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"The instructors can't just put their time in and go home - that instructor's not going to fit in here.  We want the instructor who has a desire and a passion to teach.” 

 

Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club

by Michael Allen

 

corvettes400x211If you want to roll out of bed, walk out your front door and drive the Laguna Seca Corkscrew on Thursday, the Watkins Glen Bus Stop on Friday, Mosport turns 5A and B on Saturday and Road Atlanta’s turn 1 on Sunday, then Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club located in Pahrump, Nevada is the place to go.  This is a multipurpose facility that combines a country club membership model with three driving schools plus an SCCA competitive licensing school.  Even if you are not a member and cannot fork over the money for a driving school, you can drive there with your favorite track day organizer for an HPDE event.  Speed Ventures, the BMW CCA and the Audi Club have all held track days there according to Chief Driving Instructor Rick Malone.  Hosting different events simultaneously is all possible due to Spring Mountain having over six miles of track which can be configured in multiple layouts and can allow multiple events to be run at the same time.  We have previously spoken to track designer Alan Wilson and racetrack business consultant Timothy Frost and they both advocate for just such a multipurpose facility.  In their views, for a track facility to be viable as a business, it must have multiple venues and purposes.  Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club covers several bases and does it well.  Plus, it is located just 45 minutes from Las Vegas and is in close striking distance to the Grand Canyon, the Mojave National Preserve, Lake Mead, Death Valley, the Sequoia National Forest and other tourist destinations.  You can piggyback your track event onto a pretty nice family vacation experience.  While you and your significant other and/or friends are participating in a driving school experience, the rest of the family can enjoy the other country club amenities available at Spring Mountain.  And you don’t even have to break the bank to see how the other half lives.  For the price of an average priced hotel room, you and your family can stay right on the grounds in one of the facility’s rental condominiums.  Nice or what?

Spring Mountain started out as a single track school.  In 2004, the 2.2 mile track was purchased by John Morris and Brad Rambo and has undergone continuous development ever since.  However, the facility is still dominated by its driving schools and there are currently three of them.  Chief Instructor Rick Malone explains:  “We have the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School (Corvette Owners School), which is endorsed by Ron Fellows, the Radical Racing School, which is Spring Mountain based, and the Cadillac V Series Academy, which has its own classroom building and dedicated track.  In addition, the Radical School has its own classroom building and uses many different configurations.”  Spring Mountain also has an SCCA racing license school.  The driving schools utilize either a 3.4 mile course or 1.5 mile and 2.4 mile layouts.  Visitors can sign up for a school and stay on site in a furnished condominium so that they can focus their energies on learning. 

A cornerstone of what makes this facility special is its six miles of track.  Spring Mountain has the longest track in North America and the second longest course in the world.  There is a great level of diversity and track configuration layouts.  Club members will not get tired of driving the same old track time after time.  Malone points out that “Members can have a different configuration each week and member days are Thursday through Monday.  Members are allowed to drive their car as much as they would like throughout the day.  Also, if you’re a club member and you want to do a little bit of racing, we have a club member race that we hold once a month.” 

The permutations of layouts are almost endless.  In the process of laying all this asphalt, the designers built in copies of famous turns from other famous racing venues.  Malone elaborates:  “We use different configurations such as the bus stop at Watkins Glen.  It’s as close as we could get to the real thing.  The area we have for the bus stop is actually a little bit smaller but we tried to replicate it as best we could.  And the same with the corkscrew.  We tried to get as close as we could to the corkscrew.  Theirs turns right and ours turns left.  We also have turns 5 A and B from Mosport Track but ours is a little bit smaller in dimension.  And we try to incorporate a turn for the driving schools that’s like turn 1 at Road Atlanta as much as possible.” 

As explained earlier, Spring Mountain can accommodate members as well as visitors to their driving schools and outside event organizers all at the same time.  Malone explains that “We rent the track to event companies.  We have Speed Ventures and sports car clubs such as the BMW Club and Audi Club and any other club that would like to use our track.  We have enough track where we can rent a track to an event company, still have a track for our members and still have a track for our school.  So we have enough configurations that we can have three events going on at the same time and even up to four tracks of about 1.5 miles each.  Four tracks would be used for corporate events.”

The facility has two mechanical shops on sight.  One is the Powertec Shop, which builds the engines for the Radical School vehicles and those for sale at Spring Mountain, which is the largest Radical track car dealership in the world.  The second shop offers engine dynamometer services.  Malone tells us that “if a customer or a club member wanted to dyno their car, they would just have to make an appointment.”

