What should your first investment in high performance be?
While we’d love to say some major performance upgrades and custom tuning here at FRANJO SPEED, the real answer is, without question … YOU!
You’ve made a substantial investment in you high performance automobile, presumably for a reason—you like to go fast. Whether you want to go as fast as possible in a straight line or on a road course, chances are the capabilities of your high performance car exceed your skill level—especially if you’ve never had any formal performance driving training or experience.
So doesn’t it make sense that before you spend money on increasing the performance levels of your car, you increase your ability to take advantage of the performance your car already has?
Fortunately, there are some really good options out there. Here are some organizations that offer excellent opportunities to acquire and hone driving skills:
- SCCA The Sports Car Club of America offers many ways for its members to enjoy driving their cars they way they’re meant to be. They offer programs for road course racing, autocross, and rallying. If you’re just starting out, you check out SCCA’s Performance Driving Experience (PDX). For $155 (+$15 for a “temporary” SCCA membership if you’re not one already), you can spend an afternoon on a race track with an instructor. A heck of a deal for one-on-one instruction and a lot of fun. All you need is a helmet (we sell them at here at FRANJO SPEED), a valid driver’s license, a car in good working order, and long sleeve shirts and pants. Go to www.SCCA.com for details and location near you. Here locally, the St. Louis region hosts these PDX events once a month from May to September.
- NASA The National Auto Sport Association is another organization dedicated to getting performance driving enthusiasts on the track. Like SCCA’s PDX program, NASA offers a High Performance Driving Experience (HPDE) with a Group One level where an instructor rides along with you in your car. Requirements are essentially the same as the SCCA’s PDX, and cost is in the $250 – $350 range, depending on how long a session you choose. Go to www.nasaproracing.com for details.
- Manufacturer Driving Experiences Many auto manufacturers include a complimentary performance driving experience or class with the purchase of their vehicles. This is especially the case with the higher end sports car marks (Porsche, Ferrari, etc.), but also the case with certain manufacturers’ high performance categories such BMW M, Mercedes AMG, and Mopar SRT models. Unfortunately, dealerships do not always make you aware of this added benefit or even know much about it; so you may have to do a little digging to get what you’ve essentially already paid for. While these classes may be offered at a track facility close to you—check the schedules for all tracks at which these driving experiences will be held. For the price of a hotel room, car rental and some redeemed frequent flyer miles, you could attend one of these schools at a well-known track you’ve always wanted to check out—tracks such as Laguna Seca, Road America, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta and others. Many of these manufacturer schools provide vehicles, so you don’t have to worry about your own car. Look into these complimentary courses as soon as you take delivery of the car as some locations fill up fast and there can be a time limit in which you have to attend the school. We can’t emphasize enough taking advantage of this FREE opportunity for a class that would normally cost $1,000 or more
- Performance Driving Schools Skip Barber, Richard Petty, Bob Bondurant, Rusty Wallace, Ron Fellows are examples of high performance driving schools that offer programs for beginners and up. Since these schools all provide high performance vehicles for the students, they cost more (a lot more) than opportunities where you drive your own car. Still, these schools are good investment in your skills and offer fantastic track driving experiences you won’t forget. These schools are so well regarded that many of the manufacturer driving schools are in fact taught by these performance driving school companies.
- Local/Nearby Tracks Many of the major track facilities that host major racing events also have their own performance/track cars and offer their own performance driving experiences. In the St. Louis area, Gateway Motorsports Park now has a fleet of Camaro SS 1LEs for their driving experience. Depending on your location, local tracks may also have weekly “Test N’Tune” or “Midnight Madness” at the drag strip—inexpensive ways to go fast on strip and have a ton of fun. Check your local track website or call to see what they have to offer.
- Alternative “BYOC” Opportunities Besides the SCCA and performance driving school programs, there are some alternative “bring your own car” driving programs that offer track time for novice through advanced drivers. A local St. Louis businessman has put together www.mvptracktime.com—a site dedicated to organizing frequent events for drivers of all skill levels. As an added bonus, local groups like these are a great way to make lifetime friends with like-minded auto enthusiasts. Similarly, www.TrackGuys.com is a company that provides performance driving events—with instruction—at tracks across the country. And don’t forget your local car clubs. Make/Model specific clubs often have frequent driving events–even very-well-run/organized ones with instructors at local tracks. For example, the Porsche Club of America (PCA) puts on 2 very reasonably-priced events (with instructors) here in St. Louis–one in the Spring and one in the Fall. And you don’t even have to own a Porsche to participate in the PCA track events.
- Clearing Houses Virtually every one of the opportunities listed above (including SCCA) use online clearing houses where participants can register for events. The two main ones are: www.motorsportreg.com and www.clubregistration.net. Visit these sites out to find out about driving events near you.
- Karting Check out the karting scene in your area. Some of the newer franchise karting companies, like Pole Position, have new locations sprouting up across the country. Pole Position has sophisticated, fast electric karts—up to 45mph on an indoor track as opposed to the typical 18mph outdoor gas models. Plus, they have data acquisition systems that allow you to see how your lap times are improving. The one in St. Louis is owned by Mike Johnson. As a former racecar driver and longtime manager for Stevenson Motorsports’ Grand-Am GT Series Camaros, Mike knows a thing or two about performance driving. He’ll not only give you some good driving tips—he’ll make sure you have a great time as well. Pole Position also has leagues, group discounts and memberships to get you plenty of seat time to hone those skills. While karting facilities like Pole Position are slightly more expensive than the bare bones outdoor gas kart tracks, the higher performance electric karts and ability to hone skills and measure results are worth it. Similarly, Gateway Motorsports Park here in the St. Louis area has recently opened its own “Kartplex”. They take it even further with a 1/2 mile outdoor road course (so weather permitting) and GT-5 karts that go up to 60 mph–serious racing! Check them out at www.gatewaykartplex.com.
In Part II, we’ll address some of the FAQs we get about participating in performance driving on a track.