Racing School

by Jonah

I first got involved in RMRV at driving school three years ago in the slow group of the Performance class.  The next year I passed the Competition class in my husband Berck’s Formula Vee.  Last year I worked the black flag corner.  But this was my first RMVR driving school as an instructor, and I requested to be assigned someone who had never been on a track. I got an 18 year old with her 2007 Rabbit on all-season tires that had a cylinder issue and a transmission that really didn’t want to go into third gear. But it was a manual, so I told her she’d definitely have fun. I just hoped Tech wouldn’t be bothered that her belly pan was attached with Gorilla tape, but I think they were distracted by the lack of a tow hook and the presence of hubcaps. For the first slow session, I showed her the line for a couple of laps, then we swapped seats and went back out on the track.

She drove the line perfectly.

Before the next session, I told her she could grid up wherever she wanted. If she got to the grid first, she could be in front. If she wanted to be in the back of the pack, she could wait at the rear until everyone else gridded up. “I think I’ll wait in the back. My car isn’t that fast.” We waited for a Porche, a Lotus, a few turbo GTI’s, and bunch of Miatas to get in line ahead of us. Then we had to poke around behind everyone else. I showed her how to go through the pit lane to get some space behind a pack of bunched up cars in order to actually get some fast track time.

At the next session she suggested we get to the grid early. “I think I want to go first.”

She did everything I told her to as soon as I spoke. She hit every apex. She hopped beautifully on the curbing through the S-turns. And most importantly, she trusted me when I said she didn’t have to lift off the gas and hit the brake until she was half-way down the short-chute coming off the banking into the first turn of the infield. She lapped car after car. She kept pushing and improving her performance. On the banking, I asked if she was driving flat out. “Yes,” she sighed, “This is just as fast as this car goes.”

By the end of the day, I was running out of instructions to give her. Berck rotated the Rabbit’s tires for her, since the front all-seasons were getting chewed up. That night we walked the cold track… well, the infield… beers in hand (plus an extra in my pocket) for me, Berck, our friend Andrew, who we had promised a fun weekend, and Andrew’s instructor Willis, another Vee driver. (I’d had to search the coolers for a soda for my student.) I warned her that the apex and track-out cones would be gone the next day. “Cones?” she said, and I realized she simply instinctively knew the track.

She said goodnight and headed to her hotel room. She had planned to camp, but the gale-force winds on Friday had blown away her tent. Nights at the track are my favorite, where the Vee guys sit around and drink beer and tell stories about racing. I made them all laugh by claiming to be the reason Bill Miller finally doffed his racing shoes. His final race, the octogenarian hadn’t finished last; I had, driving Sterling’s Rabbit. I asked Jack if he’d swap students with me for a session in the morning. Jack has lots of experience driving Rabbits on track and gave me some great instruction right before the race where I crossed the finish line right behind Bill Miller. Jack agreed, if I didn’t mind riding in a $200,000 Ferrari. Mind?

I was actually able to give the Ferrari driver some good instruction, I think, though Jack said it was the same things he kept telling his student. I asked Jack about my student. He grinned, “She’s fast!” He said he told her to smooth out her turn in at corner 5 and to give the car a bit of a chance to settle between the carousel and the S-turns.

For the next session, I told my student that, because she was aware of other drivers, giving good point-bys, and passing safely, I thought she was ready to drive alone. Willis told the same thing to Andrew, who was driving our blue track Miata, and Willis and I went up to the roof of the classroom, where we could see the whole track. My student made sure to get to the grid first so no one would slow her down. Andrew caught up to her pretty quickly, and she would give him a point-by each time she hit a straight, but he didn’t quite have enough power to pass her. Willis was beside himself with excitement. This was also his first time instructing. “They are by far the fastest of the group, hands down, those two, for sure! Look at them flying through that turn!”

We ran back downstairs after the session and joined our students. Andrew was laughing and hugging Willis and me after his first time out solo. My student was dutifully checking her tire pressures. I asked her if the car was faster without anyone in it. “Well, of course.”

I asked Berck to take my student out during the lunch break in the Miata. She came back with a big grin on her face. “That was so much fun!” 

A corner worker on break from the black flag station at corner 5 came over and asked, “Who is driving this car?” pointing at the Rabbit. “You are so fast!” 

Berck rode with Andrew during a session, and came back laughing that Andrew couldn’t pass my student, even in a better track car. “You’re pretty fast!” he told her.

For the last session of the weekend, I asked my student what she wanted to do. Was there anything she wanted to work on? Did she want to drive alone or have anyone come with her? “I mean,” she shrugged, “You could come with me…?” Of course, we got to the grid early and started in front. This was a combined session with the faster cars (like the Ferrari), so I warned her there would be lots of cars passing us this session. I asked her if, during the classroom session we just left, she had noticed the way the car in the video had been taking turn 5. “Actually, I kinda fell asleep.”

So we worked on smoothness and tracking out more if the tires started complaining. Next we went up to the roof to watch the drivers from the competition school engage in their first race against the instructors. “Well,” she said as the checkered flag was thrown for the production car race, “I think I’m going to head out.” I still had to write in her logbook, so while she banged her hubcaps back into place, I explained to her what track camber and driving 7/10ths were so I could mark them completed. I wrote that she should work on smoothness, because smooth is fast, which is what Jack keeps telling me. Then I asked her if she’d had fun. She smiled, “Yeah.”

Then I had to run over to the Miata to put the top up because Andrew had left it down and it had started raining and I really didn’t want to drive back home up the pass in a snowstorm with a wet seat. (For the trip home, we had to swap the wheels for snow tires that Berck had the foresight to bring in the back of the truck.) I waved at my student as she drove past, wondering if I had actually taught her anything, and she enthusiastically waved back.

I hope I see her at the next race.

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