Garage Kept Motors

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Driving School frequently asked questions

By Bradley S. Pines
Veteran club driving instructor
Questions? email:

What is a driving school and what does HPDE stand for?
Driving schools are recreational, non-competitive events held on twisty, and sometimes hilly, road courses. Often, an experienced instructor rides along with the driver during all sessions on the track. Classroom sessions add the theory of high performance driving and other information before and after driving on the racetrack. HPDE stands for either High Performance Driving Event, or Driver’s Education. The Porsche Club of America calls their events DE or Driver's Education. Driving school, HPDE and DE are interchangeable terms. 
A BMW, Porsche and Audi on track during a recent driving school.

What kind of car do I need to drive?
Sporty, German cars are perfect for recreational track use, providing they've been inspected for safety. You'll need good tires and fresh brakes. Driving school organizers will supply a pre-event inspection checklist. Any safe, well maintained car will do. I’ve had students in economy hatchbacks, rental sedans, but mostly sporty cars. Most tracks don’t allow trucks, SUVs or minivans, however.
Do I need any special equipment?
The only thing you’ll need is a Snell SA2005, or later, rated helmet, although some organizations do have loaners. This is the same kind of helmet used in autocross events, so one helmet can certainly due double duty. Lane Automotive, in Watervliet and the advertisers of Grassroots Motorsports magazine are great places to shop. Lots of folks will also buy driving shoes with rolled heels and thin soles, but they, and gloves, are optional. Many people add small video cameras like the GoPro to record their on-track adventures.
How fast will I go and is it dangerous?
There are no speed limits. Anytime you drive your car, there is some element of risk. There are rules of the road while on the track to keep everyone safe. Having an experienced instructor with you really helps. I have both driven and instructed in well over a hundred events in the past thirteen years, and I’ve had no damage to my car, or my students' cars. With no cross traffic, lots of rules of the road and instructors to guide drivers, it's often safer on the track than driving on public roads.
Will my regular insurance cover me at track events?
Although these are educational events and not timed competitions, most policies won’t cover you while on a race track. There are several insurance companies who will sell driving school/HPDE event insurance, if you wish. 
Who puts on driving schools like you’re talking about?
Many car clubs, including the BMW Car Club of America, The Porsche Club of America, the Audi Club of North America. Several other organizations like Hooked on Driving/MIdwest puts on events at several area racetracks and is part of a national program. At GingerMan Raceway, CGI is the in-house driving school, with schools on several Mondays. The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) blends its HPDE program into their racing schedule.  Check organizer and racetrack websites for event dates.
Where are these events held?
We are fortunate to live in Michigan, which has three road courses. GingerMan Raceway is in South Haven, just about seven miles inland from the lighthouse. A bit northeast of Grand Rapids is Grattan Speedway, in Belding, and Waterford Hills Road Racing is in the Detroit area near the Oakland Airport in Clarkson.
How much does it cost?
It varies, depending on how many days the event runs, where it is (some tracks, like Road America, are very expensive to rent) and other extras, like lunch. Figure about $200-$400 per day. Open track days are less, but offer no in-car or classroom instruction and require the driver have previous track experience. Experienced instructors may be available for private coaching to create a more personal driving school experience during open track days. 

When are these events held?
The driving season usually opens in early April and runs through late October, but the weather is the determining factor. Check both organizer and track websites for schedules.

Here's a YouTube video of two Michiana Chapter BMW CCA local drivers during an open track day at GingerMan Raceway. That's a track map at lower right and the speed in large red numbers. Both cars are regularly driven on the street:

Here are some handy links:

Our local racetrack, GingerMan Raceway, hosts many driving schools and spectator events on its newly expanded 2.2 mile road course just east of South Haven on Phoenix Road. Be sure to "like" them on Facebook too. 
The track’s website includes a varied schedule:

National Auto Sports Association (NASA) Midwest region puts on HPDE events as part of
their racing weekends. Note GingerMan on their schedule:
Hooked on Driving - check Great Lakes region

Grattan Raceway in Belding:
Autobahn Country Club near Joliet, IL:
Waterford Hills Road Racing in the Detroit metro area:
Lane Automotive, just south of I-94 in Watervliet, has lots of Bell, Simpson and other helmets, other safety gear:
My favorite hardcore sports car magazine is Grassroots Motorsports. Their advertisers sell helmets and everything you’ll need. Pick up a copy and look at their website:
OG Racing driver supplies:
Safe Racer:
G-Force racing helmets, safety gear:
Pyrotect racing helmets, safety gear: