Students at the NASA Northeast competition school run through the “three-wide drill at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

Back on May 18, I had the privilege of supporting Metro Porsche Club of America members George Markadakis and Richard Lambert at their first career race. They both chose to participate in the National Auto Sport Association competition school run by Brian Casella. I was a little surprised when they told me they were going through the NASA competition school and not the PCA school. After all, they came up through our PCA driving experience program.

The NASA weekend started out just as any other race weekend would. First on the agenda: Get the cars through tech. In race tech, they check everything. And everything better be up to par. A scrutineer drilled access holes in almost every tube of the roll cage, making sure the tube sizes and material type complied with the rule book for the weight of the car.

Then they checked that the emergency kill switch shut the engine off while running at two thousand rpm. The scrutineer checked all safety equipment such as the harnesses, the window net and even the driver’s clothes. This included the driver’s socks. All of the driver’s clothes must be certified fire-retardant material and they checked it all. The windshield, any Lexan, proper numbers, car class, driver’s seat, seat rails, wheels, tires, brakes. You name it, they checked it. Both the cars went through tech without a hitch. Once through tech, it was time for the drivers’ meeting. After that, the boys were off and running.

From the drivers meeting, it was right into the classroom. We did not know it at the time, but there would hardly be time for a bathroom break. As soon as the classroom was over it was on track for some warm-up. During the first warm-up, “point-bys” were not mandatory. After all, this was a race school not a track day. The guys were then treated to a short break and then … more classroom instruction. Next up, the guys were back on the racetrack running two abreast all the way around the track, lap after lap, while switching positions at each braking zone. After this second track session, the boys were off again to the classroom.

The next on-track exercise, held immediately after the classroom session, required the drivers to run three abreast, all the way around, lap after lap. The outside car was instructed to dive into the apex at each turn. The middle car acted as a “rocking chair.” The inside car would then drop back. Each of these on-track exercises lasted about 20 minutes. These sessions were set up to emulate racing situations. Again, classroom instruction followed every track session.

Students swap places during the nose-to-tail exercises.
Students swap places during the nose-to-tail exercises.

During the fourth track session, the exercise required three drivers to run “nose to tail,” lap after lap. At every apex, the second car would go into the lead and the leader would drop back to last. No punting allowed. Immediately following this on-track exercise, all participating drivers with their cars lined up just off the hot grid in the paddock for a test they had to pass to graduate.

While being timed, and in full race gear, window net up, fully belted in, with the car running, the driver had to exit the car in under ten seconds. This was to simulate an emergency situation. I need to tell you that although it seems simple enough, more than one driver was sweating this test, but in the end, all drivers passed.

The fifth and final session was required for all racer candidates and open to any fully licensed racer who wanted to participate. This exercise featured practice starts and a fun race. This exercise was to give all the rookies the experience of a real race start. To set the grid for this simulated race, the drivers drew numbers from a hat.

Lambert drew 18th spot on grid, but the guy who drew the No. 2 spot did not want to start in the second position, and traded with Lambert. Markadakis drew P3.     All lined up two-by-two and onto the front straight, they came to take their very first green flag. At the drop of the green, they raced until they saw the yellow flag waving. At the yellow, they all slowed to a roll and regrouped. As they came around the track onto the front straightaway they took a second green. They again raced to the waving yellow. During each of these race starts the yellow flag was thrown at Turn 7, which is about half way around the track. Now coming around again in formation, they took the third green. This time, they raced to the checkered flag, which was thrown about 20 minutes later. I just cannot explain how much fun these guys were having. After the finish of this race, the rookie drivers were called again into the classroom to take a written test.

At one point during the day, Markadakis looked at me and said, “This is the most fun I have ever had!” I have to say that for two guys who had never raced, they both did a nice job.

Later that night at dinner, we all rehashed the events of the day. Not that I’m jumping ship, but I have to say that at the completion of the NASA Competition school weekend, I left the event very impressed with the NASA program.

Brian Casella created a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation that ties directly to the on-track exercises and drills. He keeps students focused by not overdoing the classroom time, hits the important points then makes them go and do it on track.
Brian Casella created a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation that ties directly to the on-track exercises and drills. He keeps students focused by not overdoing the classroom time, hits the important points then makes them go and do it on track.
Images courtesy of Tracktime Photos and Suzan Casella

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