Update 1: John found a great resource where you view a BSR Crown Vic drive through Summit Point Raceway’s racing line. Click here to view the video.
This week, the Dirty Hippo gang turned their attention to BSR‘s Accident Avoidance/Highway Safety one-day course at Summit Point Raceway. Why a safety course? Well, it was the cheapest way to get some track time at Summit Point Raceway and some fun on the skid pad. Originally, this was scheduled to be an all guys vacation. Unfortunately, unexpected surgeries coupled with work conflicts prevented three friends from attending. By the way, get well soon Matt! My girlfriend volunteered to pick up the slack and we began the long drive to West Virginia. This post is my attempt to strip out all the erroneous details of our trip and focus on the key takeaways for prospective students.
What we liked and what we did NOT like.
Upon arrival at Summit Point, you will need to check in at the track’s main office to sign the ubiquitous liability release. Next, new arrivals are sent off to BSR’s classroom building. Overall, the facilities are outstanding. This attention to detail extends from the pre-made coffee/amenities to the surprisingly, very clean restrooms. At 7:45, the festivities (i.e., classroom stuff) begins. During the initial classroom session (approx. 40 minutes), the instructor clearly states that this “safe driving” course is not a race driver school. This was hard for me to swallow throughout the day as the entire course is done at extremes on an actual road course. This may stem from its staff who race cars either at an amateur or semi-pro level; therefore, you can expect the “racing line” to be subtly brought up during in-car lectures. The day is broken up into two sessions: AM and PM. Each session has a required lecture period. During the AM session, the class receives a brief on vehicle dynamics. I found the classroom setting to be a bit outdated. I understand its relevance, but I’m pretty sure that the in-car instructors could have covered the same material, which would have mitigated the morning monotone lecture. If that’s an impossibility, I would have liked to see more video demonstrations with footage from within the vehicle. Once the requisite PowerPoint sideshows are completed, the students are divided up by car numbers. Do NOT expect to attend the class with your friend or family member. This is done “to protect relationships.” The Hippo crew was lucky and only divided into two cars both of which, were in the same overall group. This led to a lot of laughing as we passed each other during events. The student to instructor ratio was 3:1. Those are solid odds as it allowed enough one-on-one time while allowing students the opportunities to learn from their peers’ mistakes. The total curriculum includes threshold braking, progressive braking, braking in a turn, slalom, skid recovery, off-road (really, off pavement) recovery, and even backing up (reverse slalom-style) into a parking spot. You will also practice understeer and oversteer recovery on their skid pad (located behind turn 1). You get to visit the skid pad twice – once in the AM session and again during the PM session. Some of the events were only practiced on one side, such as the skid pad or the reverse slalom. The entire time I heard Bobby Ore’s voice, “We don’t favor one side.” I only felt a tad cheated, but I completely understand that the instructors have a very strict time frame to fit in all the events for all their students (all of which have a varying degree of success).
Summit Point’s facilities are outstanding. It’s a really fun track. The only downer is that some of the neighboring “attractions” were closed, such as the raceway’s cafe and speed shop. I would have most certainly had lunch there AND picked up a few souvenirs. John absolutely went ape sh*t over the fleet of Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptors that had around 144,000 miles, yet performed maneuvers flawlessly despite the high levels of abuse. Sadly, BSR may need to teach future students in front wheel drive vehicles 3-5 years down the road due to Ford discontinuing of its production. Conversely, this may be more beneficial to the majority of BSR’s one-day students, comprised of younger drivers and most likely to drive front-wheel driven vehicles every day.
Tips & Tricks?
1. Dramamine may be available near the cooler, but if you need it…you probably are taking it too late. The gang had it on hand and I was sure to take mine before going to bed and before the class (two within a 24 hour period). I had no incidents unlike some other students who came unprepared and had to watch from afar (e.g., outside the vehicle and along the roadside). My buddy, who does not suffer from car sickness, still felt a bit queasy following all the hard braking immediately followed by full throttle. A post lunch/pre-class pill fixed him up.
2. Expect to get a bit sweaty. You may want to bring some spray deodorant and a dry shirt to recapture your “freshness” prior to jumping back in the cars post lunch or before returning home.
3. I highly recommend Railside’s Club BLT for lunch. The instructors can provide you with the directions (really simple). Be first, have cash, and grab n’ go. A classroom of hungry students can easily overwhelm their small staff. Expect an hour for lunch.
