We arrived at Road America in Elkhart Lake Wisconsin an hour earlier than we needed to. The weather was threatening and we wanted to avoid the rush hour traffic going through downtown Milwaukee that morning. We met people from all around the USA who flew in for this school. The first thing on the agenda was a 45 minute lecture on the laws of physics and handling characteristics of racing cars especially open wheel ones which we would be driving. Then it was time to get suited up and get in the race car. To get in you have to stand on the racing seat and wiggle your way down to the pedals. The quarters are very tight once you are strapped in and about the only thing you can move are your feet and arms. Once your helmet and neck restraint are in place and your gloves are on, you move on to the starting grid with the rest of the members of your session.
In this school, you must follow a pace car to get acclimated to the course and gradually build up speed. These Barber Dodge cars are tricky in that there is no synchromesh transmission and you must use the ‘heel and toe’ procedure to shift gears correctly. This was explained in detail in the lecture in the class room. Steering in these formula cars is very precise and it takes some getting used to get it right. You learn your braking points and entrance to the corners as well as the exit of the apex’s and as the speed picks up, these cars are capable of going from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds and the braking is astounding. Each student must follow the other for a lap and switch places with the lead race car so the instructor can determine how well they are doing. After about 5 laps on a course which is 2 and 1/2 miles in length, the group is brought in and the instructor goes to each driver and tells him/her how they can improve their driving techniques such as the right entrance with corner acceleration out of it and drafting techniques. This is very serious stuff! On one occasion, the driver in front of me was approaching a very sharp 90 degree turn to the right when he mis-judged his braking point and spun directly in front of me and ended up in the gravel trap backwards! When I looked for an instant in my mirror, all I could see was dust and debris. You cannot take your eyes off the racing surface in front of you because of the speed you are traveling…one slight distraction and you are in trouble. Concentration is the key to doing well at this racing school and as the session ended about two hours later, we were brought in for a final critique of our driving abilities in an open wheel race car.
The instructor gave me an A+ for my efforts and the diploma I received was worth all the time and money spent to attend this racing school. I heartily recommend to anyone who has the desire to drive an open wheel formula race car to give this some consideration. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have on this subject. You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org