Bucket lists. We all have them, be they personal, family, travel and, of course, racing! For me, still at the top of my list is to watch the Monaco Grand Prix with all access. Second on the list is to become a better driver on track. Well, number two became number one for me on a trip to the Ford Performance Racing School in Tooele — pronounced Too-will-AH — Utah. With options for a one-day course or the full-on two-day program, I opted for the one day. Time restrictions and work prevented me from taking advantage of the two-day program.
HOW TO GET STARTED
You can register online at fordperformanceracingschool.com for many of the programs they have available. If you are more comfortable speaking with a live person who can answer questions, then by all means give them a call. For now, I’ll focus on the racing school. First things first: You must be able to comfortably drive a manual transmission-equipped vehicle. Seriously, they do not have automatic-transmission vehicles here.
WHAT TO BRING
Really, the only thing you need to bring is a good pair of driving shoes. The Ford Performance Racing School provides you with a driver suit and helmet. I suggest you bring your own head sock. If you wish to bring your own gear, make sure it meets the requirements on their website. I also suggest wearing comfortable shorts and a short sleeve shirt. You will be in the driver suit all day.
Humility is the second thing. Check your ego at your own front door before you leave. Be ready to learn new things and maybe unlearn some habits you have developed.
WHAT TO EXPECT
If you’re thinking that you will walk out of this program heading to a pro seat on a big-name team, well … there are no scouts here. Honest, I checked. Expect to learn, to be challenged and to be tired.
WHEN YOU GET THERE
The entire team makes the day all about you: from Holly greeting you at the door and making sure your paperwork is in order, to the rest of the staff being as approachable as can be, and making you feel at home. The day starts in the classroom. The coaches introduce themselves, talk a little about seating position, steering, hand positioning, track etiquette and how the day will unfold for you.
The Day’s activities
After picking out a driving suit and helmet that fits, we begin the program with a quick introduction to the vehicle we will be driving for the day. A 2015 FPRS Mustang with 435 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque.
We split into groups of four with two coaches and headed out to our first station: cornering, with increasing- and decreasing-radius turns. Slow in and fast out was the order of the day. Hit the mark and roll back on the throttle. Practice makes better. Perfect is an elusive option when racing.
We then moved over to the heel/toe drill combined with maximum braking without getting into the ABS. For me, heel/toe was something I really needed to work on. My first pass was a little rough and not even close to being professional. After four or five more passes I was feeling pretty comfortable with this technique, and getting into the feel of where the maximum pedal pressure was for the best braking.
The final stop of the morning was the skid car. Having grown up in New England and driven in some pretty treacherous icy conditions, I felt confident I could handle this drill fairly well. Needless to say it was a learning experience, and if this had been on the streets, some trees, signs and snowbanks would have been seriously harmed and altered.
Next, we headed back to the classroom for catered lunch and some discussions about the morning activities among the students. We need a little break in the action to refuel ourselves while the FPRS crew took care of our cars, refueled them, washed windows, checked tires and pressures and all fluids, and torqued the wheels.
Then, everyone loaded into a van for a track tour — one of the most helpful tools at any track. If you have an opportunity for either a slow van ride with a local driver of that track or parade laps, I strongly suggest taking advantage of them. For our group today, we stopped at the entrance of each turn, the apex, and then corner exit. Now to keep all that in my head. Back to our cars for some lead-follow — another great teaching tool that helps you to master the line, speed, and how to look around and ahead. Well, my follow session had some interesting moves on my part. My eyes started watering heading into Turn 1 on the East Side, and I missed my mark. Remember me talking about the skid car? Those skills kicked in at this moment and kept me on the track. It’s called a tank slapper.
After we came off track and back to the classroom for a download session, we studied up for next session: coach ride-along. Did I “get it together” during the lead-follow? Can I remember to hit all my marks every time? J.R. Smith, no relation to me, jumped in the car and off we went. He told me he was watching me in his rear view the entire time I was doing the Turn 1 dance and that he almost missed his mark. It made me realize that my actions in my car can have consequences for other drivers even if they are not around me. Ten minutes in the car with J.R. and he tells me to get closer to some of the marks, and that one corner I was taking slow is actually 20 mph faster than I was going. I worked on those the next time around and applied the pointers, which made me much faster and smoother. Back off track for download, some personal one on one and water. The final session of the day was coming up: hot laps.
Hot laps is a time for us to get on track without the coaches and see if we have put it all together in a fluid driving experience, applying all we have learned and practiced. Laps are not timed, so I don’t know if I laid down a new track record. I have nothing to send to Team Rahal or any others looking for top talent.
It’s a wrap. The day goes by so fast at times and so slow at other points. Sometimes it feels like a blur, but in the end it was a great experience. I learned new skills, unlearned some bad ones, made some great new friends and had a blast doing it all. Would I recommend this to you? Yes, make plans to come out and take advantage of the knowledge of these coaches. This is a great program designed for drivers with various skill levels. You just need to be able to drive a manual.
For more information on pricing, dates and any other questions, please check their website. There are many other programs available at the FPRS website, including the four-day competition licensing program.
Some special thanks to people that have helped make this happen: my wife, GoPro, and many others that worked to make this story possible.
After morning drills in the skid car, writer Scott Smith is able to detect and correct an oversteer-induced tank slapper in Turn 1 on Utah Motorsports Campus’ East Track.