Skip Barber Racing School

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Note: The audio in the video is intermitten. When we started the session it had just rained enough to make the track wet. Only the first half of the session was recorded, the recording ends right when the track starts to dry out and I'm able to put some fast laps together.

Day 1 Handling lecture
Shifting lecture
Shifting exercise
Lead and follow lapping

Day 2 Flag lecture
Neon lapping w/ instructors
Slow in fast out lecture
Threshold braking exercise / lapping
Trailbraking exercise / lapping

Day 3 Passing / rolling start lecture
Passing exercise
Rolling Start exercise (4 starts)
Wet weather driving lecture
25 minute lapping sessions

The Track

Laguna Seca is one of the most challenging circuits in the world. It has extreme elevation changes, blind rises, high speed sweeping corners, slow speed corners, and the world-renowned Cork Screw. We ran the full track with the turn in, apex, and exits marked for each turn. Some turns, like the turn in for turn 9, were marked with cones on the track to get students in the correct position for the turns.

Laguna Seca has 11 turns. Turn 1 (4th gear) is half way between the crest on the front straight and turn 2. Not really a turn, more of a dog leg in the front straight. Turn 2, the Andretti Hairpin, is approached on a diagonal line across the track almost directly at the first apex. Shifting down to 3rd gear while trailbraking at just before the 2 marker to get pointed for the exit of the first apex and carrying the slide for the second apex and a quick exit at driver's right. Down the short chute to turn 3 still in 3rd gear with a touch of brake before turn in and increasing throttle through the corner. Shifting up to 4th gear for turn 4 with full throttle on the exit of the turn. Approaching turn 5 in 4 gear threshold brake and downshift to 3rd at the 3 marker. Accelerate hard out of the corner and shift up into 4th gear. Approaching turn 6, the most challenging and dangerous corner on the course, brake slightly and down shift into 3rd, off the brake at the 2 marker, go to maintenance throttle, and begin to accelerate before the apex. Coming off the gas or braking at the apex of turn 6 is a sure fire way to send the car into the tires on the left side of the track. After turn 6 you are now going steeply up hill. TV does not do the elevation changes of Laguna Seca justice. Wind 3rd gear all the way to redline up the hill on the approach the turns 8 and 8a, the Cork Screw. Approach the crest of the hill on the left side of the track, using the rumble strip. Begin to brake heavily just before you crest the hill. You'll notice a slight bend to the right after the crest. If you used the rumble strip correctly you can go straight across the track and end up on the right side of the track for the entry into the Cork Screw. Turn 8 is a late apex so turn in at the 1 marker. After you've turned in you won't be able to see the bottom of the turn so look across the expanse for the big tree and drive straight at it, this will put you on course for the apex to 8a. 8a is heavily cambered and flattens out so you can use a lot of steering input since the front wheels will be very loaded. Do not track all the way out to the left on the exit to 8a or you will be out of position for turn 9. Track out slight left and then get back over to the right about 5 feet off the edge of the track. Turn 9 is still steeply down hill, and flattens out considerably at the exit. Turn 9 requires a late apex as well. Turn 9 may look like a double apex but it's not. Approaching turn 10, still in 3rd (nearly at red line) brake hard at the 2 marker accelerating slightly out of the turn. Accelerate hard up to turn 11. Turn 11 is the slowest corner on the circuit. Trailbrake into the corner at the 3 marker, downshifting into 2nd. The idea here is to slightly over slow the car so you can get the rear end to come around and power hard out of the corner for a high exit speed and a high top speed down the straight. Accelerate down the straight into 4 gear, topping out at around 115mph. A fast lap in a Formula Dodge is around 1:40

The Cars

The cars are converted Formula Fords. Steele tube frames weighing in at 1300lbs. The cars are powered by a 2.0 liter DOHC inline 4 making 130hp. The transmissions are 4 speed Hewlands with a Mopar clutch. The cars run on Michelin Pilots on 15" wheels. Dodge Neon ACR rotors are used with Dodge Stealth 2-piston calipers.

