Need for Speed: Check Out the Rock’s ‘Fast Track’ School
I dare anyone to ever say that racecar drivers aren’t athletes, because my inability to hoist myself out of my bed last Monday says otherwise.
Now I like to think that I am in decent shape. I try to run a couple times a week and the folks at my local gym know my name (that’s a good thing, right?) but after spending two days and 75 laps turning left in a Fast Track High Performance Driving School racecar at Rockingham Speedway, I was whipped.
Whipped, but oh so ready to go back and do it again.
Being a pseudo-racing journalist has allowed me to do a bunch of cool things over the last few years, but most of them have been more spectator in nature, so when Rockingham Speedway president and Fast Track owner Andy Hillenburg invited me to the two-day basic oval course at the track, there was no way in hell I was going to say no.
Actually it was more like, “Me? Driving a racecar? For two days?”
After that I lost the ability to form words, much less coherent sentences, for a couple of hours. So needless to say I was pretty jazzed when Saturday morning rolled around and it was time to go to school at Rockingham.
I quickly learned that Fast Track wasn’t just some “experience” where you get put in a car and told to go drive around the track. Actually, our morning started at a much slower pace.
After being shown how the safety equipment worked and a quick familiarization with the racecars, we made a lap around the track — on our feet. Hillenburg led the group — seven students in this particular class — around the track, pointing out the preferred racing line around the track and how to safely get on and off the track — including at what point in the corner you needed to started waving your hand like a madman if you are coming into the pits.
After a few laps around the track in my car with instructor Mark Easton and then with instructor Sheldon Holman in a two-seater racecar — during which he grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it right coming out of two to make me get in the preferred racing groove — I was turned loose in what I like to refer to as “my” racecar — a blue and white Ford Fusion ARCA racecar, No. 80.
I found out pretty quickly that this particular car didn’t like the 3,200 rpm that we were instructed to keep the car at for the first few laps — at that low engine speed it wanted to lurch and sputter. So I had to oblige my racecar and pick up a little more speed.
By the end of the day, I had found a line that I liked around the racetrack — right up against the wall down the front stretch, diving the car down into turn one, hugging the white line, letting the car unload through turn two until it pushed up right against the wall at the start of the backstretch, hugging the wall down “Thunder Alley,” the track’s narrow backstretch, before swinging the car into wider turn three, letting the car work back up the track at the scoreboard until the car is back at the wall by the second set of grandstands and rocketing back toward the start/finish line.
In my last laps, I had the car around 5,200 rpm, which, based on the gear in these cars, is around 120 mph. But trust me, it felt a whole lot faster, especially when you hit the apex of turns one and two and you were staring at the wall.
For Sunday, the degree of difficulty was raised quite a bit. On Day One, the students made solo runs. Our first exercise was all about drafting. First we ran 20 laps with four car-lengths separation, then one-car length.
It’s one thing to rocket down into turn one hoping your car won’t step out from under you. It’s a whole other thing to worry about your car and the car in front of you stepping out.
Once, I missed my mark in turn one and had to push up in the middle of the corner. It was at that point that I realized just how fun it would be to race at Rockingham. Despite missing it just a bit, I was still carrying enough speed that I could have got back in the throttle and gone around the car I was following in the center of the corner.
Not wanting to draw Andy or Sheldon’s ire or wad up two of Fast Track’s racecars, I let it roll through the center and fell back in line at the exit of the corner.
After they were confident we could make it around safely running nose to tail, we proceeded to the last lesson of the day — a four-car pack. We ran the exercise twice. In the first one, I was on the outside of the front row, which made me deviate from the line that I had impressed into my brain over the previous two days.
But that didn’t matter.
Running through turns one and two about a foot from another car, then about six inches down the backstretch is one of those things that I will tell my grandkids about when I am sitting in a rocking chair in a nursing home.
The second time we ran the exercise, the car that was supposed to be beside me in the second row backed out so I had two lanes to plot how I was going to pass the two cars running side-by-side in front of me. By the time I had enough mettle to decide that I was going to split them getting into turn one, the checkered flag fell and my run was over, so instead of taking it three-wide into one, I backed off and started waving my arm like a madman indicating that I was coming in the pits.
I was sitting in a meeting earlier this week and found myself totally spaced out thinking about getting around those two cars in front of me. It may be time for a career change.
Watch out, Jimmie Johnson, I’m coming after you.
I just need to make sure there is plenty of Advil for the Monday after.
Seriously, I want to thank Andy Hillenburg, chief instructor Sheldon Holman, Mark Easton, Luther Gammons, Bob Mikell and Norbert Watts for all that I learned and for letting me have a blast behind the wheel of a racecar. I am strongly considering getting my Master’s License so I can buy some laps and keep going racing.
“We just want to help grow the sport — make racers better racers and make race fans better race fans,” said Hillenburg.
Well, they definitely do that and I highly recommend Fast Track to anyone looking to fill their need for speed. In addition to the two-day course, they offer a one-day course and a less-technical two-hour “Thunder” course that allows for 10 laps at Rockingham, Atlanta, Charlotte or Kentucky Speedways.
If driving is not your thing, you can take a ride in a two-seater. You can find Fast Track High Performance Driving School online at www.fasttrackracing.com.
Contact Andy Cagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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