Once upon a time, long, long ago (in the mid- to late-'70s) in a land long forgotten by time (actually Chicago), a young Army buck sergeant with a buzz cut successfully campaigned a very quick Lotus Super 7 in the SCCA's Midwest Council. In order to do this, the young man attended several high-performance driving and race schools.
Fast forward to 2006, that young sergeant is now retired with a lot less hair, is no longer racing, has two Corvettes (a '78 SA and an '02 roadster), and still has some fire left in the ol' belly. So when the opportunity to attend the Spring Mountain Advanced Driving School in Pahrump, Nevada, presented itself, he jumped at it. The fact the school uses C5 and C6 Vettes, as well as a nice selection of Z06s, just added more flame to the fire.
Before leaving, I (who'd you think it was?) gave some thought to what I wanted out of this school. Several items came to mind immediately. Perhaps the most important was technology. In the years since I last raced, cars have become ever more sophisticated with antilock brakes, brake force distribution, traction control, and stability control. Would these improvements change the way newer cars are driven, especially at track speeds?
Another area I wondered about was driving position. In the good old days, I would sit pretty far back from the wheel with my arms extended at the three and nine position. Was this still true? And, most importantly, was there a different mindset now needed to go fast? In my day, instructors stressed being smooth. If I was sliding the tires, I was going slower. Is smooth still the quick way around?
I arrived in Pahrump for the three-day course ready to explore the Corvettes, my limits, and, hopefully, get answers to all my questions. The total Spring Mountain Motorsport Ranch is 193 acres and includes room for a proposed condo complex that would feature outstanding track views and free track days. The track itself can be configured several ways. For our sessions, the course was 2.5-miles long with ten turns, rolling hills, and two major straight-aways-one over 1,800-feet long.
After a short Monday morning briefing and some coffee, we picked out a Vette and climbed in. The class was only an hour old! One of my questions was answered right away. The preferred driving position has changed.
There are a maximum of 16 students in each class with enough instructors for one to every three or four students. They all carry multi-channel radios, and every car has a receiver so the track coaches can talk to each car or everyone as needed. As soon as my butt hit the seat, an instructor was there to adjust my driving position. Today, the classic arms-extended position is out. More in favor is the NASCAR model, with arms bent at a 45-degree angle and hands at nine and three o'clock. Legs also need to have a good bend at the knee. Why? The NASCAR hot shoes have discovered that leverage is important and by being closer to the wheel, they can use more and different muscles to turn the wheel, thereby reducing strain on the arms and shoulders. Same with legs. A good bend in the knees allows the driver to use all their leg muscles to brake and use the clutch as opposed to just the lower leg and ankle.