Driver schools are an outstanding way to try out performance driving at minimal risk to the pocketbook and your body. We here at Madness Motorsports have participated in quite a few hosted by the Porsche Club of America (PCA) and the BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA). Both organizations run very similar schools.
These are bring your own car schools, but both are pretty open about what cars are OK. (Some PCA schools do require that you bring a Porsche). At the last BMW school, there were Hondas, Mazdas, Mustangs, NSXs, Firebirds, Toyotas, as well as a bunch of Porches and BMWs, and lots and lots of M3s. Your car does need to pass a basic safety inspection, but given what you will be doing to it, that's not a bad idea.
At schools, you do lots of driving (generally three 30 minute sessions per day), and attend some classroom sessions. When driving, you will be assigned an instructor who rides with you gives you an idea of what you should be doing. Cars run in different groups, depending on the driver's experience speed. Your instructor stays with you until you are "signed-off", meaning that you are not an obvious threat to you or other drivers, at which point you can drive alone.
Mason with one of his first students
The schools are not quite racing - you can only pass in designated places, and only after the lead car signals you. However, this helps keep things reasonably safe, and is much less intimidating then starting out in a SCCA school, where you will likely be three abreast in a turn after just a couple of warm-up laps. Also keeping things safe are rules such as three "incidents" - like spinning off track mean the end of your school. This keeps things a little more sane. Of course, other than Mason, we at Madness Motorsports don't have a problem with such rules. Mason says it wasn't his fault - you can read more about it in Mason's exploits at Putnam Park.
The "A" run groups can be quite fast - many of the cars are no longer street legal, and people don't have any class rules about what they can do to their cars. So there are some monsters out there. particularly at PCA events. BMW events seem a bit more reasonable, and most of the cars are actually driven to the track instead of brought on trailers.
One final word - it is rumored that since these are instructional events, and not racing, your insurance may cover you in the event of a problem. We have never had to try, but I do know of people who have actually discussed it with their agents. Generally, few cars other than Corvettes seem to really get into trouble.
Well, perhaps another final word. In our quest for the Formula One championship, we have also attended professional schools. Our exploits at the Mid-Ohio School are well documented at the Skid-O-Rama page. Eric's first introduction to performance driving was through Skip Barber's 3-day competition course, which used to use formula fords, and now uses formula dodges. A highly recommended school.
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