Saturday, August 30th, 2003 was my first day at the track. I attended Phil Wick's Driving Academy at Gateway International Speedway just north of St. Louis.
Wow. I'm still blown away by it a day later. It was really an amazing experience. There was a group of about a dozen MINIs in the novice class with me, and whenever it was track time, our group went out together (with the addition of a beatiful Cobra and a couple of Miatas).
I don't think that I can really accurately put into words how much fun I had. I was really blown away on many different levels. I'll just conclude with some random impressions that I have had in the last 24 hours:
- The MINI is a flat out blast to drive. I couldn't really believe how well it handled and what it was capable of. It does what you want it to do, period. Sure there are some areas which could use improvement, but all in all it is a very powerful and responsive automobile.
- MEMO to all Mod-heads: Forget the mods for now. You don't need really need them that much on the street, and MINIs are serious beasts to be reckoned with on the track in their stock form. Save your money and spend it on track time, and especially on a good driving school. Sorry to join the herds that have said this before, but the best $200 mod for you car really *is* driving school.
- OK. So you twisted my arm. Yes, I really want a firmer anti-sway bar, but I'm in no hurry. And good GOD do I need some new tires. I've heard over and over again what crap the Pirellis (or Dunlops or whatever) are, and I'm now on the bandwagon for that as well. One instructor in the car with me shouted as we screeched through one turn, “These tires are PIGS!” Truer words have never been spoken. And yeah, coilovers or just lower springs would be nice, but I stress again, there ain't a whole lot of roll in these babies. They're nice right out of the box.
- Driving at speed is something that is really counter-intuitive in many respects. It seems incredibly odd that the most dangerous thing that you can do in many situations is to hit your brakes! My point here is that those of us who like driving fast typically have a lot to learn, and contrary to “TF&TF”, I really don't think that it can be learned on “da streetz.”
- Never underestimate ANY car, regardless of looks and personal prejudices. The car that impressed me most on the track was **drumroll please** a 2000 Honda Civic Si. Believe it. This guy was totally stealth. I saw the car in the morning, and I admit it, I dogged it a little. OK, I dogged it a lot. The guy was running what looked like a stock Civic with nice wheels and nothing else. He had the stock cat back! Well this guy was taking out M Coupes and Corvettes out on the track, and we couldn't believe our eyes. I was thinking there was a twin turbo jammed under the hood somewhere, but here are his actual mods: headers and an intake. Period. And uh, oh yeah, like $10,000 in suspension modifications, coilovers, control arms, sway bars, camber plates, freaking everything that could be done, period. The point here: you don't need massive HP numbers to haul. Suspension work is great, but the ability to drive (and this guy could DRIVE) is really the key.
So that's about it. Track day rules. The Phil Wicks Driving Academy rules. People: go to the track. It will create grins that you didn't think that your face was capable of making. It will make you a better driver. It will make you love your MINI oh-so-much more. It will make you forget about your Stumble (or whatever silly nit-picky complaint you have). In short, it will make you the happiest guy or gal on earth.