The car has good power, it pulls a little harder than my Integra. The shifter was a little hard to get used to, imagine an H pattern shifter wrapped around a cylinder. Even on the 3rd day I was occasionally downshifting from 3rd to 4th. What impressed me most were the brakes. You quickly learn what 5 point harnesses are for when going into turn 11 at about 85mph and slowing to 30 in about 2 seconds. The pedals are so close in these cars that heel toe down shifting is a cinch. I can't say much about the comfort of the car, the hard plastic seat isn't what I was expecting.

This was my first experience with rear wheel drive and also with a mid engine car. I adapted fairly quickly, but there really isn't enough power to make it brake lose under acceleration. I also don't recall having any problems with adapting to the more horizontal seating position, or with sitting in the middle of the car.

After the 1st day, going from the Formula Dodge to my Integra was like learning to drive my car all over again. Compared to the race car my Integra was mushy everything: mushy brakes, mushy steering, mushy suspension, and a mushy shifter. I went to heel-toe down shift (something I've been doing for years in my Integra) and my foot nearly slipped off the pedal.

The School

There were about 16 people in my school. About 4 of us were there to learn how to drive a race car with plans to move on to motorsports. The rest were there to have fun. About half the class was female. Most of the students went fast around the course and were receptive to the instructor's comments. The structure of the school was lecture and exercise. The instructors would lecture on a topic, then we would go out and practice the topic in an exercise. The instructors were positioned out on the track to watch the exercise then would give feedback on how you did via radio after every time you did the exercise. The class was split into 2 groups, 2 people would share 1 car. While group 1 was doing the exercise, group 2 would watch. Group 1 always did the exercise first. This gave group 2 an opportunity to see the mistakes that group 1 made. One of the mistakes was in executing the exercise. Sometimes the instructors wouldn't explain so well what they wanted you to do. So the first couple of times you would mess up the exercise, and if you messed up the exercise then you wouldn't be doing the technique the exercise was designed to make you do. So you'd spend the first part of the session figuring out the exercise, then once you got the exercise figured out you'd start working on getting the technique that's the whole point of the exercise, but half of your time is already up. Then once the session is over, group 2 gets in the cars and since they've seen how the exercise is supposed to be executed they start right off on trying to get the technique down. In the end group 2 got more practice time getting the techniques down.

The instructors are all very knowledgeable and experienced. Ken Dobson was one of the instructors in my class. He is currently racing in the Speed World Challenge in the touring car class. The instructors are all very good at being able to tell what you did wrong in a turn or exercise and how to fix it. One thing the instructors don't do well is positive reinforcement.


Your $3500 tuition buys you 3 days of intense race car driving instruction, and some perks. They offer a continental breakfast every morning and lunch in the afternoon. There are also coolers full of drinks available at the pit wall when you're out on the track. After completion of the school you are given a certificate indicating your accomplishment. You are also eligible for a SCCA regional license pending approval from the instructors (requires a $200 processing fee). You are also eligible to participate in Skip Barber advanced courses such as the lapping days and 2 day advanced school.

Comments and Insight:

I went into the school already knowing quite a bit about the concepts required for driving a car around a race track. I had already read the book "Going Faster" by Carl Lopez, which covers all the topics covered in the school, it's practically a textbook for the school. Since I had read the book I was already familiar with the concepts that the instructors went over in the lectures. The only thing I lacked was seat time to apply the concepts. That's the real value of the school. You get valuable seat time with expert feedback on the techniques. How ever, as mentioned above, if you're in group 1 your time practicing the techniques is reduced. So I'd recommend getting into group 2 if possible. The lectures never got very deep into racing theory so I highly recommend getting the above-mentioned book.

One of the exercises was driving the instructors around the track in the Dodge Neons. This was the scariest part of the school. They expect you to go from the stiffly sprung race cars to the mushy Neons and drive at speed around the course in a car you've likely never driven before. The instructors are great at throwing these cars around the track, but personally I sucked at it. It didn't take me long to drive the car off the course at turn 6.