4. Build rapport with your instructors by keeping a good attitude, demonstrating your excitement, and by asking questions. Some students act as if they are attending against their will, which might actually be the case (for some teens). This is a serious downer, but the Hippo cars had a blast and got to be way more aggressive during training. Why? Because we keep a positive attitude, had fun, and developed rapport with our instructors. This rapport eventually resulted in the opportunity to take the Ford Police Interceptor out to the skidpad (with the instructor as co-pilot) for some impromptu drifting lessons. You can NOT put a price on that much fun (or experience)! Additionally, we were able to run the cars hard. John’s car (he wasn’t driving) drove so deep into the final corner that it pulled multiple 360s and skidded off the track and into the rocks. I know, because my car helped pulled their car out of the rocks..
5. With regards to making corrections in the skid pad, my instructor “Chris” suggested that you try to react like Jet Li (turning into the skid as quickly as possible) but correct any counter-weight shifting like Mr. Miyagi (smoothly). This may seem ridiculous, but it is quite easier to remember Li, Miyagi; then, “countersteer – pause – make the recovery.”
6. Send your insurance company your diploma and get a discount on your coverage!
7. For those parents who “accompanied” their kids to school, but did not attend the class with them: I think you missed an opportunity to either bond or build commonalities between you and your teenager. My only hope is that those parents did not think that they were too good for the course, because I would LOVE to see them drive around the final “obstacle” course. Parents, you will have a blast and more than enough to talk around the kitchen table when conversations get stale.
8. In the morning (before class), volunteer to take a ride along with the instructor to gain familiarity with the track. I was surprised by how many teenagers just wanted to sit and mope around the classroom. ts sad to see kids who would rather drive around a “virtual” track on their iPhone than do it in real life. Plus, it pisses me off to think of myself as “old.”
9. Take it seriously. One student during their test went off track and into the tire wall, because they went too deep into the corner. I encountered similar oversteer, but was able to relieve a bit of steering and move on to the obstacle. Their over driving the car resulted in an EMT visit; although, I don’t think anyone was seriously injured. This is why you sign waivers.
Was the trip worth it?
What were the end results? Well, there were quite a few takeaways from this trip/class:
- We worked on late braking and accelerating upon exit of the turn. “Don’t pull the trigger until you see the target!”
- I really liked BSR’s addressing of both positive focal points (what you SHOULD look at) and negative ones (what you should NOT look at).
- Chris took some time to show me the racing line around Summit Point. Upon our return home, I dropped my iRacing time at Summit Point by a 1/10th by using the actual line that my BSR instructor taught us. As I have only driven a few laps, I’m sure the time will begin to fall once I’m rested from the drive. Regardless of the time spent on iRacing upon my return, the amount of deviation that exists between the simulation’s recommended line versus the actual racing line is quire noticeable.
- More noticeably, my girlfriend really improved her vehicle handling skills and even dropped her iRacing time by 9 seconds after just a few laps! That was all the validation I needed. Haha.
- The impromptu drifting lesson were a big help and enough to get me into trouble. ;-)
- As an unexpected bonus, the drive to West Virginia afforded us an opportunity to field test the Escort Redline radar/laser detector. Although its price tag can put a bit of hurting on your wallet, its performance is well worth it. I can attest to its range, but will not speak highly as to the quality of its so-called mounting bracket. I strongly advise new purchasers to spend a few bucks and opt for a more durable mount. You might as well use chewing gun if you drive hard. Otherwise, we had no issues with its performance during the past 26 hours of Interstate driving; however, we did NOT run into any instant-on radar or even laser speed traps. However, we did receive a lot of K, X, and a few Ka hits during our travels.
Overall, you will be very hard pressed to find instruction of this caliber for only $345 each. The one-on-one (unofficial) drifting lesson and skid pad time was worth that much. As this was my second time attending the course (the first in 2008), I must admit that it was even better the second time around. The curriculum has matured. The changes include adding reverse driving (around four cones – followed by parking) to their curriculum and some improvements to their slide deck. For the less speedy (e.g., parents), this class will teach your kids how to properly stop a car in an emergency (both in ABS and if it fails to activate), perform off-road recovery, and how to swerve from hitting a (…insert mobile/stationary object here…).