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NASA High Performance Driver Education (HPDE)


My big deal of the decade, several decades, and in particular this year was two days of flat-out driving on a road racing course. I share my journaling of it with you here.

I spent last weekend at the Utah Motorsports Complex (UMC) on and around their road course. It was created by a local tycoon to exercise his vast collection of vintage race cars in the company of fellow enthusiasts. In other words, a track facility developed by an enthusiast FOR enthusiasts.

Most of us were built for something; having unique strengths and interests where we are slightly or noticeably better than most. My natural exceptionalism seems to be high performance driving. Though life did not hand me any outstanding opportunities in this area, I did have plenty… among them was last weekend.

The video on the right was my maiden voyage utilizing electronic video and audio editing tools to make a more coherent, continuous video production of anything. It just happened to be the only way for me to show what real driving and track time are like.

It is imperfect, but does the job … and documents an extremely rare weekend of absolute joy, excitement and rewards for me.

The National Auto Sports Association (NASA) runs an excellent program from driver education through many levels up to actually racing on the great road courses in this country.

UMC East Track map

Surprising many, most insurance companies cover the rare damage done to cars during High Performance Driver Education. With competent, friendly, helpful on-board instruction, road racing courses are a GREAT place to learn car control… which could, and has saved lives on the street.

My poster girl says she drives a Subaru like an old lady on the street, but her mate set her in a Porsche GTS for some real driver training… and she excelled … from crawling to flying in two days. I made a friend right away when after her second 20-minute session I dubbed her “most improved”.

My 1987 Honda CRX could be close to The Perfect Driver Training Car. Cornering correctly feels just right, is crucial to straightaway speeds, and decent lap times. When driven in too hot or drawing the wrong line through the turn, the driver needs only let off the throttle and turn the wheel sharper – which scrubs off speed without drama – no spinouts or off-road excursions to penalize driving errors.

Once a driver learns the techniques and course layout without a ton of acceleration, switching that skillset and knowledge to a faster car beats the driver who never had to work maximizing limited acceleration.

Last month I quit after my first track session with a major oil leak and severely slipping clutch. Back on track with those repaired, the new heavy-duty clutch gave out right away, but I finished my weekend working through that handicap. This was the last shot I intend to afford. I had to make the most of it. As you can see from the video, I did exactly that.

In my four 20-minute sessions Saturday, my coach/instructor was PERFECT. He doled out the tips, suggestions and training in doses moderate enough that I could simultaneously use my own head to process what was going on … at very high speed. I ended the day intending to have him on board Sunday too. He did, however, pass me to the next group requiring no instructor; I could run solo if I wanted to.

My biggest challenge was the slipping clutch. PLUS I had taken each corner well at least once. THEREFORE, I made notes on the course map about my most challenging corners, studied the map, then receiving a hearty endorsement of my plan from the chief instructor, removed the passenger seat (and passenger) cutting my GT50’s weight down to 1,820 pounds (plus my 170) … the significant percentage of weight reduction making the work of acceleration just a bit easier on the defective clutch.

It was the right decision. I was able to play the lessons back in my head and work the corners better each session. While feathering my throttle to baby the slipping clutch, I still managed to carry enough speed through the corners that only twice in four 20-minute sessions did any of the Very Much Faster cars overtake me – though I arranged to start at the back of the pack every time.

Interesting note: My ‘GT50’ was 35 years old – probably more than 20 years older than the next oldest. The driver, at 72+ likely had 20 or more years on the others as well. Were any of them wondering where “the old guy” or “the old Honda” went while they did their laps?

Here are some of the cars that ran in my HPDE 1 run group

Here are snippets of other cars I saw last weekend. Almost all were track-only; not usable as street cars.