Russ won an essay contest held among the 14,000 customers of Mini Mania nationally. He answered the question “Why should I win a free track day and drive in the Mini Mania Minis?” He obviously is a winner in more than one way!”
My HOOKED ON DRIVING experience courtesy of MiniMania, December 11, 2010.
By Russ Hansen
Did I have fun? You Bet!
Since the event I have found myself continually reflecting on the experience. I find myself reviewing in my mind’s eye the turns I did well, and the turns I didn’t do well. I have driven over a million miles for my consultant dietitian business, but none of those miles compare to the Hooked on Driving experience.
Before I go on, a BIG THANKS to Don Racine and MiniMania, for sponsoring the event attendance and providing the vehicles to drive!
There were several firsts for me. First time to Northern California. First time driving at this level. First time driving a classic set up for racing. First time for skill driving education. First time to learn what the flags mean on a race track. First time to learn about the hand signals that are used by the drivers, at a track like Thunderhill. First time to meet Don Racine, his son Dennis, his daughter Julie, and son-in-law John, all who are driving enthusiasts (what great people they are!). And there were probably a few other firsts that don’t come to mind as I write this. It was a great day.
It was a full day. It was dark when I arrived, and it was starting to get dark when I left the track area at the end of the day.
Hooked on Driving is a fantastic event. The event was well designed and achieved the objectives of improving driving safety, focus, confidence, control, and reaction skills. Ultimately HOD drivers are safer on the public highways. The Hook on Driving event is held at various tracks all over the USA. The track I attended, is in Northern California, and is called Thunderhill Raceway Park (www.thunderhill.com), near Willows, California. This was not an auto cross event. For example, the straight-aways hit speeds of 70, 80, and 90+ with one long straight that included negotiating bends at speed. Having said this, I quote the Driver’s Logbook which says HOD activities are not competitions or timed events in any way. The goal of the program is to teach drivers in a controlled environment to drive their cars better and enjoy them at a level that would just not be appropriate on the street.
When Don first asked what I would prefer to drive, a classic or a MINI, I said “a classic”. I’m still glad I did, but that choice was not without challenges. The first challenge was getting the car to move without burning the clutch. Even the simple process of engaging the car into first gear was a learning experience for me. For this classic with a dedicated racing setup, the tach speed of 4000 rpm or more was needed to get the vehicle rolling and to keep it running. Honestly, I never became real proficient at getting the engine speed and clutch engagement coordinated well for the highly geared machine, but it was fun trying. The other issue was that my helmet blocked the view out of the panorama rear view mirror mounted inside the car. I found I was unintentionally holding up faster traffic, as I was learning how to drive the racing classic thru the 15 turns on the track. During the sessions, sometimes I would take a turn near perfect (“the line”) and at other times it seemed like I had never even seen the turn before. On the track, concentration is key, which includes being aware of others on the track. I found being aware of others on the track was particularly challenging for me. It just didn’t come automatic for me, and more track time practice is obviously what one would need for all skills to be honed.
Additionally, the classic vehicle engine was so loud, we learned that it was not really feasible to talk about my technique, in the car, while driving. So, in car communication, except for some pre-designated hand signals and pointing, was essentially impossible. The instruction, therefore, had to wait until each driving session was over.
The day consisted of driving four sessions and three classroom sessions that reviewed the driving experiences. In addition to the lessons the head coach, D.W., was imparting, and what Don and Dennis were instructing me about, I also had to learn to trust the car. D.W. emphasized that the Hooked On Driving day was to learn how to drive better, safer, wiser; and it was not to become a race car driver on this first day. As the day progressed, racing techniques were imparted, but only to achieve those primary objectives. For me that was an ideal philosophical and practical approach.
After the first three sessions in the classic bumble bee yellow #61, a CV joint problem occurred. As a result, this meant that the final session of the day was run in a MINI Cooper S. The handling difference was amazing. I found that I had fun driving the MINI Cooper S too. By the way, the “S” really had some punch compared to the Standard MINI my wife and I drive.
I learned a lot. I learned that driving at this skill level and above has a language of it’s own. Much of the day was hearing a term or phrase, forgetting it, and hearing it again, and then remembering it, usually. Lots of new things. I was in A group, along with about 15 others; more advanced drivers were in B, C or D groups. Everyone in A group had a coach that rides along with the driver. Don and Dennis were my coaches. I also road along with Don in the MINI Cooper S during a Coaches session (the Coaches get to play in their cars, in between the participant sessions). It became obvious that Don drives at a racing skill level. I learned during the day, that he has raced for years.
Since the event, I’ve already found in my daily driving, more fun and more confidence as a result of the event participation. Yet I know, also, not to be over confident. Recently for example, I drove 190 miles, with about half of them on snow pack /icy roads. The dangerous stretches were negotiated with a little more confidence because I felt like my safety judgment has improved. Something simple like braking on the straight, before the turn is started, isn’t always obvious unless you’ve had some training like that at Hook on Driving.
This trip was unfortunately short, as a business trip / vacation just a month prior meant that this trip just couldn’t be extended. In fact, while on that business trip, I got the call from Don saying I had been selected for the event. I’ve gotta go back some day. And I’d recommend the Hook on Driving experience to anyone.