Whether you're a weekend warrior or serious about a career in auto racing, these courses are an excellent way to get you in gear and on the road to kicking asphalt.
Featured Racing School
Skip Barber Racing School
The Global Leader in Automotive Education and Entertainment
For more than 30 years, Skip Barber Racing has operated a fully integrated system of racing schools, driving schools, racing championships, corporate events and OEM events across North America. With more than 200 dedicated and passionate professionals, no other organization delivers the same high quality instruction, equipment, facilities and memorable experiences.
- The Skip Barber Racing School; held at more than 20 of the most prestigious race tracks in North America
- The Mazda/Skip Barber Driving School; five different locations, all at world-famous destination locations
- The Skip Barber Race Series is collectively six separate equal-car racing championships—four regional amateur series, a prestigious entry-level professional national series, and a sports car series using Mazda Mx-5 Miatas called the Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge
- The Corporate Events unit creates custom racing and driving programs for companies of any size that desire special, exciting events to train, entertain, educate and reward
- OEM Events provides unique, specialized automotive-related training, analysis, evaluation, logistics and consultation
- 201 race cars: 70 Formula Skip Barber and 61 Mazda MX-5 Cup race cars, plus 70 Skip Barber F2000 race cars for the regional and national championships. It is the single largest race car fleet in the world
- More than 94 passenger/street cars, including Mazda RX-8s, MX-5s and MAZDA3s, for use in the Driving School and Corporate Events.
- 10 race karts for use in corporate and group programs.
- 30 transport and support vehicles: Mazda CX-9s, Ford F-350 and E-350 vans. Skip Barber cars and parts are maintained at five base locations around the country. With the largest race car fleet in the world, it can deploy transporters and school staff to tracks nationwide.
The track record: Our instructional prowess speaks for itself. Since its founding in 1975, Skip Barber Racing has trained more motorsports winners and champions than any other organization of its kind. Skip Barber alumni race and win in every major event and championship, from NASCAR's Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series to Formula One, the Indy 500, American Le Mans and the IndyCar Series. Since 1983, Skip Barber Racing has trained more than one-third of all Indy 500 competitors, and one-quarter of the current NASCAR Sprint Cup field. Skip Barber alumni have won every major U.S. auto racing championship.
Driving faster, smoother and with more confidence is in the heart and soul of many Mazda performance enthusiasts. To this end everything from turbochargers to coil over suspensions are bolted into place in a never-ending quest for more speed. Since both driver and vehicle work as a team, the input given to these high performance products are as important, if not more so, than the components themselves. Rather than investing a few hundred dollars into a high performance clutch, you might consider investing time and money into an education on proper driving techniques. Learning to drive like a pro will often make the biggest improvement in your success at the track or at autocross events. Here are some basic performance driving tips that will place you on the right track to success.
Proper seating position is the key to accessing and operating the vital controls in your vehicle. To find the ideal driver seat position you need to be close enough to the steering wheel so that your arms are slightly bent while holding the wheel in the ten and two o'clock positions. This gives you the proper leverage against the steering wheel. Sitting with your arms extended will require you to use a hand-over-hand motion when making sharp turns.
To check that your seat is close enough to the steering wheel, when sitting with your shoulders pressed against the seatback you should be able to rest you wrists on the top of the steering wheel without leaning forward. If the seatbelt were to lock in mid-corner and you couldn't lean forward far enough to reach the steering wheel, you might find yourself visiting the local body shop, or worse yet, the local hospital. Also, don't wrap your thumbs around the steering wheel. In the event of a mishap or impact the front-wheels may cause the steering wheel to spin with enough force to break your thumbs. When sitting in the correct location your right hand falls directly to the shifter.
When racing, having both hands on the wheel at all times is important for car control. The only time that you should remove either hand from the steering wheel is during gear changes. Once a shift is completed, immediately return your hand to the steering wheel.
