By: Sunni Won
When my husband, Jeff Littrell (the editor of Sempre Ferrari), told me his driving buddies werent going to the Alfa Driving School at Willow Springs with him, I felt I should tag along to keep him company out in no-mans land. Once it was determined I would tag along for the weekend, I was drafted to help get his racing tires to Willow Springs. One of the pitfalls of having a "true" sports car is that there are no back seats. So I had to follow him in my 1992 Nissan Maxima SE with his tires in tow.
One thing led to another and next thing I knew I was enrolled in the driving school as a student with my Maxima. I must admit a part of me wanted to know what "heel-toe" braking was really all about and what in the world an "apex" was anyway. As part of being married to a car racing nut, I acted enthusiastic about the prospect of doing nothing but driving all weekend long. As we made the hour and a half drive to Rosamond, California at 80 miles per hour, my mind was racing to come up with reasons why I couldnt really participate in the driving school. At the same time I was keeping a mental note of all the local shopping malls. If all else failed, I could always go shopping.
Saturday morning arrived with no excuses to bag out, so off I went to the drivers meeting. To my surprise two of the eight instructors were females. After the short drivers meeting, the three groups broke off into one of three activities, classroom, skid pad and the track. The novice group, which I was in, started with the classroom. Up to this point I was basically seeing myself as the tag along and Jeff as the one who was really going to benefit from the driving school, but when he went off to the competition class and onto the track, I was left to fend for myself. I always envisioned club track events to be participated by people who had cars costing my life savings and never saw their speedometer read below 80 miles per hour. Again, to my surprise and delight, the school had cars ranging from a Ferrari to a Ford pick-up truck. More importantly, the participants were all levels, ages (one gentleman in the novice group was in his mid 60s) and gender. In fact one of the female students was in the competition class and had her classmates chasing her around the track in her Honda CRX.
I learned a great deal, not so much about racing car driving techniques, but just everyday good driving techniques. One of the skid pad exercises required me to drive full speed ahead onto a wet skid pad and literally "pound" on my brakes to lock up the car. In another skid pad exercise, the instructor riding along with me pulled my emergency brake while I was doing circles on the wet skid pad at about 35 to 40 miles per hour. It sure made my car spin and taught me what I need to do to regain car control. I must admit, I hated doing these exercises and my heart pounded every time my turn came up, but I learned a great deal about what my car is capable of. More importantly, I learned what I am capable of as a driver.
Again to my surprise, my favorite part of the weekend was driving around the track. I havent told Jeff yet but, if and when he builds his true "race" car, I want to race it as well. By doing the things I was taught in the classroom, I was able to actually make a turn into a straight line. When I heard this concept before, I used to always think, "how can you turn a corner in a straight line?" The key here is knowing when to turn in and when to apex and how to follow the "racing line." It is a blast to apex a turn just right so that you can accelerate out hard. My only complaint was that the novice group was too full and we only got to spend about 20 minutes out on the track each session, with at least 11 cars on.
I knew I was hooked when I started to draw the track on the dinner napkin and asked Jeff about when to brake and turn into a corner. All in all, I had a great time and was surprised to learn what a hot rod my 5-speed Maxima is. For anyone out there who wants to learn how to drive like the pros but think you have to own a Ferrari Testarossa to do so, I would encourage you to participate in one of the driving schools. I learned a lot just driving around in my Maxima. Watch out Jeff, here I come!