Tom’s Corner – Let’s go racing!


The Richard Petty Driving Experience is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to actually drive a Sprint Cup stock car on many of America’s fastest race courses. I have been very fortunate to have driven these race cars at Lowes Charlotte Motor Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet Illinois. This is a hands on heart pounding high speed fast action adventure you will never forget! Having driven these same speedways that the great race drivers competed in over the years is an honor for me. The fact that you can drive at speeds over 170 mph and feel the power of a 358 CU inch 600 HP V-8 with all the noise and heat is almost a religious experience for me.

The class session starts with professional instructors on how to find your marks on the tri-oval. The instructions are very detailed. Then you climb into a van that takes you to the top of the oval, which is 1 ½ miles in length around the race track and is banked at 36 degrees. This is to acclimate you with what will be a very exciting day. Then, you get strapped into one of the stock cars and wait your turn in the pits to go out onto the track. These race cars rev up to 7000 rpm’s and I advise you to use ear plugs! The cars can be Chevrolet Monte Carlo’s, Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford Taurus and Dodge stock cars. All drivers are issued flame resistant suits, neck restraint, and helmets. You must provide the driving shoes and gloves. The session lasts for 10 laps and there are 3 sessions. After each session, you are brought in and the instructor who is assigned to you will critique your driving style and advise where you can improve your lap times. At the end of the course, you are congratulated and issued a diploma to certify that you have completed the course.

The cost can range from $1500.00 to $3500.00 depending on where you go for your driving school. I highly recommend the three day course because it will really sharpen your driving skills and you will come away with a deep appreciation for the race drivers who have to do 500 laps! I was very fortunate to have driven Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s number 8 Chevrolet at Charlotte Motor Speedway and at Chicagoland Speedway. My sponsor, Lennox International paid for all expenses both times. My two diplomas are a treasured part of my racing heritage which started in 1946 as a kid and along with my Skip Barber racing school diploma and my racing license from the Pomona Drag Racing School, and my vintage racing experience in my cousins’ 1965 Corvette at Road America in Elkhart Lake.

Tom drives Dale Earnhardt Jr's number 8

Tom drives Dale Earnhardt Jr’s number 8

Tom’s Corner – Taming Road America!


Welcome to Road America in Elkhart Lake Wisconsin where I will take you through this 4.0-mile road racing course in a 1965 vintage 700 hp Corvette! I have driven this track many times over the years in different race cars and still to this day learn something new on the racing surface. All the information in this article is for dry track conditions only. If the track is wet, all bets are off! Imagine that you are driving this car and not me. You will be going faster on the straights but maybe a little slower in the corners. If all goes well, we should be able to do a complete circuit in this race car at 2 minutes 40 seconds!

When our session starts, we will depart the ‘false grid’ and into the hot pit lane and from there onto the race track. As you are going through the hit pit lane to the race track, hopefully you will notice a STOP and GO light on the fence at the end of the hot pit lane. If the light is RED…STOP! ~ If the light is GREEN, Go, BUT…please stay to the right until you are past the apex of turn one. Now do a parade lap around the race course and after turn 14, coming up the hill to the starter please stay on the left and let cars that may pass you pass on your right. You should be approaching 170 mph at this point and from turn 14 to turn one, you have covered 4405 feet. I would suggest going to the brake pedal at the #4 brake marker. Turn #1 is a right hander approaching downhill and is faster that it initially appears and many race drivers have ‘lost it’ there and gone into the gravel pit. Leaving turn #1 and going downhill on the left, and passing the flag station on your right, you will be approaching turn #3. This is 1561 feet from turn #1. Come down to this turn on the left side as you prepare for the right hand corner entrance and set up your apex accordingly. It should be a ‘late apex’ well past the middle of the bump strip on your right. This will lead you to the second fastest part of the track Coming out of turn #3, keep to the right of this slowly descending 3888 feet leading down to turn #5. You are going about 186 mph through this section. Watch for your brake markers here. This is the sharpest left hand turn on the race track. You should ‘late apex’ this turn as you head up to turn #6, which is a blind off camber left turn. Stay to the right side of the track when coming up the hill here. This section is 960 feet in length and you will use second and third gears to get to turn #6. Turn #7 is 788 feet going downhill with a slight kink to a section called ‘hurry downs’. Elevation change and 1322 feet to turn #8, you must stay to the right and very hard on the brakes in this 90 degree turn. You will be going about 90 mph approaching this turn.

The infamous ‘Carousel’ is 3383 feet in a slightly increasing radius and you will pick up speed considerably here as you approach ‘the ‘Kink’. Do not take ‘the Kink’ flat out! It has caused many crashes by driver who over-drive this portion of the track. From ‘the Kink’ to turn #12 is 2736 feet long and you will approach ‘Canada Corner’ at a very high rate of speed, about 190 mph! Watch your braking points here as you will need to down shift to first or second to get through this corner. Again, stay to the right side of the track and apex slightly sooner to get through properly. From turn #12 to turn #13, its uphill for 1140 feet and stay to the left. This section is called ‘Thunder Valley’. At corner #13 start your line to the right side as you approach turn #14 which is 1009 Feet. From here, you will start going back up hill to the start-finish line which is 1380 feet and wide open on the throttle! There are many elevation changes to this race course and that is what makes a favorite of race drivers. There are of course signs indicating braking points and rumble strips at the inside or outside of the apex’s and as you learn the course as I have, each time you drive here it will be a very memorable experience. To be able to tour this track at 2 minutes 40 seconds in my cousin’s vintage Corvette is just one of the highlights in all of my driving life.

Just think…172 mph…700 hp…arm restraints…ear plugs…safety harnesses… driving suit… helmet… roll bars…racing fuel…loud…hot and fast!!! This is what it’s all about!

There are many opportunities throughout the year to attend driving events at Road America,  for more information check out

I drove this Corvette road race car to 172 mph in 2005... Very loud,hot and fast !

I drove this Corvette road race car to 172 mph in 2005… Very loud,hot and fast !


Tom’s Corner – Racing Schools

In previous articles, I told you about the racing school that Skip Barber puts on. Since I have graduated from it, I can tell you first hand it is well worth every cent and then some!

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: