Skip Barber – A Different View On Driver’s Education
By Paul Fix III
Recently, I took a road trip with my mom to go to the Skip Barber School in Lime Rock, Connecticut. We dr ove 6 hours down in a manual transmission Mini Cooper and, because I had little experience with that car, I stalled it at least 25 times the whole way down trying to get moving from first gear. That made it a very long 6 hour drive to get to Lime Rock racetrack, where the Skip Barber Driving School is located.
The next morning, we drove to the school and were introduced to the instructors. Before I was completely settled, one of the instructors asked if we would like to jump into a manual car and learn how to better control one. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and was surprised by how much easier I could drive manual in just 5 minutes of instruction.
After an in-class introduction to all the driving instructors at Skip Barber, we sat through a long talk about handling your car and how to drive more effectively on the road. The way the instructor taught us was both very interesting and fun. I learned so much in just that morning session that it trumped what I’d spent hours trying to learn myself.
Next, the instructor told us to jump in their student cars for “the fun part.” I was ready for anything. We participated in an exercise where we had to drive down a parking lot up to 40 miles per hour, then slam hard on the brakes, activating the ABS. We were attempting to simulate the need to stop suddenly, and do it in a safe way; stopping at a correct distance for the braking point, marked by cones. After a description of the next exercise, we jumped back in the car and attempted to both break suddenly and turn at the same time. It was very fun, and we students had a good laugh a few times when someone would knock over all the cones in the turning radius. Then we went to a skid pad, where we experimented in pulling our Mazda RX-8s out of a skid, or creating skids to avoid dangerous situations. Next, we went back into the clubhouse to have lunch followed by another in-class discussion.
After getting situated, we did more exercises in evenly split groups. My group we went back to the skid pad to learn a bit more about skidding. We then went back to the original parking lot to do another stopping exercise. We had an instructor sit in the passenger seat while we went down a designated lane, then he would say, “left!” or “right!” or “two lanes!” We would jart over the amount of lanes he said, outlined by cones, and then slam on the brakes to activate the ABS. This was meant to simulate avoiding an accident and then coming to an emergency stop.
The last exercise was on a small autocross course on a small practice track elsewhere in the infield. There was a “Champagne” cup magnetized to the hood of the Mazda 3 with a tennis ball sitting on it, there was a string connecting the cup and the ball. Our goal was to drive both as quickly and smoothly as possible to make a good time, with penalties for knocking the ball out of the cup, knocking over cones, and missing the cone gates. After each team got a shot at the autocross we had a little race to determine which team could make the best total time, including driver changes and preparation time in the car, with the same penalties. It turned out that my team lost, our time was at least 10 seconds longer.
Finally, we all went back to the clubhouse for graduation certificates. Over all, I truly enjoyed the Skip Barber Performance School and would love to return. The instruction teaches you how to control a performance street car on a race track and I’d HIGHLY recommend the school for all ages to learn how to drive more effectively, safely and confidently. The staff is highly trained and very experienced. Plus you get to learn to drive a manual like a master!