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Old 01-21-2009, 08:41 AM   #1
Thank you Bimmerfest for my amazing day of driving!!!
swole
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posted by swole

I would like to start by thanking everyone at Bimmerfest who allowed me the opportunity to attend BMWs driving course. I am a member of few forums and I have never witnessed a forum taking care of its members the way Bimmerfest does. It's the way they take care of their constituents that makes Bimmerfest one of the best forums on the internet, period.

Some may remember the "Day of Driving" contest that took place nearly a year ago. Well, as luck would have it, I won! Believe me when I say that I was just as surprised as anyone to be named the winner. Winning anything - ever, much less of this magnitude, is completely contrary to the luck I am accustomed to having. Needless to say it was a welcomed change.

I would like to apologize for the long delay in writing about the time I spent at the Performance Delivery Center. So many things have happened since being named the winner - including the birth of our daughter, Teagan Paige, a trip to the UK and a separate trip to Moscow – all of which added to the difficulty of fitting the school into our schedule. Finally on a perfect weekend in September the gods smiled on me and I was able to head down for what was sure to be one of the best weekends of driving in my life.

The contest was for one day's worth of tuition for BMW's driving school at their track in Spartanburg, SC. I actually opted to extended the class to the two-day school, as the delta between the two was minimal once the first day had been paid for. To add to the experience I talked my mom into attending the course with me, (turns out we were the first mother-son pair they could remember). So the parents flew in to Raleigh from California and we packed up the 5er and headed down towards SC.

The first day started at 8:00 am in the cafeteria on the track side of the PDC. After the instructors introduced themselves they divided all the participants into two groups: those taking the teen driving course and those taking the regular driving course. The participants taking the regular driving school were then moved into what the instructors called the "fish bowl," which is essentially a glass encased room where all of the classroom theory and driver debriefing takes place throughout the course.

Once we were seated and comfortable in the fish bowl the instructors again introduced themselves and went into detail about their respective driving/racing/instructing careers. Every instructor at the school had raced in some form of professional motorsports at one point in their lives. Some of them still actively compete on the professional SCCA level for their weekend gigs. What a life! Regardless of their racing backgrounds it was clear that they all loved driving and they all did a fantastic job of making everyone feel comfortable and at home.

The first hour and a half in the fish bowl was spent going over the theory of weight transfer, tire patch adhesion, wet vs. dry lines, etc. At this point I was starting to get a little concerned that there would be too much classroom work and not enough practical track work to put what we were learning to good use. Man, oh man, was I wrong! The next thing I knew the instructor said "All right gang, off to the cars!" I was so stoked. Everyone was paired up, of course I was with my mom, and we followed the instructors out to the paddock like children running after the ice cream man. As we were walking out to the cars I wondered whether the instructors were going to let us drive them as they were meant to be driven. My doubting proved to be premature because the instructor then said "Drive 'em like you stole 'em." This is going to be awesome! He then continued with "All we ask is that you don't drive them like you rented them." That was a fair enough request, I guess.

Each couple was handed a radio on the way out to the paddock and we were directed towards two long lines of cars. One line was made up of 335s while the other of 550s. It turns out that when there is a teen driving course running in congruence with a regular driving course there are not enough 335s to go around. As a result the 550s are brought out to make up the difference for required cars. What crappy luck….

Our class was divided into two groups, each comprised of six cars, with 3 instructors per group. We spent the first hour and a half driving the 335s while doing some general autocrossing drills that were designed to help us learn how the car accelerates, handles and brakes. The instructors took no issue with some of us getting a little too aggressive as we learned the car's limits. That is, after all, what DSC is for, right?

The way they have the courses set up is brilliant. Much better than any other autocrossing I have ever experienced. I don't mean the lay out of the course as much as I mean the way they staged us. As I said there were six cars per group and with each course being so long by the time you returned from your lap it was your turn to go again. So there were between 4-5 cars on the course at any one time. The instructors were staged at various points throughout the course and would verbally critique our performance via handsets we kept in the car. The entire time we were driving they would tell us where to look next, when to get on the gas, when to get on the brake, etc. It was all very helpful instruction and without knowing it we were all learning how a professional driver thinks as he makes himself more familiar with and adjusts to an unknown course.

After a quick bathroom break and some technical debriefing based on our performance on the autocross course, we headed back out to the paddock for round two. This time we were directed to the 550s. Once we were all buckled in and had radio comms with our instructors we headed to a track that sits just outside of visual range from anything you can see from the PDC. There they had a rather lengthy course laid out with many sets of four different colored cones each denoting a breaking point, a turn in point, an apex and an exit aiming point. Again the instructors posted themselves at critical points throughout the track from which they could critique our driving. As each person in our six car group set off, it quickly became apparent that this track was much more technical and a lot faster than the autocross course we had previously been on. The cones did a great job of reminding me of both the turn in point and the exit aiming point. Both, I feel, are overlooked when I first drive on courses that I don't know well and it's amazing how much more smooth, and as a result faster I can be around a track when I pay extra attention to those specific points. I guess that meant the instruction was working?

