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Life... ya gotta be doin' something...

 

Formula Ford School

at Russell Racing, Sears Point California

 

When I went to watch the SCCA National sports car races at Mid-Ohio during the first week of June 1996, I got a bad case of racing envy. It really looked like fun. My old college roommate and longtime friend Bob Chapman was racing his Spec Racer Ford at Mid-Ohio sports car track and I got the racing bug.

My interest in cars is not new. Ever since my Dad's service station sponsored a stock car back in the 1950's I have had a love affair with cars and speed. Back  in the 1970's I had an SCCA B Production GT-350 with a Boss 302 engine that was ready to race, but I just couldn't finacially keep up with the SCCA rule changes, so I stuck to solo and autocross events around San Diego.

With my interest in racing renewed, I enrolled in the Russell Racing School at Sears Point raceway, north of San Francisco. I spent 3 days there driving a Formula Ford open-wheel racecar in July 1996.
track layoutSears Point raceway... 2.5 miles... Formula Ford avg speed about 91 mph

Wow! I really enjoyed Russell Racing's Techniques of Racing Course. Great fun. This was an introductory course into the techniques of race driving. Three days driving Formula Ford racecars. The cars weigh about 900 pounds and have about 100 horsepower. They are not super fast, but they are more that enough for a beginner to handle.
cars on gridFourteen Formula Fords waiting for class to begin.

Day One: We started off with a class meeting to learn about the cars and the idea of heel-and-toe control of brakes and throttle. Then we got into our cars, had the mechanics make adjustments to help us customize the fit of our cars, such as pedal location, seat location and seat padding.

 

Then they set up some road marking cones on the racetrack and we practiced braking and downshifting exercises. After lunch we practiced some maximum braking exercises to get a feel for just how quickly the cars could stop. Then back to the heel-and-toe braking and downshifting exercises.

The first day ended with a class meeting to discuss vehicle dynamics and weight transfer using slides and sketches.
My Formula Ford, for three days.

Day Two: Into the cars first thing in the morning. We started working on specific sections of the race course. They would first drive us around in passenger cars (Mitsubishi Monteros actually) to discuss the part of the course that we were to work on. Then we would get into our Formula Fords and they would lead us around that part of the track several times. After that, we would work on that section on our own.

After every 10 laps or so, the instructor would call us in to discuss what each student was doing wrong. Each instructor had only 4 or 5 students. There were a total of 14 students going through the course together.

By early afternoon, we were lapping the entire 2.5 mile racetrack. They used RPM limiters to keep us from going too fast, so the emphasis was always on technique.
Another view of the Formula Ford I used in the classes.

Day Three: After a quick flag test to make certain that everyone knew the meanings of the race safety flags, we were in our cars and lapping the entire track. Again, about every 10 laps, they would bring us in to have our instructors tell us what we were doing wrong. My instructor, Rick McCormick, was really great. He caught me doing all sorts of things wrong and helped to correct them.

By mid-afternoon we were all having a ball trying to find the limits of the Formula Fords. They had increased our speed to a bit over 100 mph which doesn't seem too fast until you stay at that speed around a curve. All fourteen students were on the track at the same time, so we worked on passing skills also.

As a special treat, and a bit of an inducement to come back for more training, they turned the class loose in Formula Mazda cars for 6 or 8 laps. Whoa! These things are really fast. They had the rpm limiters set just under 5000 rpm to keep us from getting too crazy. These cars can do a quarter mile dragstrip run in 11 seconds at about 115 mph. They can stop from 60 mph in under 80 feet. Lateral acceleration is over 2 g's. Car weight is about 1150 pounds with 170 horsepower... roughly equivalent to 500 horsepower in 3000 pound car. Pretty exciting.  So, you might wonder... what's next? Hmmmm, that's what I'm wondering too.