Put The Pedal To The Metal

If you're a speed freak (the lead-footed, not the pill-popping kind) looking for a fix, head on over to the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School in Sonoma, California. It's one of at least a dozen driving schools around the United States that can turn you into a veritable Mario Andretti. After shimmying into flame-retardant jumpsuits and full-face helmets, drivers climb into their vehicles: low-slung, open-wheeled 150-horsepower formula race cars with wings. Instructors teach the heel-toe downshift, where the right foot straddles the brake and gas pedal simultaneously, allowing the driver to brake and rev the engine at the same time in order to change gears. Circling the curvy 2.5-mile track, drivers test how late they can brake into a corner and still not go into it too "hot," as they say. They also practice hitting the "apex," or sweet spot, of a corner in order to zoom out of the curve fast. Speed on the straightaways reaches 110mph--and no police officer in sight.

Driving fast isn't cheap: the program runs $2,995. (For an extra $600, you can get three posh nights at the nearby MacArthur Place hotel, complete with spa treatments: taking G forces around tight corners makes you tense muscles you never knew you had.) With a 3-to-1 teacher-student ratio, at least you get a lot of personal attention for the money. Despite the obvious hazards, students are in little peril. Sure, there are accidents. But no one's ever been seriously injured--just the occasional broken bone--in the school's 45-year history. Instructors are stationed around the track, ready to pull over anyone not driving responsibly. During one recent session, a driver was sidelined after cutting off a few cars. So if you decide to get behind the wheel, watch out. And don't forget your helmet.

Put The Pedal To The Metal | News
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