BMW has hammered home for years that their cars deliver the Ultimate Driving Experience. Their power, handling, safety and braking put most cars to shame. But to really experience what they mean by that marketing tag line you need drive your car on race track where there are no (or few) speed restrictions. This is not a outlandish as it may sound because, for one, your BMW is probably well equipped as it stands right now to take to the track. Next, you too are probably equally ready for a day of high speed driving. And finally, learning how your car handles at the limit will make you a safes, more confident driver on the street. Here are a few suggestions that will help you decide how and where to to try “track driving” out and what the experience might cost.
Join the BMW Car Club – The BMW CCA is a huge national organization filled with thousands of BMW owners. These men and women love their cars and love driving them safely and fast. Beside the technical and social aspects the Club provides, they run regular “Drivers’ Education” events at race tracks all over the United States. In the NJ area there is a very active Chapter with four driving events scheduled for 2015. The tracks are in the town of Millville, NJ. They are called Lightning and Thunderbolt. These two tracks – located on the same huge piece of property – are challenging, fast and safe. As a member of the club, you just have to go to their web site and follow the directions on how to sign up. https://www.bmwcca.org/chapter/new-jersey-chapter The people in charge of these events will assign you a “run group” where your car and your skill / experience level will guarantee a fun, safe, exciting learning experience. You will be provided – as part of your entry fee – a trained, qualified “right seat” instructor. He or she will be your driver coach for the duration of the event, helping you to learn the line (the fast, safe way around the track) as well as coaching you on smoothness, consistency and, of course, safety. This is, in most instances, the least expensive way to try an on-track experience.
Driving Schools – If driving your BMW on the track makes you a little nervous, there are other ways to have a similar experience using the cars and instructors of a driving school. The two closest schools are located at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. Lime Rock is home for the Skip Barber school and Pocono houses the Bertil Roos team. Both schools offer in car instruction by, in most cases, by professional race car drivers. These schools can run from a “taste of the track” half or full day experience to two, three and five day classes. The longer classes are more aimed at drivers eager to get a competition license for real wheel-to-racing. A little further away is the very famous Bob Bondurant school located in Arizona. This school also teaches law enforcement personnel how to drive fast and safe when chasing suspects. Bondurant probably offers the widest choice of cars and classes and it’s definitely worth your while to look at their (and the other school’s) web sites for details.
Lead – Follow experiences – Some tracks like NJ Motorsports Park (the home of Thunderbolt and Lightning) offer lead – follow driving experiences for a minimal fee. If you go to their web site, add your e-mail to their communication list, they will send you regular messages with the dates and costs for these interesting driving experiences ( http://www.njmp.com ). The idea is simple. You get in your car. You buckle up and get in line with crd of similar performance and you go out on the track following a lead car driven by a pro driver at a very brisk pace. The lead car shows the following cars the proper “line” around the track and maintains the speed within a safe but pretty exciting pace. The cost can be as little as $100 for a half dozen laps but their web site can do a better job of explaining costs and options. I have done this a number of times and it’s definitely a lot of fun and a good way to find out. at a low cost, if track driving is for you.
Other Car Clubs – There are a number of car clubs in the NJ area that run high speed events on the race track and lower speed events in parking lots (these are called auto-cross) that you might find interesting. The clubs often don’t require you to join, just pay a fee to play and you’re all set. There is a web site called www.motorsportreg.com that lists lots of these clubs and events. Surfing through their site will open your eyes top the wide world of car events around our area and may tempt you to “get on track”.
Equipment – For the most part, for any track event you will need a SNELL approved “SA” helmet with the right certification date. This will be specified in the sign-up instructions. You will also probably need to install a fire extinguisher – not always required. Your car will have to pass a technical inspection. That means your brakes need to be inspected to ensure that have enough brake pad material and fresh brake fluid and your tires enough tread for the event – safety being the main concern. After that, it’s just a good attitude and a willingness to learn.
Nest time we’ll discuss a few books and videos that will make the track driving learning curve a little less steep.