After about eighty minutes and who knows how many laps around that course we headed back to the fish bowl for some more instruction. Again, the entire time we were on the track we were given verbal feedback as to what we could have done differently to better navigate the course. The instructors really do a great job of keeping it funny when correcting you. I never felt that they are being too harsh, even if they did have to repeat themselves multiple times about my late braking!

We then broke for an hour or so for lunch. The food was fantastic. Each day lunch was catered and I could not find anything to complain about if I tried.

After lunch we headed out to the wet skid pad in the 550s. The wet skid pad is a circular piece of concrete (with varying coefficients of friction) with a diameter of approximately 400 feet that is covered with water from a sprinkler system. We were told the purpose of the drill was to learn how the cars behave in understeer and oversteer conditions. Specifically, how lack of front end grip negatively affects the car's ability to turn, or plow, based on the weight over the front wheels or the relative speed of the car. Conversely, oversteer could be achieved and taught by manipulating the handbrake and locking up the rear wheels thereby forcing the driver to rely solely on the steering wheel alone to bring the car back to its intended direction. Or, in some cases, oversteer could occur should the student have enough moxie to romp on that V-8. I did. As we were driving around the skid pad at an increasing speed we would eventually lose traction on the front wheels - understeer. The driver would then have two choices to make; they could either crank the wheel over more (resulting in a total loss of directional control) or they could slow the car down thereby shifting the weight of the car towards the front wheels (increasing the contact patch of the front tires) which would increase traction to the point at which they could again control the car's direction. For the next drill we would drive at a controlled speed and the instructor would randomly pull the hand break to induce an oversteer condition. The goal then became to use the wheel, and not the brakes, to set the car on the intended path. The interesting thing I found in this drill is that it is of paramount importance to look where you want the car to go and not where you are actually going. This proved to be difficult at first seeing as how we were essentially sliding around sideways and backwards in a 4,000 lb car – you want to know what you are about to run into. But once I really grasped the key to keeping my eyes fixed on where I wanted to go, I started to get really comfortable with drifting around the course. Too bad drifting technique wasn't the intended lesson. More on that later….

After another break we went back to the wet portion of the course and played a game called the rat race. It takes place on an oval track that also has sprinklers constantly watering it down. The game is played like this: they position two drivers at opposite ends of the track. Once the go signal is given, each driver has to try and catch the other driver within a specified number of laps without the use of DSC. The object of the drill is to teach car control on exceptionally slick surfaces. Of course, I view a wet track and a 550i sans DSC as a perfect opportunity to legally practice my drifting technique. Childish, to be sure, but so much fun with that big V-8 lump up front. Needless to say I never caught anybody. But I did get a few comments on my sideways car control! Seriously, I just could not waste the opportunity to try that.

The day continued with similar exercises until about 4:30 when we were all brought back into the fish bowl and debriefed on the day's events. As it turns out I had the quickest time around the dry track. I was pretty excited by that fact and I was sure they would offer me a job as an instructor by the end of the day. That didn't turn out to be the case, unfortunately. One can dream, right? Once we got back to the hotel it hit me that I was absolutely exhausted. My neck was sore, my shoulders were sore, my eyes were strained and my brain was just hurting. I have driven on plenty of tracks on the past, including a good amount of lengthy laps at the Nurburgring, but I have never been so tired after a day of driving as I was that day. It was awesome!

Day two kicked off at 8:00 am. We went out to the 335s and continued to run wet and dry autocross drills. We also did a good amount of weight transfer drills with panic stopping at speeds up to 70 mph. Did you know that it takes 175 pounds of force to activate ABS? We also did some more drills with DSC turned off so we could see how effective it could be at reigning in a reckless driver should they overstep their driving ability.

One standout drill that took place on the second day happened on the wet circular skid pad. The instructor I was driving with was a great guy, probably about my age – 30. He got in the car with me and said "I hear you were really breaking the back end lose in the rat race yesterday. I replied with "Yeah, it was hard to keep it in line….with all the power and all." Then he looked at me and said "Do you think you can make it all the way around this track?" I'm like "Sideways?" And he said, "Let's give it a shot. But don't tell anybody I let you do this." Roger that! It was a chance I couldn't pass up. After a few warm up laps to get used to the surface changes of the track I gave the 550 some gas and the rear end easily slid out from underneath us. With him reminding me to look where I wanted to go, which was exactly to the opposite side of the circular track, we made it around the entire thing sideways after only a few tries. I would estimate that the entire trip around the circular track took about 30 seconds. Half of the time the engine was just bouncing off the rev limiter like crazy and no one seemed to care. It was just sick!

