Adorning the walls of my childhood bedroom among the photos of ballet slippers and teddy bears were several posters depicting Chevy’s classic sports car. Not a consistent theme, I know.
Owning a Corvette was a desire I never outgrew and in 2003, my first ’Vette was a surprise anniversary gift from my husband, Randy. Not bad for his first-ever eBay purchase! Last Christmas, he outdid himself yet again with a gift certificate for a Level 1 driving experience with Corvette Racing Adventures.
Although Dave Zubick, driving school owner and instructor, conducts his classes at raceways throughout the United States, my day-long driving escapade took place at Shannonville Motorsports Park just east of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Randy and I visit Niagara Falls every spring, so it made sense to incorporate the racing school into our long weekend.
The day began at 8 a.m. sharp. Following introductions, we began with the first of several educational sessions, which started with a few basics about the car, including how to securely fasten the five-point safety belt in the modified Corvette Z06s we’d be driving, how closely we should be seated to the steering wheel and where your hands should be placed on the wheel. Cobras also were available for those drivers who preferred that type of sports car. We then discussed car control in the areas of steering, acceleration and proper braking techniques, keeping the car balanced and extending your vision. As Zubick talked about maintaining control of the car, he described the Corvette as being like a scalpel. “It will cut you, and you won’t even know it,” he said, while emphasizing the importance of using the instruction to be a smooth driver, as opposed to just going fast. “Smooth is fast. If you are a smooth driver, the speed will come.”
When it was time to begin the first on-the-track exercise, we were paired with a partner with whom we would share a car, fitted with racing suits and helmets, and then we were assigned to a vehicle according to body size/seat dimensions. Being the only female in the class, I was the smallest and needed a strategically placed cushion to be properly positioned in the seat.
The first driving exercise revolved around threshold braking. Those of us driving the Corvettes had to be careful to not engage the anti-lock brake system, so we needed to be in tune with the car and understand just how far we could push it.
We then incorporated the braking exercises with steering. This taught us how to effectively maneuver the Corvette and bring it to a halt when necessary.
The scariest part of the day for me came during the accident avoidance exercise using peripheral vision.
Orange cones were set up in a “Y” shape and one of the instructors stood right in the center. Our task was to drive directly toward the very brave (or perhaps crazy) man, remembering to look beyond him, relying on peripheral vision to view his last-minute hand signals that would send us to his right or left.
We were to steer around the instructor accordingly.
“This lesson teaches people how to drive around an obstacle rather than slam on the brakes. Each skill builds on the others, and it’s basically a bag of tricks that you learn to use,” Zubick said.
It was a very strange feeling to purposely drive toward a human being while accelerating. It made me downright nervous, but as I was successful in my attempts I began to feel more confident. It became somewhat of a game. If the instructor thought a driver was anticipating one direction, of course he would signal the other. Despite turning the wrong way once, I did not knock over any of the cones, unlike a few of my male counterparts, and the instructor did survive the exercise.
Following a lunch break, racing school participants walked the 1.8 km road course and Zubick introduced us to the racing line. Cones were placed at the entry point, apex and exit of every turn as a racing line reminder to us wanna-be race car drivers. The strategy was to slow into the apex of the corner by lifting off the gas or braking, and come out accelerating. Now it was time to put the day’s lessons to the test utilizing the entire track. For the earlier training, we utilized only the speedway’s front stretch and pit area.
Eager with knowledge, we took to the race cars for the “mother duck” exercise. Lining up behind a pace car, each participant got two laps at speed behind the instructor. The leader then would pull over to allow the other cars to advance in line. The front car would then fall to the back. For the next exercise, we continued in line in the same manner, but without a pace car. Passing is not allowed in Level 1, so if the driver(s) in front of you were a bit slower, you had to back off. Passing is, however, allowed in Level 2.
The final phase of the driving school consisted of hitting the track on our own. Zubick and his fellow instructor allowed enough of an interval between each car as we left the pits that it seemed like I had the track all to myself. Trying to mesh all of the day’s lessons, I attempted the “perfect” lap — keeping the car balanced, slowing into the apex of the corner and accelerating out of the corner. “Smooth is fast,” I reminded myself. “Smooth is fast.” I think I held my own.
After completing the course, I now have a true appreciation for the Corvette’s performance capabilities. I’m completely amazed at how closely to the edge you can take the car and how wonderfully it responds. Additionally, I feel that I’m a better driver on the roadway due to Zubick’s instruction. I think I’m ready for Level 2!
Oh, by the way, those posters in my childhood bedroom ... they’re still there. But now I have a picture of my own little red Corvette to hang with them.
Michele Rejonis, above, and a 1999 modified Corvette Z06 used at the Corvette Racing adventures driving school. Below, Rejonis prepares to take to the track for the day’s final laps. Photos Provided.