Last week I had the opportunity to meet the principals in the new ProControl Driving School at the Reno-Fernley Raceway road course. About 50 race-prepared and high-performance street cars, as well as 30 or so motorcycles were there for a free track day to introduce the school.
I spoke at length with Michael Dietel, head of ProControl, about the school and what it will offer to the motoring public. Dietel has been involved in racing for more than 30 years mostly with BMW. He started taking groups of American enthusiasts to drive at Germany's famed Nurburgring in 1974, and by 1976 had been made an instructor by the staff at the track.
He also has an extensive road-racing background with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the International Motorsports Association (IMSA), racing BMWs against top professional drivers. He has conducted high-performance driving schools for BMW at tracks all over the U.S., including Watkins Glen, Sebring, Road Atlanta, and others.
His partner in the ProControl venture is Erwin Nagl, who has extensive experience in European road racing, including the competitive German Touring Car series. I understand that one of the guest instructors for ProControl will be Davy Jones, who lives in Glenbrook and has a number of Indy 500 and Lemans 24 Hour starts as well as extensive road racing experience.
The initial thrust of the school is to put together driver training for teenage drivers, teaching them car control and accident avoidance. Dietel told me that he is appalled at the death and injury rate among young drivers, and is of the opinion that proper training in car control can reduce that toll. His course starts out with students getting a feel for the car, including braking exercises that include braking hard enough to activate the ABS.
"Most people have never felt the ABS, because they never need to hit the brakes that hard. When it happens in an emergency situation, they feel the pedal start vibrating and take their foot off the brake. The result is an accident," said Dietel. "I want them to feel the brake pedal tickle their feet so they know what it feels like and won't panic in an emergency braking situation."
The school will also offer adult instruction in high-performance driving and accident avoidance, and will hold seminars for car clubs such as the BMW club. Dietel also expects to have advanced road-racing classes on the curriculum as well.
After talking with Dietel and Nagl, as well as track Marketing Director Emily Franz (who was just in from hot-lapping her Audi TT), I was offered the passenger seat in Wes Abendroth's 1957 Sadler Mk2. Unfortunately, the passenger seat in this low, sleek vintage sports/racing car was apparently designed for Callista Flockheart or someone of her diminutive dimensions...definitely not for my 6 foot, 200-plus pound frame.
As a consolation (!) prize, I got to strap myself into the passenger seat of a De Tomaso Pantera for a few fast laps at the hands of owner/driver Larry Stock. In this Italian/American blend of performance chassis and 351 cubic inch Ford V8 power, 165 miles per hour comes up pretty quickly on Reno-Fernley's long front straight.
Unfortunately, my ride came to a premature end when the belt for the air conditioner drive disintegrated, filling the cockpit with rubber smoke and causing Stock to motor slowly around to the pits. Not only does the Pantera reach 165 mph and corner like it's on rails, but it's air-conditioned too! Or at least it will be once Stock replaces the belt and a bearing.
Switching gears, it's unfortunate that Champ Car star A.J. Allmendinger won't get his first Nextel Cup start today at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With qualifying rained out, Allmendinger didn't have any points to join in at the tail of the field.
One good thing about the rain is that all the Chase drivers will all start in the first five rows, since the field will be lined up according to points. There won't be any non-Chasers holding any of the contenders up, at least in the opening laps. And that situation will make an already tight points chase even tighter. I wonder how much Brian France paid that cloud-seeding pilot?