Okay, so you have begun to think about transitioning from track days to racing.  What do you do?  How does it work?  Well Chad Morehead took the leap and he shares his journey.


Making the Leap from Track Days to Racing:  Racing Schools

by Chad Morehead


BMW CCA Race School Laps 360pxOn January 18th and 19th I attended a Bimmerworld BMW CCA Club Racing School course at Texas World Speedway in College Station, TX.  For those not familiar with this program (like I was just a few weeks ago,) it’s essentially the first step (and a prerequisite) towards earning a competition license with the BMW CCA Club Racing organization.  BMW CCA Club Racing is basically a one-make (BMW only) racing series, where BMWs compete in various classes of preparation.  I discovered the school while attending the Lone Star Chapter’s Fall Drivers’ Education event at MSR Cresson back in October.  The organizer, Bruce Heersink, let all the advanced students know it was coming up and a quick idea of what it involved.  I was still in the yellow run group, solo qualified, but not for open passing yet.  That said, I didn’t want to give up this opportunity to attend, as the schools come around maybe once or twice a year and are spread out over the country.  I asked my instructor to see if I could get a check ride or possibly vouch for me, and he did just that.  A check ride is used to move up in run groups.  A senior instructor rides along with you to see if you are ready to move from solo to advanced, for example.

Unfortunately the MR2 doesn’t meet the BMW CCA’s strict convertible regulations so I would have to take the M Coupe.  Not such a bad thing, other than my fear of inflicting damage on such a rare car.  The other issue was the brakes but I fortunately resolved that problem just prior to the event.  Making the event even better was that my father came out to visit, becoming my crew chief for the weekend.

The event started much like any other track day, with the exception that we were a much smaller group (11 I believe) and were there much earlier for academics.  We were piggybacking on a Performance Driving School event, so there were plenty of other cars there, but we would go out for our own sessions.  While there were only 11 students, there were also many instructors there as well, though they wouldn’t be in the car with us.  They were there to replicate a larger field of cars on the track and to facilitate different types of exercises.

We started with basic academics, covering things like flags.  But unlike a noncompetitive track day event, where there is controlled passing, we would be passing where and when we could without signaling.  This, of course, adds a whole new dynamic to driving.  So for the first session we simply did a warm up, with normal DE-style point-by passing.  Then back in for more classwork.  We talked about where to place the car, setting up for a pass, going through turns several cars wide, etc.  Then we went back out and did exercises that involved driving the entire course three wide.  The center car would set the pace, then on the straight, the right car would drop back and the other two would shift right so that everyone drove several corners in each position.  This is much harder than it sounds, as the instinct is to rattle your eyes back and forth, checking distances to the other two cars when you are positioned in the middle or trying to not run someone off when you are on the inside.

After more academics and lunch, we practiced passing in groups of three cars.  This was much easier, or perhaps it was just that I was getting the hang of it.  It really is surprising how much things change when you have other cars surrounding you.

The following day started at the same time with more classroom time.  The academics weren’t very regimented.  The class time was moreM Coupe 360px of a way to facilitate discussion.  Topics ranged from racing etiquette to draft passing.  Having all the instructors and students in the same room helped spark some good conversations.  The second day’s focus was on forming up for rolling starts. A rolling start involves the entire field of cars moving toward the start line in formation before the green flag is thrown signifying that the race has started.  This is as opposed to a standing start, where the field is gridded on track and waits unmoving for the green flag.  Again, a bit tougher than it looks.  We ran around the track under a yellow flag (caution) until we caught up with the safety car, which paced us around from about turn seven.  Around turn 12 or so everyone began to form up, two columns with two cars per row.  Then the safety car would dive into the hot pits and around the front straight we would come, looking for the green.  We did this several times, a few of us getting head shakes and being forced to go around on more time, forming back up for another try.  When we did get the green, we raced to about turn four, then picked up the safety car out of six and came back around to do it again.  It was actually very fun.  As we came down the back straight between six and seven, the lead cars would pull off, shifting to the back.  This way everyone got an opportunity to see the start from a different perspective.

