Driving Schools – Spring 2017: Bridgestone, DelVal and NJ team up to start the season


By Jeff White

The 2017 driving season began with a very special 4-part, 3-day event at NJMP Thunderbolt on the weekend of Mar 31 – April 2. In an effort to both increase participation and reduce financial risk for everyone, we teamed up with our friends in the DelVal Chapter to make this a joint event. We then received a welcome email from the national office informing us that our event had been selected to be part of the Bridgestone BMW CCA 2017 HPDE Tour! More on that later.

So, what made this event so special? Well, last fall some deranged person decided it would be a great idea to start the season with the most logistically difficult event we’ve run since O’fest: 1) our annual Instructor Training School, 2) a new category of Advanced Solo students (aka Group S), 3) a standard driver school and 4) the return of our Introduction to the Track group. In the best of all possible situations this event would require smooth, incident-free running for three days so just to add a further level of uncertainty, it was being held at the time of year when the weather is the least predictable. Tell me again whose idea this was…

Think back to the weather we had in March. The month started with temps in the 70’s (break out the mojitos!) was back to the 20’s-30’s by mid-month and then back up to 60 the week before the event. We had no idea what to expect. The plan for Friday was that the new Advanced Solo group would have the track for 6 hours with 4 sessions of the Instructor Training School taking the remaining 2 hours. The Advanced Solo group is relatively new to BMW CCA events. It was conceived of by Genesee Valley and has been implemented by GVC, Patroon and Boston Chapters. This group is for students who have been signed off as solo drivers on several driver schools. GVC recognized that there was a population of students who did not want to, or weren’t ready to commit to, become instructors or club racers but did want something more from driver schools than the typical advanced run group provides. Running in this group is by invitation only and requires the student to have been signed off solo on multiple occasions, have very good situational awareness and be courteous. Instructors also run in this group so closing speeds can be fast and passing in corners is both allowed and expected as a way to keep the group running smoothly. Students in this group have the benefit of a group of Mentors who are available to go out with the student and provide input on refinements the student can work on. There are also classroom debriefing sessions in which students meet to discuss what they are working on and provide observations on how each other is doing. We are grateful that David Gelardi and Al Dimisko came down from Patroon chapter to help us get this program off the ground and instill in the students the mindset that each time you go out on track you should have a specific goal to work on and have a way to measure your progress against that goal. With 6 hours of track time scheduled, this should have been a driver’s dream.

Not Your Typical Garage. Photo by Thomas Lawrowski

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. Friday started off cold and rainy. The 12 ITS candidates and mentors got to meet each other and then the candidates began their classroom instruction. The Advanced Solo students and instructors who actually showed up took the track with appropriate caution. By mid-morning, the rain had lifted, the ITS candidates had their first on-track session and we had hopes for usable day. Those hopes were dashed all too soon as the rain and wind returned and became progressively worse during the day. By late afternoon, the conditions had deteriorated to the point where all the corners were filled with water, there was water running across the track in several places and drivers were literally navigating just to stay on the track. Meaningful learning had stopped and the ITS groups were not able to conduct the exercises they needed to for the school to progress. We had no choice but to end the day early – Saturday’s schedule now had to be revised and the weekend was looking to be a scramble.

We awoke on Saturday to cold temperatures and gray skies but the rain was receding and hopes were rising. All the student run groups were full, which speaks to the wisdom of holding this as a joint event and on the weekend, and we added something new for this year: the ITS candidates would be running in the advanced student groups as the candidates completed their incar exercises. Also of note, of the 28 students in the Beginner run group, over 20 were either new to the track or new to the NJ and DelVal Chapters. We were happy to have them. Fortunately, the weather improved all day, the run groups were incident free and we finished the day with a terrific banquet at the Officer’s Club.

Sunday was the final piece of our 4-part puzzle as we welcomed 20 students in our Introduction to the Track run group. The clouds parted, the sun came out, temperatures rose; this is what a driver school is all about. Four of our newly minted instructors were immediately put to work with a first-time student. The first timers had their own classroom sessions and run group and, this year, Victor Abdy from DelVal organized a lunch for the Intro students so we could gather in the classroom and become better friends. The regular driver school students ran smoothly and the advanced students were happy to have a small run group with the graduation of several instructor candidates. By the time the final checker was shown, we had finished a great weekend.

BMW CCA member Luis Geronimo with his instructor. Photo by Luis Geronimo

I want to again thank Bridgestone for their support. Chris Welty, an experienced racer and all-around great track day guy, along with his staff spent two days dispensing advice at their truck, talking with students in the classroom, handing out shirts and other goodies and providing tire mounting and balancing. They brought along a very “trick” device borrowed from their Indy car program that allowed you to determine the accuracy of your tire gauge – turns out my well-worn gauge is still pretty good. Chris also gave us some prizes to help raise donations for Westlake. Bridgestone’s cash contribution will greatly lessen the financial burden of this school and keeps us on sound footing for the season. We cannot say thank you enough for their sponsorship.

Let me return to the theme of the headline for this article: teamwork. Pulling off a three-day event with as many overlapping parts as this one required the efforts of a large number of volunteers. Scott Reiman, Mike Dion and Lisa Mellot coordinated efforts from DelVal. Blake Smith, Geoff Ehrman and Ross Karlin managed the ITS logistics (screening candidates, recruiting mentors, updating and printing materials, buying a new projector, etc.), Warren Brown, Dave Somma and their crew of Tech workers took care of Tech inspections on 4 different days, the aforementioned Dave Gelardi and Al Dimisko came down and helped us lay the foundation for the Advanced Solo group, Tom Fitzgerald handled classroom sessions for all the regular driver school students while Lou D’Angeli stepped up and took care of classroom for the Intro students, Jamie Kavalieros and Barry Stevens took care of a highly complex registration process (including garage rentals) and instructor-student assignments and finally our corps of instructors did whatever was asked of them to keep all the students on track while still learning. Please remember that these events don’t happen without a large and dedicated group of volunteers.

This was an event when we celebrated the “new”: 8 new instructors with 4 more on the horizon, a new student run group and 40+ new students. We look forward to seeing them all at future events. As a reminder, our next event is the June 19-20 charity driver school and club race at Lightning to benefit Westlake School. This is a premier event for Club Racing so we anticipate a full field; we will have the usual 3 student run groups and a Monday banquet. Come on down, enjoy a great time and let the kids bring a smile to your face.

And the winner is… Photo by Elizabeth Kramer

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