Driving Fast (legally)


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One of my latest hobbies / pasttimes / passions is high performance driving. This takes a couple of forms, such as AutoCross (AX) and "Drivers Education" (DE) sessions (sometimes referred to as "High Performance Drivers Education", or HPDE). Most of the events I have participated in so far are sponsored and run by the BMW Car Club of America and the local chapters of the club. For example, the Peachtree (Atlanta) chapter runs three DEs a year at Road Atlanta, one at Roebling Road in Savannah. and a series of six AX events, sometimes preceeded by a "Car Control" school. The BMWCCA "Heart of Dixie" chapter in Alabama runs one DE a year, normally on Memorial Day weekend, at the beautiful Barber Mortorsports park while the "Tarheel" chapter in Raleigh goes to Virginia International Raceway (VIR) three times a year. A very new track at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY hosts several DEs run by the Bluegrass Chapter of the BMW club.

A typical DE consists of 4 groups of student cars, about 25 cars per group. Each group goes out on the track for about 25 - 30 minutes four times a day for a two day weekend. The groups are separated primarily by student experience and skill level and also car performance. Group A is the experts and Group D is the novices. There is actually a fifth group, the instructrors. All group D and C and most group B students will always have an instructor with them for both safety and learning how to drive better/faster. Some group B and most A students can get signed off to drive 'solo', but will usually have an instructor to better learn how to drive. The object is to drive fast safely and to have fun, not to race.

Road Atlanta is one of the best known road courses in the country and is about an hour north of Atlanta. Here is the track map to get a feel for the layout.
Road Atlanta trackmap
It has significant elevation changes and several blind corners and is considered one of the most challenging tracks in the country. Driving this course well takes a while to learn but is very satisfying. Other well known tracks in this area include the Barber Motorsports facility outside of Birmingham, Robling Road in Savannah, Virginia International Raceway in southern Virginia, and Sebring in cental Florida. Another new track is Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) just outside of Dawsonville, GA. I've driven Barber five or six times, VIR twice, NCM (National Corvette Museum) once, Roebling once and hope to get to Sebring sometime.

The cars used for these events vary a lot, from pure stock to highly modified "track cars". Until very recently, I drove a 2004 BMW 330Ci which I have very lightly modified for better driveability (short shift kit) and better handling (heavier sway bars, springs and shocks), better track brake pads and high traction track tires. My 330Ci was relatively heavy and not high-powered as a BMW M car would be, so I was certainly not one of the faster cars out there. In my case, especially when I was running in Group A or with the other instructors, I'd have to give a lot of cars the pass signal. Passing is strictly controlled; a car can only pass when given the OK by the car being passed and the passes can only be done in specific passing zones in the less experienced groups. I also put on a different exhaust system so that I could hear my own car when among other, sometimes rather loud, cars.

Very recently I have traded for a year old 2019 M2 competition (the "competition" part is just a name, and the car is not actually set up for real competition). This car handles the corners as well as my lightly modified 330Ci, but with 405 horsepower,it gets down the straights much quicker.
Road Atlanta, turn 12
This picture is me coming over the top into turn 12 at Road Atlanta. Turn 12 is very "interesting" (some would say "imfamous") because it is a downhill, off camber, sweeping turn with barrier walls relatively close to the track.

Since the DEs I have been to were run by the BMW club, most of the cars are BMW, but there are significant numbers of others, such as Corvettes, Porsches, Audis, and and the occasional Lotus, Mustang, and even some old Alfas. Other car clubs (especially Porsche) run their own DEs and many BMW drivers attend these also. There are several private/independent/for profit organizations that run DEs or "track days" also, including Chin Motorsports, TrackDaze, and Hooked on Driving. To get an idea of all the various events that are available and where, check Motorsportreg.com. These non-club based organizations tend to be more oriented to just giving people safe track time and less focused on the instruction and learning process, so I generally recommend most beginners start with the BMW or Porsche club events. Participation in a DE is not cheap, with the registration running around $400 plus some additional wear and tear on the cars, especially tires and brakes.

Here is another picture taken at Road Atlanta showing me (number A14) entering turn one at typically about 80 mph. Road Atlanta, turn 1

In spring of 2014 I had enough experience and successfully completed a BMWCCA Instructor Training School to become a certified driving instructor. Since then I have instructed at several DEs, helping teach others how to safely enjoy this rather unusual and fun activity. As I explain to people, now I get to sit in the passenger seat as my student drives doen the backstraight at 140 mph.

Here is a little video I took the first time I had the new M2 on the track. (Once I get used to it, I expect to get a little quicker.)

Two laps around Road Atlanta in my M2

Photo Album

A DE at Road Atlanta

Click on the picture to view the album

Contact me via mike@hammocktree.us