The last session of the weekend was a mock race.  We would grid up, split coming onto the hot pit lane, and form up along the back straight like we had for the practice starts.  We all followed the safety car around again, then waited for the green flag, and it was on!  Of course, we’re adhering to vintage race rules, basically no contact, but even more so.  There was no trophy at the end and many, such as myself, were driving street vehicles.  It was a blast diving into turn one, three (perhaps four) wide.  It definitely wasn’t the quickest set of laps, well actually I somehow beat my personal best during the practice, but it was on a lap where there wasn’t much traffic.

The school was well worth the price, and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering club racing or just to anyone who would like to try a different aspect of high performance driving.  In the near future I hope to complete my E36M3 (second generation BMW M3) so I can begin taking part in club racing, as I really enjoyed the difference of having other cars around.  For more information, be sure to check out the CCA Club Racing website, which includes an events list showing upcoming school dates.

Spec E46 360pxWhen I built my Spec E46, I intended to run it both in the BMW CCA Club Racing series and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) racing, where the majority of other SE46s (third generation BMW 3 series) in my region were running.  I had hoped that the NASA South East region would accept my BMW Club Racing license and allow me to run without attending their Competition School.  Unfortunately, they were not willing to do so for a Rookie license.  I’m sure if I had multiple races under my belt it would have been fine.  Since that wasn’t the case, I needed to get registered for their next available school.  My luck was running even thinner since the next class was coming up in a hurry and I had no car ready to go.  Unlike the BMW CCA school, which allows you to use your street car, NASA requires a fully prepped race car with current annual tech inspection.  Waiting until my car was ready would have meant missing out on a good chunk of the season and having to attend the school at Virginia International Raceway with the Mid-Atlantic region, a place I had never run.

Later on Thursday I tracked down a rental Spec E30 prepared car and we picked it up from a nearby shop.  Even better news was that I fit just fine in the car, the seat being a larger size and on sliders.  We parked the car with the rest of the Spec E30’s and went to the hotel, finally able to relax and know that I had a chance to get this course over with.

The next morning started with a sprint which didn’t stop until the day was complete.  See, NASA essentially squeezes a two-day comp school course into one day.  So, there is very little downtime between driving sessions and class time.  You are in the car, then directly to class, then right back out on the track.  I was even driving the car directly to the classroom, so that I could hop out and in.  Having my father there as crew chief was a life saver.  While I was in class, he was topping off the fuel, loosening the belts, and torqueing the wheels.

The school itself went by without much drama.  NASA does the school in conjunction with test n’ tune sessions, which provides extra traffic to negotiate, mostly much faster traffic at that.  To me it felt as though the major focal point was ensuring drivers were comfortable in close proximity to other cars and obeyed flags.  There was little discussion of race craft, as had been a key point during the CCA race school.  Much of that can be chalked up to the school being on an accelerated timeline, giving very little time to really discuss the nuances of driving in a race.

Just like the CCA school, the day involved side-by-side drills, swapping places in corners, and ended with a mock race.  Our first mockPractice Starts 360px race was an inverted field (fastest in the back, slowest in the front) and standing start.  Apparently, I was the fastest Spec E30, so I had the other E30s and Spec Ms in front of me, with a gaggle of Mustangs, Corvettes, and a really fast GT-R behind me.  I got a clean start, passing everyone in front by turn one and led up to turn three, where a Corvette whizzed by.  A full course yellow (caution flag) was thrown about midway though, and we got to practice a restart.

A “Fun Race” was set to conclude the day.  I initially hadn’t planned to participate, as I was going to save tires/fuel and head back home that evening.  That plan was squashed when I was informed the race was not optional and was a requirement for finishing the comp school.  It was an hour-long race, so I just planned to complete 50% of the leader’s laps and call it good.  The start/finish stand marshal was kind enough to give a midway signal and I pulled in unscathed and finished the course.  I am now eligible to compete in both BMW CCA and NASA club racing.  See you at the track!

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