More people will dream of driving a racecar than will ever get into one. As easy as it is to be swept up by the allure of racing, the process to get started seems difficult and elusive. The reality? Getting started is as easy as attending a weekend class at a community college and costs just about as much. While the thought of going back to school may not appeal to most people, every car enthusiast has dreamed of racing at one point in their life. What most people are unaware of is that the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) has paved the way to making the dream a reality.
Text by Aidan Spraic // Photos by Jun Chen and Cali Photography
One Small Step
The first step to racing is learning how to drive properly. NASA’s HPDE series trains drivers to get comfortable driving aggressively on track and provides them the opportunity to earn a wheel-to-wheel racing license. The program is divided into four groups, numbered one through four. HPDE 1 accommodates the most novice of drivers, providing both in-class and in-car instruction. At the other end of the spectrum, HPDE 4 provides a safe and structured environment for more experienced drivers to stretch the legs of the their performance machines. The HPDE 4 group also provides the drivers with the opportunity to continue honing their skills and earn Time Trial and wheel-to-wheel NASA racing licenses. To experience the program and what it has to offer, we sent Aidan Spraic, Richard Fong and Magnus Ohlaker to the NASA HPDE event held at Auto Club Speedway on August 3, 2013.
Once the drivers and cars made it to the track, they set up and prepared for the mandatory drivers meeting. From the meeting, drivers split into smaller congregations based on HPDE group numbers. The HPDE 1 and 2 groups met together discussing the driving rules, flag definitions, passing rules and identifying the passing areas. In the HPDE 1 and 2 run sessions, passing rules restricted passing to the three straight sections of the track and only when pointed by the slower driver. With the rules covered, the focus of the meeting shifted to the track map and identifying where to enter and exit the track, which areas on the track required greater caution and when to be in the grid area. The HPDE 4 meeting was substantially shorter. The drivers in the fourth run group are expected to already be familiar with track driving conditions, flags and many of the things new drivers are not aware of. Passing rules for this group are also substantially different as point-bys are not required and passes can be executed anywhere on the track. Meetings completed, the drivers were released to prepare themselves and their cars before they were called to the grid. Arriving at the grid, HPDE 1 drivers met their in-car instructors and waited for release onto the track behind the HPDE 2 drivers. The HPDE 3 and 4 groups enjoyed separate run sessions.
After completing each session, drivers met again for post session meetings. In these meetings, the instructor discussed any less than desirable behavior displayed by the drivers. This discussion helped all the drivers identify bad habits and some of the pitfalls associated with aggressive track driving. Most of the discussion pertained to safety, but also branched off into topics like car control and more effective approaches to turns and braking. The balance between safety and speed during the discussion changed as the day progressed. As the drivers in HPDE groups 1 and 2 became more comfortable with track conditions, the instructor redirected attention from becoming familiar with track conditions to mastering a few corners that on-track instructors observed the drivers struggling with.
In The End
As with all forms of sports, there is a fair amount of danger associated with track driving. However, with the structure and instruction provided by NASA’s HPDE program, all of the participants ended the day without accidents. Most notably, everyone gained valuable track experience. This allowed the drivers to become more acquainted and comfortable with high-speed driving.