Malone was handpicked by Chevy Corvette Factory racing driver and ALMS champion Ron Fellows to be his chief instructor at Spring Mountain.  Malone has extensive driving credentials.  “Well like everybody else,” says Malone, “I started at a young age.  I was very young.  At about 10 or 11, I started competing in motorcycles and Karts.  Coming out of high school I had aspirations to become a full time racecar driver but of course college got in the way,” says Malone with a chuckle.  “After I graduated college, racing was again my aspiration.  But, still, I had to get a regular job.  So on the side, I started doing some club racing and started working toward being a full time driver.  I did a lot of club racing and grassroots type racing.  And then I had an opportunity to start a new series, which was a truck series called the Craftsman Truck series which had just started.  But then I got very sick and that kind of changed my path and my direction.  It took quite a few years to recover and get my health back.  By the time I was in my early to mid-30s, I knew racing was going to be kind of tough because of my health so I decided to teach.  I started doing gigs on the side on vacations and weekends and I started making a name for myself.  I worked hard trying to make myself better and set goals and I started learning about driving schools.  At the time, I had a regular job.  But I said to myself, ‘hey after 30 years - I’m going to leave this regular job, go find a driving school and get myself a nice semi-retirement position doing what I love to do!’  So I came over to Spring Mountain about eight years ago and came in as just an instructor, very low key, and before I knew it, Ron came along and endorsed our school, saw my capabilities and said, ‘let’s put this guy in as chief instructor.’  That’s pretty much how it happened and I’ve been living my dream ever since.” As Spring Mountain’s Chief Driving Instructor and Driving School Director, Malone oversees all three schools, puts the driving exercises together and designs the classroom instruction. 

When asked what motivates him these days, Malone highlighted the feelings he experiences when driving on the track and enabling others to experience those same feelings. “My biggest passion is getting people to try to experience what it is like to drive on a track.  I came from the day where people wished they could drive on a track and would ask, ‘What’s it like to drive on a track?  What’s the feeling you get?’  And you can’t explain that feeling.  You have to actually do it.  And my friends would always ask me, ‘How do I get onto the track?’  Well back then you had to get your license.  You had to get your car.  You had to go through a whole process just to get on the track.  Nowadays though, with HPDEs, the average person can experience a track day, find out if they are going to enjoy it, and most important they get to feel the same feelings the race car driver gets to feel, the same feeling that we’re feeling.  And maybe some drivers say, ‘hey I only want to do this once.  I only wanted to know what it’s like.’  And some just do it as an occasional hobby.  And then some say hey, ‘this is really cool.  I want to do it all the time.’  The biggest satisfaction is seeing that expression on a first time driver’s face.  That’s pretty satisfying.”

We asked Malone to describe the exercises utilized at the Spring Mountain performance driving schools.  “Instead of a skid car, we use a wet figure eight exercisefacility440x264 and that demonstrates under-steer and over-steer and car control.  We have a dry handling oval which is standard in the industry to teach how to enter and exit a turn properly and how to visual scan for the next turn.  To strengthen our peripheral vision, we do a serpentine exercise where we cover the windshield with a sunscreen.  The student drives through a course slowly using only the side windows.  We also do a heel-toe downshifting exercise.  We drive up and down a straightaway like a two lane road.  After having a classroom session involving visual aids on how to perform the process, instructors do a demonstration ride first and show students how it’s supposed to feel.  Then the instructor gets in the right seat and gives direct pointers on how to do the process through all the steps, talking them through step-by-step.  We have a really high rate for getting people up to speed on heel-toe.  We don’t give up on it.  Every one of our programs has a heel-toe downshifting exercise with the exception of the Radical School because their cars have paddle shifts.  But as far as all of our other programs, everybody’s going to go through a shifting exercise and not only is it an exercise in downshifting, it’s an exercise in up-shifting properly as well.”

We took the opportunity to get Malone’s opinion on sequential manual shifters and dual clutch transmissions for track day driving.  “When you get rid of a manual transmission, you reduce and limit the chance of making a mistake.  That’s the first thing you’re going to reduce.  If you don’t have a clutch, you don’t have to shift so you’re going to reduce and minimize mistakes.  Is it quicker?  Yeah, it’s a little bit quicker.  Does it cost more money?  Yeah, it costs more money.  Are there more things that can go wrong with the car?  Yeah, more things can go wrong with the car.  So there are a couple of philosophies involved.  Some people just like to shift and I get that.  I’m one of those guys.  I just love shifting.  But you have to remember, having a standard keeps the cost down on your racecar.  So the average guy has a purpose built, manual transmission racecar.  And this way he’s keeping his costs down.  But now if he decides to put a sequential shift in the car, it’s going to increase your price $25,000 to $35,000.  So really it’s a personal preference and what’s in your budget.  When it comes to professional racing, of course you have the budget and you’re going to see paddle shifts and sequential shifters quite a bit.  Now a lot of folks get away from the manual because they’re afraid of heel-toe and one of the things that we’re proud of here is that we don’t give up on them.  We have a pretty good rate and system of teaching it.  For our three day schools, we work on it all three days.  When people leave on the third day, they’ve got it.  They’ve got it figured out.  I think a lot of people get a mental block and think it’s too difficult.  Some folks that have paddle shifters would like to shift but the heel-toe is what prevents them from having a manual transmission.”

