Driving Schools – Fall 2016: NASCAR Comes to Town and We End the Year with a Great Shenandoah Event
by NJ BMW CCA
By Jeff White
If you happened to read my submission in the last Bulletin or read the email blasts from the Chapter announcing September events, you know that the NJ Chapter participated in a unique driving event on Sep. 16-17. We were the support racing series for the NASCAR K&N race at NJMP Thunderbolt and we held a driver school for advanced solo drivers at the same event. The event was a huge success with every driver remarking how much fun and how relaxed the atmosphere was despite the large spectator turnout.
We started Friday morning with a 3 hour unstructured driver school for advanced solo students and instructors. With a lighter than expected turnout, everyone had plenty of open track to hone their skills and experiment with new driving lines. The unstructured format allowed participants time to discuss technique among other students and instructors in the paddock and then return to the track to put suggestions to the test. In the afternoon sessions, Club Racers had the track for warm-up, qualifying and then the first sprint race. In that race, Will Vanjonack sprinted to the lead and then ran away from everyone and eventually lapped the field! Lou D’Angelli and newcomer Eric Magnussen filled out the podium.
Interspersed between the club racing sessions, the K&N drivers took their practice sessions. The tremendous talent of these young racers (the drivers ranged in age from 16 – 23), none of whom had ever driven Thunderbolt before, was rapidly apparent. During the afternoon sessions each team would go out, run a series of laps and then return to their garage for further suspension tuning. The cars were clearly a handful to drive as the drivers worked to learn braking and turn in points while also managing how the cars turned in vs. oversteered. As a measure of how quickly they improved, their initial laps began about 1:35 per lap and by the end of the afternoon, the fastest drivers had shaved 10 seconds off that lap time and were turning laps at or better than Will Vanjonack’s fastest lap!
Saturday morning started with the driver school participants taking to the track for an initial hour of time and then they gave way to racing for the remainder of the day. Once again club racers alternated time with K&N racers. In the morning sprint race Will Vanjonack again was the overall winner but he had some closer competition from Mark Lounsbury and Jeff Bruce finishing second and third. In the afternoon feature race, Will made it a clean sweep followed by Jeff Bruce and Eric Magnussen. This simple report of the race results does not provide an adequate description of the day’s activities. During the course of Saturday we had several club members join us in the car corral area as spectators. The general attendance throughout the day grew steadily. NJMP arranged for BMX cyclists to put on a stunt show, monster truck rides for kids and a BBQ buffet with the purchase of a VIP ticket. Spectators walked thoughout the paddock and club racers were happy to oblige and allow parents and kids to take photos and have the kids sit in their race cars. There is nothing better than the joy of a young race fan getting a chance to see a “real race car” up close. Race fans were also enthusiastic and careful observers of our races – proving once again that a true fan just likes good racing regardless of who is driving. Special thanks to Tony Salloum and VAC Motorsports for providing event shirts and track-side support and to Retail Performance Company for sponsorship.
The day finished with a fan walk in pit lane with the K&N cars and drivers and then an exciting near two-hour race. An interesting aspect of the K&N series is that there are no pit stops. At the half-way point, there is a full course double yellow flag and all cars come into the pits to refuel. Cars exit the pits in race order behind the pace car and then the race resumes to the checkered flag. This was true road course racing with plenty of close passing and clean driving. Keep your eye on these young racers, we will see them soon in NASCAR weekends.
What started as a leap of faith to try something new (think of Indiana Jones stepping out onto the stone bridge in the Last Crusade) ended as a rousing success with every participant hoping we can repeat the event in 2017. Stay tuned!!
We closed out the 2016 driving season at our now traditional event on the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point Motorsports Park. This was the 11th year for us at Shenandoah (how time flies!). With each year, the word spreads that Shenandoah is truly a terrific driver’s track and the number of people who say that it is their favorite track grows. Saturday was rainy and so speeds were low and everyone learned car control both on the track and on the skid pad. On Sunday, the sun came out, the track dried out and everyone got to see what driving Shenandoah was really all about. I have said it before and I will say it again to anyone who will listen, Shenandoah will make you a better driver on any track you visit. The patience and attention to good technique that it demands translates to any venue. We also want to give a special thanks to our skid pad instructors (Yani Avrahami, Rod Hahn and Mike Saul) and to classroom instructor Gerry Chan who, quite literally, went the extra mile and gave track walks on both Saturday and Sunday. If you really want to learn how to read a track, you must take one of Gerry’s walks.
Let me close out this year by once again thanking all of the people who make our driver schools and club races a success: Jamie Kavalieros as Registrar and keeper of the helmets, Barry Stevens as Chief Instructor and all our corps of instructors, Warren Brown as Chief of Tech and our Tech workers who come out in the dark of night and the dawn of early morning, rain or shine to keep everyone safe, Doug Feigel, Mark Mallory and Ron Gemeinhardt as pit out workers and Ross Karlin as our Club Racing Chair. None of our events would be possible without the hard work and dedication of all our volunteers. As I write this, we are in the final stages of setting our 2017 track dates with NJMP and Summit Point. Expect a full announcement in the Winter Bulletin and on the chapter website.
One final reminder, if you are looking for a holiday gift idea, remember that Snell 2005 helmets will no longer be accepted next season.
Have a great off-season and we’ll see you at the track next April.