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Saturday, June 01, 2013

Greg Is A Racecar Driver

I’m excited to continue to contribute to Chevy Culture, a lifestyle and auto site sponsored by Chevrolet. Click through for the full post on Chevy Culture, and come back in the next few weeks and months for more.

Until recently, I’d never driven a high-performance car.

That changed when Chevrolet sent me to the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Resorts. Located about an hour west of Las Vegas, the school offers people like me the chance to learn about car control, shifting and cornering techniques and—ultimately—to experience what it’s like to sit behind the wheel of a sports car and tackle a racetrack.

Now that I’ve done it, now that I’ve harnessed the power of a Corvette, and now that I know how to control it, I look forward to doing it again. And again.

The object of schools like this (Chevy also sponsors the Bondurant Driving School in Phoenix) is to teach you not how to be a racecar driver, but rather how to properly operate a vehicle, be it a Corvette or a Cruze, in high-speed situations.

“We believe the car is the classroom,” says Chief Driving Instructor and Driving School Director Rick Malone. The schools guarantee extensive track time for those who attend them, adopting a philosophy of learning through hands-on experience. It’s a safe, controlled environment available to anyone with a valid driver’s license and the money to cover a $3,000-$4,000 fee (prices vary depending on the level you choose).

It all began with the basics: “Keep your hands at 9 and 3,” said Malone.

Your seating position is also crucial. “Move the seat close enough, so when turning right or left, when your hand gets to the 12 o’clock position, your elbow should have about a 45-degree bend.”

Driving with one hand limits your cornering and swerve potential, said Malone. It also limits your line of sight. Peripheral vision—scanning the horizon for what lies ahead—is elemental in finding proper car control. “Keep your eyes up and looking where you want to go,” he repeated over the course of the day.

It’s like Driver’s Ed all over again, only Malone has 28 years’ experience and the car is a Z06 Corvette with 505 hp that goes from 0-60 in four seconds. It’s a daily commuter car with racecar-like performance. The education I got in such a short amount of time is priceless, and something I can apply in my everyday life.

During an exercise in car control, Malone wet down an asphalt paddock and had me navigate through a figure 8 series of cones. “Remember, always look where you want to go,” he said. If your car gets into a tail slide—be it from rain, snow or loose gravel—you never want to look straight ahead. If you look straight, you’ll go straight, and that usually isn’t a good idea.

Good thing the Corvette employs a feature called active handling. On-board sensors “assist” the driver by adjusting braking, steering and traction, so driving becomes an intuitive experience. After I learned these basics, Malone guided me in a lead car (via a two-way radio) over a track that had sweeping corners, quick S’s and off-camber turns.

On the backstretch, I reached speeds in the triple digits. To say it was exhilarating would be an understatement: This was a life-changing experience. A dream fulfilled.

“You’ll be back,” Malone said with a sly grin. “I can see it in your eyes.” And he’s right. In October, there’s something called Corvettes at Bondurant, where Bondurant offers Corvette owners the thrill of high-performance driving in a controlled environment during a weekend of track time, schooling and hot laps, a simulated racing experience where multiple cars are on the track at once (no passing or contact is allowed). I’ll be driving the new 2014 Corvette Stingray.