The driving schools at Spring Mountain have been well thought out and fine-tuned over years of experience with HPDE drivers.  Malone explains that “All of our programs are very structured.  Everything’s done in a timely manner.  There’s no second guessing what we are doing each day or what should be done next.  Every program is structured and has a long standing, well developed curriculum.”

Numerous teaching techniques are utilized, one of which is “lead-follow,” says Malone, who elaborates by explaining that “we do demonstration rides where we give the student a ride.  We slow it down a little bit so we can let them feel what’s going on behind the wheel.  The instructor drives and the student rides in the right seat. We also do follow–lead where the student actually leads the instructor.  Doing lead-follows and follow-leads prepares the student for open lapping which is when they go on the track on their own and they’re going to see the track for the first time.  Once open lapping begins, the instructor is in the right seat coaching.  Additionally, we do side line coaching and utilize in-car radios.  With the radios, we are able to give instant feedback.  In other words, we’re doing lead follow where the student is driving behind the instructor and getting real time information, not like a tour guide where the guide would say, ‘hey we’re going to turn three, now we’re going to turn four.’  No.  We actually look at what’s going on with the car and we can tell if the student is on the throttle too early and advise accordingly.” 

TrackMap440x328Malone gives us an example of driver coaching over the radio in a lead-follow scenario.  “You’ll hear us say – ‘okay Joe start looking to the right.  I can see you staring at my bumper.  Now add some more steering.  Get your right hand to 11:00.’  We teach steering wheel movement and are able to give them real time instruction.  ‘Joe a little bit closer to the apex.  Joe, add just a little bit more steering.  There you go.  Now begin to unwind.  Alright take it to the outside edge.  Notice your exit speed on your exit.’” This type of real time instruction, as opposed to waiting until the session ends is much more beneficial.  Malone says, one of the main successes of the school is instant feedback from the radio.  Another teaching technique used is sideline observers where information can be given to the instructor or to the student instantly.  “This allows us to impart information right away and not have to wait until the session is over,” says Malone. 

There is an emphasis on customer service at this country club facility and this extends to the pool of instructors.  According to Malone, “Not only do the instructors have to have driving experience but more importantly they have to be customer service oriented, and they can’t have any egos.  The instructors have to be able to get along with all the other instructors and they have to have a passion for the industry and for the sport.  The instructors can’t just put their time in and go home – that instructor’s not going to fit in here.  We want the instructor who has a desire and a passion to teach.”

We asked Malone what advice he would give to a new track driver who wants to get started.  “Take a class.  Unfortunately when you go to a track day, you may not get a real qualified instructor and therefore you may not be getting correct instruction.  Oftentimes, instructors at track day events are not necessarily qualified instructors.  So we always say, go to a school first.  Learn the basics.  Learn the tools.  Learn how to use the tools.  Learn when to use the tools.  And that’s what we do here.  We give you the tools and we show you how and when to use them  as opposed to telling the student, ‘you got to go faster.’  We teach you how to walk, and then walk really fast, and then how to walk pretty fast without making mistakes before you start running.  When you’re on the track, in the middle of a turn and you find yourself in a situation, you need to learn how to get out of it or how to correct it.  So the best advice I can give is try not to go to a track day to learn.  Try to go to a school first.  I advise to get some kind of educational training as opposed to just jumping right out to a track day.  There’s so much going on your first time out there and it’s very mentally exhausting.  There’s so much new stuff coming at you.  You’re nervous and whenever we get on the race track, we tense up.  We might even kind of clam up.  I tell new drivers that race tracks are nothing different than what we drive on every day.  We drive on freeway onramps, off ramps, flyovers and clover leafs.  And we drive those like they’re nothing.  Exit speeds might be listed at 45 miles an hour and yet we drive it at 75 anyway.  We drive through it, multi-tasking and don’t even think about it.  But we get on a race track and instantly – we have white knuckles.  We instantly tense because of the atmosphere.  So going to a school and taking a class first will help that subside.  On day one, everybody has white knuckles and sensory overload.  But by the time they leave on day three, they’re relaxed enough so they can go and track their car correctly and safely.  The one thing I hear by graduation is ‘I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.’”

So what about the country club facilities and the after track activities?  Malone tells us “Las Vegas is 50 miles east of here and we have a ton of stuff to do there.  Here at Spring Mountain, we have an exercise facility, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, masseuse on staff, racquetball court, basketball court, rock climbing wall, horseshoe pit, putting green, a nice patio with a fire pit, a cabana area, ping pong, and a pool table in the clubhouse.  If you’re here to attend one of our schools, your family and friends may use the facility and all the amenities that the club members use.”  If you do not stay in the reasonably priced track side condos, there are three hotels in town.  These include the Pahrump Nugget, Saddle West Hotel and the Best Western Pahrump Station.  And when the driving is done, you are located in National Parks central.  Not a bad place for a club membership or to try out a track day or driving school.  Hey Rick?  Can I have your job?

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