the course with more speed, and not to be afraid of spinning out. I did and got more and more comfortable with the car and eventually had my first spin out.
By lunch time I was starting to feel much more confident until I heard that we were going out to the actual racetrack after lunch. The instructors quickly went over all that we had previously learned except added the heel and toe downshift. We were first showed how to double clutch, but the instructor humorously informed us that he could not do it himself. He then taught us blipping where you roll your right foot from the brake to the accelerator while you let out the clutch to match the engine speed with the transmission speed. It was the only way to shift the Formula Dodge race cars.
They first took us in vans around the course and told us where to turn, downshift, and brake and where to drive in the rain. By that time I was as nervous as I had ever been, for it seemed like there was so much to know and I could not do any of it. I got in my car, stalled it a few times, then headed onto a shorter version of the track which was the last step before heading onto the full race track. To my surprise I quickly got the hang of the blip and eventually got faster and faster and as an added bonus there was a huge mud puddle that we had to drive through. In no time, we were ready to head onto the full track. Naturally I was still a little edgy, but at the same time full of adrenaline. After making it through the first lap I was delighted for it was the most fun thing I had ever done. We did about ten laps that day, and by the end we were exhausted.
As I left the track I recollected on the day. I could not believe that I had actually driven a race car around arguably the most famous road course in the world. I had driven through the infamous corkscrew and Andretti hairpin corner. I also was surprised to find that everyone in the class was very encouraging, generous, and helpful to me.
The next day the emphasis was on flags and threshold and trail braking. The instructors had set up a drill that incorporated — and somewhat exaggerated — these braking techniques. By that time it was raining again, which made the drills even more frightening. The first drill required us to threshold brake to a complete stop on the front straightaway and try to get an initial lockup the first couple of times, then slight lockup, and then release. We became an ABS system. The next drill was to go full throttle into turn two (Andretti hairpin) and then threshold brake from 100 mph at a cone set up near the end of the straight and still make in around the turn. It was absolutely terrifying the first few times. The rain obviously did not help, for we had to do the brake while doing a rim shot around the turn. Unsurprisingly, many people including me spun out into the gravel but it was not a big deal because the instructors encouraged it so you would learn better.
As the day went by, I continued to get more and more confident and comfortable with the race car’s capabilities and what I as a driver needed to work on. We then proceeded to do some open lapping — except there was a stop box set up on the front straightaway. There, you could request feed-back from the instructors watching you around the track and have a brief time to relax and recollect about your last lap and allow the cars to space out better.
The final day was primarily a lapping day with no stop box. It was definitely the most fun day. I let everything out and drove the car as aggressively as I could and managed to spin out on the corkscrew which was a lot of fun. After every run the instructor watching the corkscrew told me I could do it faster. I listened to him, but made a few minor mistakes. I turned in a little early missing the first apex and then went full throttle down it for the first time. I could feel my stomach turn. At that point I panicked, released the throttle causing an overload on the front tires and overcorrected with the steering wheel. The instructors told me that, next time, to instead simply ease off the throttle and turn much more slowly. I was thinking to myself: “It’s easier said then done!” After lunch our final task was practice starts. As usual, I was a little nervous, but managed to make it through the four practice starts. We then did some more open lapping, but in no time it was sadly time to go.
Overall, the Skip Barber Racing School was the most fun experience of my life and I definitely became a much better driver. I did not expect there to be so little time in the classroom and so much time on the track. I look forward to doing more racing in the future.