Adjusting the rake of the seat will alter your seating position in regards to the steering wheel and the shifter. Adjusting the seat forward and backwards will help with pedal position. If you happen to be in a car that has limited adjustments, do your best to find a good compromise. Make sure that your feet have enough room to move around freely and that your knees don't hit the bottom of the steering column.
On the Brakes
Bringing your Mazda vehicle down to a proper speed in preparation for entry into a turn is perhaps one of the most difficult things to learn. Advanced technology found on most of today's modern cars such as anti-lock brakes and dynamic stability control help to make this task easier. For the sake of learning technique, let's assume that these features are not available.
Since the available traction to do these tasks is shared, a vehicle can either brake 100%, or it can turn 100%. If a vehicle is braking at 100% of its capability, any steering input will likely cause a loss of control. If a vehicle is braking at 50% of its capability, up to 50% of the steering input can be used. Of course these figures aren't exact, but they provide a basic idea about the relationship between turning and stopping.
Before entering a turn do the majority of braking while still traveling in a straight line. Begin to ease off the brakes as initial steering input is added. By the time that the corner is entered, most of the braking should be completed.
Holding the Power Band
Once you master the art of threshold braking before entering a corner, learning to heel-toe downshift at the same time is the next step. Mastering this technique can be rather tricky. With three pedals and only two feet, the trick is to operate all three pedals at the same time. Use the ball of your right foot to apply the brakes. Hold your foot at an angle so the outside rear of your right foot reaches the throttle pedal. This will allow the throttle to be pressed while braking and leaves the left foot free to operate the clutch.
The trick is to press the throttle enough to match engine revs to the next lower gear for downshifting while still applying the brakes. A good way to practice this is to first practice revving the engine while braking without changing gears. Once you get the hang of this, try making gear changes. Practicing this situation is as simple as letting off the throttle and slightly steering into the skid. This reaction is much more natural than what is required to correct an oversteer situation.
Choosing the proper line through a corner is the key to maintaining momentum. Reaching the apex of a corner early will cause the need for more steering input after the apex, but just before exiting the corner. This will result in a loss of momentum, and in severe conditions could cause you to veer off course.
The idea when cornering is to try to straighten out the road as much as possible. Negotiate the corner in a smooth arc using the entire available track. The diagram shows you how to choose the best apex in order to maximize momentum and track usage.
Hit the Gas
The throttle can be used to help get you out of some really hairy situations. It can also get you into some even hairier situations. Once braking has been completed and you have entered the corner, the next step is to transition your foot from the brake to the throttle. Smooth and gradual application of the throttle is important. Apply enough throttle to keep the car settled and accelerate out of the corner. As you begin to unwind the steering wheel and straighten out the vehicle, gradually add more throttle pressure. By the time you straighten out the vehicle you should be at full throttle. Adding too much throttle while still negotiating the corner can cause the vehicle to oversteer. Not enough throttle pressure will cause slow exit speeds — and nobody wants that.
Accelerating, braking, or turning a vehicle causes the majority of weight to be transferred from one area to another. This changes the amount of work being done by each tire and its ability to maintain traction. When used properly, this transfer of weight can be very beneficial.
Braking causes the weight to be transferred to the front of the car. When done before entering a turn, the increased weight on the front tires increases the size of the contact patch and improves traction. This is useful when entering a corner. It also takes the weight off of the back wheels, which is not a good thing when in the middle of a turn. Unloading the rear of a vehicle in a corner could cause unwanted oversteer that might result in a spin.
In a Miata, RX7 and RX8, weight transfer during acceleration is optimal because it transfers weight from the front of the vehicle to the rear of the vehicle and increases traction.
For Protegé, Mazda6, MX3, MX6 and other front-wheel drive Mazda models, the same thing happens. However, in this situation you want the weight to remain on the front-wheels. There is very little that you can do from the driver seat to change this. A good aftermarket suspension setup can help to reduce this weight transfer for those trying to put power to the ground with their front-wheels.
When cornering, the weight of the vehicle transfers to the outside wheels causing the tires on the outside to do more work. Since traction from four wheels is better than that of two, reducing this weight transfer is useful. Controlling body roll can help to reduce this weight transfer. Anti-sway bar or anti-roll bar kits can be extremely helpful in reducing body roll.
Knowledge is Power
You'll never get better at driving by simply reading about it. Practice (often referred to as "seat time" by racers) is the best way to improve your driving. Some techniques can safely be practiced on the street, while most should be practiced in a safe and controlled environment. Professional driving schools are the best venues for practicing performance-driving techniques. Also, keep in mind that vehicle dynamics vary from car to car. A front-wheel drive car is going to handle noticeably different from a rear-wheel drive car. Some of the techniques discussed here will vary as a result. Learning how to better control your car will allow you to take full advantage of those high-performance additions.
The Next Step
There are various places where one can get expert instruction in a location that is safe for practicing and learning new techniques. Most clubs such as the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and NASA offer courses in both autocrossing and driving on a track. An average two-day track event costs about $250 and a one-day autocross school runs about $60. Most classes include instructors that will ride along with you and give you pointers as you go. These classes will teach you the principals of threshold braking, cornering, vehicle control, and shifting. The learning curve for performance driving is very steep and a few courses can make a huge difference.
Prepared for Success
Being prepared both yourself and your car can make the difference between an enjoyable and a miserable experience. Bring an assortment of items that will aid in your comfort. Most autocrosses and track events are out in the middle of nowhere. This is due to the fact that people don't normally live and work around a bunch of noisy cars running at redline all day (although that sounds good to me). Often, the nearest store is a few miles away and you might not have time to run over there to grab something you later discover that you need.
Bring lots to drink (non-alcoholic of course). Stay away from carbonated beverages and those that contain caffeine. Instead, drink plenty of water or sports drinks. It's very important that you drink enough so that you don't become dehydrated. Also bring sunscreen for sunny days, and rain gear for wet days. A lawn chair can come in handy when resting between runs.
There are also many items to bring for your car. If you plan to run on R compound tires you need to do a tire change once you arrive at the event. Pack a jack, gloves, torque wrench, breaker bar, and the correct size sockets for your wheel lugs. Don't forget to bring the key if you have a locking lug set. You should also bring extra engine oil, a variety of screwdrivers, wrenches, sockets, a tire pressure gauge, and other tools that you may need to make small repairs or adjustments. Of course, don't forget the king of all tools, duct tape.
An air tank or air compressor is also very handy for adjusting your tire pressure. A garden sprayer is another handy tool to have. It can be used to cool down your tires between autocross runs, to cool down the intercooler on turbocharged cars, and to cool down yourself as well.
If you happen to be meeting a group of friends at the event, it may be easier to organize things so that you don't have to bring everything yourself (especially handy if you don't have much space in your trunk). For example, have one person be responsible for bringing a jack, another for bringing a torque wrench, another for bringing an air tank, and so on.
Most events require that you bring a helmet with a Snell rating from the last 10 years. This means that your helmet should have a sticker on it that says Snell 93 or newer. Some events will have rental or even loaner helmets. Unless you like sticking your head into a helmet shared by a bunch of strangers, I would suggest getting your own. If you purchase a helmet of your own, you can get one that fits your head perfectly and it will be much more comfortable.
The Big Payoff
Knowing the basics is a good place to start, getting some real seat time and learning some new techniques is even better. Don't compare your times to others in your class, but rather compare them against your own times. A one or two second improvement is quite substantial at an autocross event. Don't be intimidated by those that have been doing this for a long time. The longer that you race, the better that you will become. The skills you learn can also be applied to the street. Improved reflexes and better knowledge of the limits of your car will help you to become a safer driver. Try to get as much seat time as possible and soon you will be driving like a pro.