SUNDAY DRIVE

October 14th, 2010

Unleashing Your Inner Racer

Text and Photos by Matt Emery

Have you ever watched a NASCAR race and thought, “I could do that.” Now you can, at least you can strap yourself into a real racecar and take to a real racetrack for some hot laps.

Recently, I was asked to attend a driving class at the new Irwindale raceway (Technically speaking, it’s the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale) where the L.A. Racing Experience, will put you into an actual racecar and let you loose on the banked ½-mile track.

The first step is a classroom session where the instructor, in this case David Bremer, went over the do’s and don’ts of driving a ½-mile track, including how not to put the car into the wall. Bremer is an active racer who has taken many driving classes himself so he knows what to say and what is important for beginning drivers to know. He and the entire L.A. Racing crew stressed safety, how to keep out of the wall, what to do if the radio failed and how to pass and be passed.

Once the classroom stuff was over, Bremer took us out to the paddock where he showed us how to get in and out of the car (Don’t laugh. It’s not all that easy to get into a fully caged car when the doors don’t open) as well as the startup procedure for the cars and various other things. After that, they took us to the track where they gave us driving suits (which come in L, XL and thankfully, “Editor”), full faced helmets and told us which car to get into. They have shifter and automatic cars, so there isn’t a problem if you don’t have good shifting skills, just choose the automatic version. After that, it was onto the track to run some hot laps. Needless to say, I had fun.

I do have recommendations that may be of help to anyone who is contemplating taking the L.A. Racing course. One is that even though there are 10 and 20-lap classes available, we recommend that 40-lap version. Not wanting to go too fast too quickly, I cruised the first 10-laps or so getting used to the car and track, and then started pushing harder the remaining laps. Being a ½-mile track, the 40-laps went by way too quickly as it was, so anything less is really a tease. Yeah, the 40-lap class is the most expensive one offered, but trust us, once you’re on-track you won’t want the seat time to end so we’d say that saving up for the extra laps is worth it. The other is that I was part of the first class of the day and there were only 4 drivers signed up for it, so getting into a car quickly was easy. On our way out, we noticed the later class, which was still in the classroom at the time, was noticeably more crowded. We’d say the earlier class is the hot setup.

So there you have it. Turning hot laps around a real track in a real car is something that few get to do, but at L.A Racing, it’s as easy as walking in the door. They offer many different types of classes: some for fun and others where serious race drivers can go to hone their skills, so there is probably one for you. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.

L.A. Racing is located at the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, where the racing is tight and fast every weekend, so getting instruction here is as real at it gets.

L.A. Racing has a collection of cars ready to put on the track, including shifter and automatic transmission equipped cars.

Thanks to Darlene Fuson, the student check in is smooth and orderly. Know that in addition to the fee, there is a one-day insurance policy required. Who says that you can’t insure a racecar?

The lobby of the L.A. Racing facility is cool in its own right. It has racing memorabilia as well as a cool racing simulator game that depicts the Irwindale track.

Our instructor for the day was David Bremer. Bremer has a long history of racing and taking classes like this. He, along with Ozzie Blackwell and safety chief John Baham, gave us the low down on getting around the banked ½-mile oval quickly but also safely.

“And this is the wall. Stay out of it.” Seriously, Bremer didn’t really say that, but he did tell us (repeatedly) how to keep from smacking the wall. Bremer stressed that if the rearend got loose, we were to never to try and save it by steering into the slide, as that would cause the car to immediately highside into the wall. He advised us to get on the brakes hard, aim for the wide-open infield and let the banking of the track carry the car downward.

While we were in the classroom, the L.A. Racing pit crew worked to keep the cars in top shape and ready to roll.

Bremer talks the class through the basics of where the ignition switches, radio communications and other items a drivers will need to know before hitting the track, including how to get into a racecar.

There are driving suits and helmets for any size driver waiting by the track.

Larry Digregorio inspects the track before any student is allowed on it to ensure that no piece of errant debris will cause a cut tire.

Gero Banknecht, a Porsche GT3 911 club driver who hails from Switzerland, gets some one on one from Bremer. Even with all of his racing background Banknecht had never been on an oval course let alone a ½-mile one, but was eager to drive fast.

Here I’m fully suited up and climbing into the #42 car. It’s not the most graceful looking of moves, I’ll admit. God gave me a lot of things, but long legs isn’t one of them.

Once inside and strapped in, I’m instructed on the ignition sequence and location of all the buttons. A radio check is also done at this time to ensure that the drivers can hear the crew.

Then it’s on the track to turn a few hot laps! Well, pretty warm laps anyway. The two cars are staggered ½-lap apart at the beginning and Banknecht hung it out a little further than I did and ended up passing me, something else they taught us how to do in the classroom. In my defense, I really didn’t want to throw the thing away in a corner the first lap (it’d be kind of embarrassing). I felt more comfortable 10-15 laps in, started to go faster, and our lap times became comparable.

Keeping an eye on us while were on the track was Crew Chief Dennis Belloso and Digregorio.

The second pair of drivers was the husband and wife team of Dmitry and Elena Vlasyuk. Originally from Russia, the pair now live in Los Angeles and thought that turning a few laps in a NASCAR would be a good way to spend the day.

If this doesn’t confirm the adage that the family that plays together stays together, nothing does.

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