There were 2 people in the school that were very aggressive out on the track. By aggressive I don't necessarily mean they were good. For each of the on track exercises the instructors give the students a rev limit to keep the speeds down. By the 3rd day some people weren't paying much attention to the rev limits anymore. So these aggressive drivers would completely bung up the turns with early apexes and early exits, causing low exit speeds, but they would make it up by going up through the gears all the way to redline. This gave them fast laps, overall. This also means that they would catch other drivers pretty fast and apply pressure to them by driving very close, almost right on their gear box at times. This would cause the driver being pressured to usually get distracted and go off the course. On the 3rd day of the school, during the last few minutes of the last session this caused the only crash of the school. One of the aggressive drivers was behind one of the less serious drivers in the school. They were going into turn 5, the less serious driver spun and ended up facing the wrong way on the track, the aggressive driver came into the corner and hit the first car head on. Once car ended up riding up on top of the other. Nobody was hurt but 2 cars were severely damaged.

The track has a severe ground squirrel problem. The little buggers get all over the track and when you're at full cornering force you can't do much to avoid them. Needless to say, the cars are so low that the squirrels don't fit under them.

Perhaps some of the most exciting moments of the school are when the group that is not driving is put in the van (full size Dodge vans) and shuttled out to one of the turns to watch the session. The instructors drive the vans at speed around the course using all the brakes, sliding into the apexes, and using full throttle on the exits. You want to know fear? Fear is going into the Cork Screw in a 5000 lb van while trailbreaking.

On the 3rd day they put video cameras on each of the cars. Before we went out on the session where I was videoed it started to rain. When we went out on the track we were told the dry line was still ok to drive on, so we drove on the dry line. Big mistake. It was clear by the 1st turn that the dry line wasn't going to work, so we switched to the wet line. Needless to say the video will be quite exciting.

Before I left for the school I bought some Simpson driving shoes and gloves. Tennis shows these days have wider soles that would get caught on the pedals since they are so close together. I also bought a dark smoked visor for my Bell helmet, it helped a lot when the sun got low in the sky in the afternoons.

The Formula Dodges we drove in the school weighed in at 1300lbs and put down 130hp. F1 cars weigh in at 1300lbs and put down over 800hp. Just some food for thought…

The price of the 3 day school is about $3500, that works out to $1166 per day. The 2 day advanced school costs $1925, $962 per day. The only way I can explain the difference is that the school expects more people in the racing school that aren't serious and are more than happy to put the car into the wall. Also remember that you share a car in the 3 day school.

On the 3rd day Mazda was there filming one of the new formula Mazdas that are used in the amateur open wheel racing series Star Mazda. The new cars look like small F1 cars. The old formula cars used 1st generation RX-7 rotary engines, and the cars only cost $35,000, very cheap race cars by today's standards. The new formula cars use the RX-8 rotary motor so the cars are going to get a whole lot more expensive. Seems counterproductive to the whole point of the series, cheap open wheel racing.

I plan on attending the 2 day advanced school at Laguna Seca soon. In the advanced school they move you up into the Formula Dodge R/T 2000, which has front and rear wings, and a 5 speed sequential gear box. I am also considering running in one of their race weekend programs.


This is me going around turn 2.

This is my partner going into turn 5.

Another shot of my partner, this time going around turn 11.

The car.

Rear suspension and exhaust system of the car.

The cars lined up in pit row.

Rear end of the car. Notice how the brakes are on the tranny end of the drive shaft.

Skip Barber racing school building. There was also a 2 day driving school doing on.

One of our practice starts.

Going 3 wide into turn 2 isn't such a good idea.

Turn 10.

Braking hard for turn 11.

Out of turn 11 and onto the front straight.

Turn 2.

Braking and turn in for turn 5.

Apex and exit for turn 5.

Facing the wrong direction and about to get hit head on.

After the wreck. Notice the front left wheel is deranged.

Mazda was there on the 3rd day filming this Formula Mazda car when we weren't using the track.