Randy Wilson's view: An unforgettable experience
The experience at Bondurant was truly amazing! I never could imagine that i would learn so much in only 3 short days. From the moment we arrived it was so exciting, from entering the complex and seeing all of the different types of vehicles there were, then touring the complex and seeing the service garage, and finally the karting area (which I can't wait to go back and experience!)
The first time around the track was simply breathtaking! Especially since it was in a 14-passenger van at speed....LOL. That made me realize that there was a lot more to driving around a track than I was remotely aware of!
We then separated into our groups and headed to the classroom. This is where we met the famous Mr. Johnny O'Connell… what a great, knowledgeable, and funny guy. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to go through this coarse under his expertise guidance.
He is also a very good instructor as well as a great driver. He taught us that everything in the racer's world all revolves around weight transfer. I had always understood the concept, but never actually applied it in driving. Here all along I had thought I was this awesome driver, and that this course would be a piece of cake. I was wrong. My racing career has only involved going in a straight line, because I I am a NHRA drag racer. My dad and I have a '72 Nova that we take bracket racing on the weekends. It has a 548-inch BBC pushing around 900 ponies. I am no stranger to acceleration, so I figured how hard would it be to go around a track with a few turns….
We started out in the Grand Sport 'Vette which is no slouch of a car! We did some slalom, acceleration and braking tests, and then on to some smaller oval time. The progression of exercises were perfect. The instructors knew exactly what exercises we needed to do and in what order to prepare us for the faster and more powerful Z06.
Whoa…don't let me forget about the skid cars! These things are a riot! What an amazing tool to teach under steer and over steer. The Cadillacs we were in had hydraulic outriggers that the instructor could raise the front or rear of the car, causing the car to oversteer or understeer, which allowed us to learn how to correct the steering in order to maintain control of the car. The back seat is not for the weak-stomached.
The second day was even better! We hopped in the Z06 corvettes and headed out to the paddock to learn the fundamentals of the oval – breaking points, turning points, apex, and exit points. These areas were marked on the track by cones, which made it fairly easy to learn.
Once Johnny thought we were good enough to pay attention to the cones and maneuver around the track in a safe manner, he threw us for a loop and took the cones away! This opened up a whole new aspect. We actually had to think about things a lot more. We had to visualize the apex; it made us understand the areas of the track where we had to do the work, like braking, turning, and accelerating. What a great way to get that through our heads!
After that it was time for some autocross – very exciting! It looks so simple, yet it is oh-so challenging! To know precisely when to brake, turn and exit is more than just a guessing game, it is a skill!
The instructors gave us a few practice runs and then came the stopwatch. It was amazing to see how my times improved almost every lap. The instructors would be timing us and watching our whole run, so after each lap, they could give us pointers to help us out on the next run. Over the two days I went through the autocross track I had pick up over two seconds!
Being a drag racer, I just wanted to get out there and go as fast as I possibly could. Johnny O was quick to point out that is not how you win races. He taught me that it was all about the smoothness and consistency. I was out there trying to keep my foot in the throttle and not touch the brake! All kidding aside, when I actually settled down, paid attention to what was being said and focused, my lap times started getting faster and faster.
The third day was the best and the worst at the same time. The worst was because I knew it was the last. I was having the time of my life with good people, with great attitude and a good environment. I knew after today it was back to the daily grind.
I tried to forget about that and focus on the task at hand: It was time to do some full road course laps at speed!
The best part was Johnny O hopping in the driver's seat of the Z06 and taking me for a hot lap around the track a few times. Holy cow, what an amazing experience that was, one that I will never forget! He taught us more tricks about taking the turns and also taught us how to properly use the heel-and-toe downshifting technique.
Then it was my turn to take the Z06 out on the track. This was some of the best times I had ever had in a car – to be able to put these machines through the paces in a safe and controlled environment is just awesome!
At the end of the day Johnny gave us a nice little surprise. We walked around the corner to get back into our Z06s and there were some shiny new ZR1s in their spot. He said, “Hop in and lets do some lead-follow around the track.” That was music to our ears! We were comfortable in the Z06s so this wasn't as intimidating as it would have been on the first day. The power of the ZR1 is truly remarkable! Not to mention the handling around the corners. Truly a great piece of engineering from GM!
The Bondurant School of High Performance Driving was truly one of the best experiences I have ever had. I learned thing I can take with me to any track, and learned so much about simple everyday driving. This was a venture that I will never ever forget! Thanks to Bob Bondurant for creating such an amazing school and experience!
Full disclosure: Randy Wilson and Richard James were given a full scholarship to the Johnny O'Connell Premiere Three-Day High Performance Driving Course at the Bondurant School in order to complete this feature, including hotel and travel expenses.