Ever since my first experiences with autocross I knew I wanted to get more involved with motorsports and some day try road racing. This summer I made the leap and decided to take action on that goal.
I went to the SCCA website and found the next upcoming Performance Driving Experience (PDX) event and registered. The PDX is the very first introductory level event for road racing. It was my opportunity to get out on a road course with my daily driver (1999 Acura Integra GS-R) which I had autocrossed so many years back.
I found a wealth of information online both at the SCCA website but also at this site called Go Ahead – Take the Wheel. They break down how to get started road racing, the various types of events, what to bring, how to prepare, what to expect, etc. It’s an truly excellent resource that I not only recommend but will continue to reference throughout my journey.
This PDX event was held at Bremerton Motorsports Park here in Washington which is about an hour and a half from where I live. I had to get up pretty early on a Saturday morning to get there by 8:00 am with enough fuel in the car to make it through the day. You burn up fuel much faster when racing than you do driving normally so it’s good to fill up before getting to the track.
The morning started with a tech inspection of the car and getting a loaner helmet from the club. So far this was the same as it is in autocross so it felt immediately comfortable. We then went on a track walk with the lead instructor, David Jackson. Again, this was similar to autocross but now we were on a much bigger track. Interestingly, I think Bremerton is the ideal track for a first time road course experience for someone like me having previous autocross experience.
Bremerton is a track on an airfield and the course is defined by cones and larger pylons just like an autocross track. The difference is there were much fewer cones, not as many turns, and a very long straightaway allowing for much faster speeds. Also, there were concrete walls in the middle of the course so I was certainly keenly aware that spinning out in the wrong place would not be the same as in autocross where there is usually nothing but cones to hit. David had some great stories to tell from his many years of racing experience and he did a great job of dispensing advice.
After the track walk we went into the classroom session with the PDX group where David started going over a presentation. We then went to perform some exercises near the paddock area. They set up a coned slalom course, again very familiar from autocross. This was a two part exercise, the slalom followed by threshold braking section to stop in between two cones. Threshold breaking is braking has hard as you can at the right time to have the car stop exactly where indicated. It was fun to hear the ABS come on at the end of each run, I don’t normally get to feel that in my car. It took a couple of tries to get the car stopping at marked location as I found I was braking too early.
From there it was back to a classroom session where we talked about flags and their meanings. It’s important to know where the flag workers are located throughout the track as you’ll have to watch for flags during the race. This was all prep to go onto the track which we did next. We each had instructors drive our cars for two laps to show us the racing line and for us to find the corner workers. Then we switched and drove the rest of the session with instructors riding with us. This is where it really gets exciting!
The first few laps were getting acquainted with the track layout, which was not that hard at Bremerton. Listening to feedback from my Instructor Harley Johnson was very helpful and I learned I could take turns 3 and 4 (see track map) in a higher gear (3rd instead of 2nd in my car) and was able to carry more speed through those corners.
Throughout the day I continued working on threshold breaking after the 100 mph straight on the track. The fun part for me was not so much going 100 mph but the change in speed threshold breaking from 100 mph down to make a tight left turn at the end of the straight into turn 1. I was still breaking a bit early and each lap I continued to brake a little later as I got closer to the turn in point. Then I had my first off track excursion when I experienced brake fade, braking a bit too late and essentially missing the turn altogether. Harley saw I was going to miss it and just motioned me to continue going straight as there was a runoff road at the end of that turn. That was totally unexpected and I wasn’t sure what to do for a moment so that mistake was a great learning experience. I went off track to a safe distance from the turn in case other cars missed it as well. I then turned the car around and waited for the nearby corner worker to wave us back onto the track (this had caused a local yellow flag).
That was the last lap of the morning run and upon returning to the paddock I was signaled to stop by the lead instructor. He wanted to “have a word” and asked me what happened. I explained I hit the brakes late and experienced fade. He said I did the right thing (of course, I had help from my instructor Harley riding in the car with me) but that was a great learning experience. I don’t plan on going off track much but now I know what to do in that situation, always focused on safety.
Later in the day it suddenly started pouring rain. We are in Washington state after all, go figure. This made things even more interesting as puddles quickly turned the track into a mess for the other prepared cars with race tires (very little or no tread). We waited out the rain a bit and David went out with safety workers to inspect the track. When he saw it had dried enough he sent our PDX group out first since we were on street tires. That would help clear the track of standing water for the rest of the field.
This was actually a blast. I got to feel the car slide around a bit but I felt I could control very precisely where I put the car just by holding the wheel steady and using the throttle (called throttle steering). This is much easier to do in the wet because you can experience it at slower speeds.
I got my share of blue flags (faster cars coming up behind) and practiced point by’s (sticking your hand out of the window and pointing another car by so they can safely pass). The format of the event is strictly about learning and not racing other cars so there was no pressure there and could just focus on being a safe driver and learning the track.
Another flag I experienced was a red flag, meaning come to a complete stop off the side of the track near the flag station. It turned out a deer came out of the woods and ran onto the track so they had to stop the whole field to ensure nobody hit the deer or got their car hit by the deer. I’m told you don’t normally get a red flag on course unless something really bad happend so this was a good one to experience without someone being hurt or cars being damaged.
Overall this PDX was a great experience and definitely got me ready for the next time I could get on a race track.