The highlight of the entire weekend had to have been when they took us to yet another, longer track not visible form the PDC. Once there, we were each given the chance to drive an X5, a Z4 and an M6 for a few hot laps around the circuit. By far, it was the most challenging course we had driven thus far with long straight shots, tight turns and intense elevation changes. It was great to drive each car back-to-back and really get a feel for the differences in how they behaved on such a demanding course. Did you know the X5's center of gravity is only one inch higher than that of the 550's? It felt great on a track. My mom actually has the exact same X5 (4.8l) and I never knew how capable the thing was until I got it on a track and really tried to roll the thing over!

After two days of intense driving we said goodbye to all of the friends we made in class and headed back up to the Raleigh area. As we loaded up the car I was so happy it was my 540 M-sport I was driving home.

Well, for the sake of everyone who has to read this book I think I should bring it to a close relatively soon. I mean, what more can I say? I do realize this hasn't been the most pithy or to-the-point account of someone's weekend but I wanted to give everyone a good idea of what it's like to attend such an amazing school. And I hope everyone enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed retelling it. To sum it up: it was an absolutely amazing experience and I am so thankful for the guys at Bimmerfest that gave us members an opportunity to take part in this contest. Bimmerfest is by far the biggest wealth of information on the Internet when it comes to BMWs and they engender only the most courteous and professional atmosphere for us Bimmerphiles. It's obvious they care about their members, their sponsors and our driving passion. They are truly a class act with no equal. Thank you.

-Tom

P.S. I have some more pictures I wanted to share with everyone. How can I go about posting all of them in this thread?

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Last edited by swole; 01-30-2009 at 12:48 PM..
This article has been viewed 4181 times.
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  #2  
Old 01-21-2009, 11:40 AM
New Motors New Motors is offline
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Great write up! Have been there a couple of times and I feel your excitement in your words.
Has Mom picked up a speeding ticket yet?
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Old 01-24-2009, 06:56 PM
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Great write-up. I've been thinking about signing up for this course for 4 years and just enrolled for this spring!
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Old 01-25-2009, 10:51 AM
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Excellent write-up Tom! Thanks for your support...

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Old 01-25-2009, 03:26 PM
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e36m34life e36m34life is offline
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I can't imagine how much fun this must have been. How much does this cost?
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Old 01-28-2009, 10:35 AM
CliffJumper CliffJumper is offline
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Wow, your write-up is SO much better than the description BMWUSA.com has. It has such bland, generic phrases like "teach car control" and "maximize safety" that I was questioning how fun it could be. Now I can't wait!
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Old 01-30-2009, 08:26 AM
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DSXMachina DSXMachina is offline
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Originally Posted by CliffJumper View Post
Wow, your write-up is SO much better than the description BMWUSA.com has. It has such bland, generic phrases like "teach car control" and "maximize safety" that I was questioning how fun it could be. Now I can't wait!
Reading BMW's course description-moderately priced.
Reading Swole's course description-Priceless!
The reason you weren't offered an instructor's job is because they want you in the Marketing Dep't.
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  #8  
Old 02-27-2009, 12:58 AM
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ky2970 ky2970 is offline
Oorah!
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Sounds like you had a lotta fun! You sure did type a lot!
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Old 06-13-2009, 03:25 PM
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groundeffect groundeffect is offline
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I see you are from 'Apex'. Is that really a town, or is it the place you visit the most driving the twisties?
Great write-up!
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Old 06-13-2009, 05:21 PM
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dalekressin dalekressin is offline
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I enjoyed reading this and wondered how I would drive. Fun time and highly memorable. Thanks.
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:34 AM
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very cool.

When I got my 08 650i, BMW offered the class to both my wife and I for free. I registered and never heard back........now it's too late because it's been over a year.

oh well.
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Old 06-29-2009, 02:24 PM
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Awesome post! You are a wonderful author. It's not too often that I have the patience to read such a long thread however yours proved to be the exception to my rule. Your literary skills are second to none!

You are very right about the quality of people here on the 'Fest. I owe my new life to 45 members here who, unbeknown to me at the time, facilitated me moving from KS to CA and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about those people and say a silent "thank you" to them.
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Old 06-29-2009, 10:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Jever View Post
Awesome post! You are a wonderful author. It's not too often that I have the patience to read such a long thread however yours proved to be the exception to my rule. Your literary skills are second to none!

You are very right about the quality of people here on the 'Fest. I owe my new life to 45 members here who, unbeknown to me at the time, facilitated me moving from KS to CA and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about those people and say a silent "thank you" to them.
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