Though the auto industry is tanking, according to Market Watch, race enthusiast are still paying big bucks to attend such racing schools as Jim Russell Racing School at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County. In fact, your trusty and beloved blogger spent a day out there flooring it in order to learn some racing fundamentals.
Behind the wheel instruction began with 30 of us taking turns being shoehorned into 1 of 18 Formula Ford race cars powered by a 170 brake-horsepower 2.0 liter four cylinder Ford engine. We all stand around the vehicles suited up in identical racer costumes (helmet and fire proof race suits). This is already fun! We look like some elite crime fighting team with special racer superpowers. Special racer shoes are also involved.
My car is #44. It’s very small and close to the ground, with huge Yokohama tires and just enough room to fit one race car driver — and that race car driver is me! I grab the rollbar, flipping my left leg over. Then, I stand on the seat and ease myself in like I was putting on a tight pair of pants.
My instructor explains the thrills of racing. ”It’s a buzz. It’s addictive. But unlike drugs, it’s legal!”
Check. We’re briefed on race car operation. Starting the machine involves pushing two buttons forward, then hitting the start button. Check! The racing gearbox has four gears in an “H” position. The shift is made with the wrist. Check-check! When shifting, you’re supposed to put your foot on the brake first, and then change gears. Further check! The seatbelt and shoulder harnesses strap me in. Tightly, I might add.
I’m ready to roll. My hands grip the steering wheel at a 9 & 3 o’clock position, with thumbs hooked underneath. There’s a slight bend in my elbows. We start our engines. I’m in neutral before pulling the ignition switch. Besides the normal clutch, brake and gas pedal, there’s also a dead pedal for the left foot, which serves the purpose of holding yourself in the car when making hairpin turns. Hitting the turns is a blast. I crank gears from fourth to second with a slight screech of the tires trying to hit the line of the turn, brushing the berm slightly. It no longer feels like I’m moving fast, since the race car is so low to the ground and stable. Finding second gear is now replaced by utilizing third.
In the end, my racing classmates and I are grinning from ear-to-ear. There’s a brief graduation ceremony, with each of us receiving a diploma.
“If you’re going to hang this up at work and you called in sick, be sure to change the date,” stresses our instructor.
“Ha-ha-ha!” laughs everyone – race car school humor.
The more daring are advised to take the Russell advanced three-day course. Driving home after racing school is an interesting experience. Not surprisingly, I want to drive real fast. I shift gears into fourth, passing several vehicles on the 101, hitting the line all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge and onto the finish line.
Photos courtesy of DumbYellowDog and Flickr