Based on the requests in a previous thread, I am launching this thread to offer Dopers a chance to learn more about High-Performance Driver’s Education (HPDE), and perhaps to encourage a few of you to enter this fun and exciting, if little-known, area of motorsports.
**What is HPDE? **
First, it is not racing. You are not timed nor do you compete with other drivers in any way.
HPDE is an opportunity to learn basic race driving techniques in your own car in a safe, controlled, and non-competitive setting. Classes are usually held on road course race tracks like Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, or Mid-Ohio, although some are run at oval tracks that have road courses in the infield. There are literally dozens of tracks in the U.S. and Canada that host HPDE classes. (I’m afraid I have no information about HPDE outside North America.)
A course will typically start in a classroom with discussion of basics such as the racing line, threshold braking, weight transfer, etc., as well as safety instruction, such as passing rules and the meaning of the flags that corner workers use to indicate track conditions.
Students then head out to the track with instructors, usually one-on-one, for a 20- to 30-minute session in which the techniques will be applied. Instructors coach the students from the passenger’s seat of the student’s car, introducing more advanced topics as the student progresses. The day may consist of four or five track sessions and two or three classroom periods. Some schools also offer time on the skid pad, a wet circular track on which you can really learn about car control.
Students are split into three or four groups, based on experience and skill level. After several sessions, instructors can certify a student to move into the next skill group, or to run solo, without an instructor. This doesn’t mean the student can’t still ask an instructor to run with him for more advanced instruction, only that he has been judged skillful enough to be on-track on his own. Wise students will continue to take instruction even at the most advanced levels, particularly when they’re running a track for the first time.
HPDE sessions can last one, two, or three days, almost always on weekends, with between 1.5 and 3 hours of track time per day.
**What kind of car do I need? **
You can start doing HPDE in almost any kind of car, but of course most people interested in this kind of activity have, or soon get, sports cars. Popular on track are Porsches, BMWs, Corvettes, Subaru WRXs, Mitsubishi Evos, and my car, the Nissan 350Z. You occasionally see exotics like Ferraris and Lamborghinis, although they tend to run in club events with others of their own marque.
How safe is it?
Safety is the top concern of all who organize HPDE events. Students must wear helmets; convertibles must have roll bars; all cars must pass a basic technical inspection. Corner workers monitor the track and students are taught about the flags they use. Emergency vehicles and trained EMTs are usually present.
For all but the most advanced groups, passing is usually allowed only on specified sections of the track (the straights), and only when the car being passed gives a sign, known as a point-by.
Accidents happen, but they are almost always single-car incidents, and serious damage or the totaling of a car, while not unheard of, is rare. Injuries requiring medical treatment are extremely rare, and I have only heard of a handful of fatal accidents in HPDE.
But the potential for harm is always present, and people who participate regularly, like myself, often add safety equipment such as roll bars, racing harnesses, and fire extinguishers, to their cars.
Who organizes HPDE events?
National organizations such as the National Auto Sports Association (no connection to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the Sports Car Club of America run dozens of weekend events all around the country each year, usually mixing HPDE schools with amateur races. HPDE sessions are also sponsored by car clubs such as the BMW Car Club of America, the Porsche Club of America, and others. Some tracks offer their own schools, such as Mid-Ohio and Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia, whose long-running one-day school, Friday at the Track, is how I got my start, and where I now instruct. (I have also instructed with NASA.)
Why do it?
It’s the most fun you can have with your pants on.
If you follow any racing series, and have ever wondered what it’s like to drive a race car, this will give you a hint as to the skills needed, and what it feels like. If you’ve ever watched NASCAR and thought, That doesn’t look so hard, trying HPDE will prove you’re wrong. If you don’t believe that top race drivers are serious athletes, try it, and see how tired you are after 20 minutes on the track!
How can I get involved?
Perhaps the easiest way is to visit the Web site of the track closest to you and check its schedule for events that fit your schedule. (Keep in mind, however, that these events often fill up weeks or months in advance.) If you don’t know what the nearest track is, check this site, Chasin’ Racin’, for a road course (yellow dot) near you. If you are a member of a car club, or have a car for which a club exists (BMW, Porsche, Audi, Corvette, etc.), see if the club offers track events. If you see that a track has a car club event, contact the club, even if you don’t have that kind of car: most allow participants outside their marques.
I strongly recommend NASA events. They are well run and the instructor corps is experienced and well trained.
Who are you to lecture us about driving?
My credentials: I have been running HPDE events since 1999, and to date have done more than seventy track days in three cars at thirteen tracks. I have taken the Skip Barber three-day racing school (at Mid-Ohio) and for the last two years I have been instructing HPDE at Summit Point and with NASA.
That said, I don’t consider myself a great hotshot, either as a driver or as an instructor. I don’t know everything, and won’t pretend that I do in answering any questions you may have. I have read a fair number of books about driving, and may cite them or some of the many HPDE Web sites out there.
So what would you like to know about high performance driving?