Since 1996, a core competency of our local BMW CCA chapter—the Kansas City BMW Club—has been high-performance driver education, or HPDEs, as they have come to be known. We held our first one 22 years ago when they were simply “driving schools.” (To some people, they still are.)
Just over a week ago, after a hiatus from the HPDE scene, I had the opportunity to reestablish a connection with our chapter’s driving schools—and more important, with the organizers, instructors, and students. It was a little like going back in time, but in doing so, I could clearly see the future of such events in our chapter.
This event was at the recently repaved Heartland Motorsports Park, formerly known as Heartland Park Topeka. Compared to 1996, the place had better pavement, better drainage, better facilities, the same huge paddock, a bunch of new garages, and a semi-air-conditioned timing-and-scoring room that doubled as a classroom. Adequate and exciting in the 1990s, Heartland has become a pretty good place for a driving school, now and into the future.
This particular HPDE is called the Flat-Out Classic, possibly a nod to the somewhat famous animated Internet driving-school video in which the student wants to be moved to the “fastest” run group so he can drive “flat-out” because he brought a Koenigsegg and a Porsche GT2, even though he can’t stay ahead of a stock Mazda Miata. If you haven’t seen it, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7iUKaPlBl8; it’s worth a look for anyone who has been to a driving school—it’s almost required viewing for instructors—and is the perfect video to demonstrate how not to act at a driving school.
For the record, at the Flat-Out Classic, we encourage students to drive within the limits of their car and their skills, not flat-out.
As enjoyable and exciting as the driving was, what made this school special for me was not the track time. I was asked to deliver the classroom instruction for the novice and intermediate groups, and that’s where most of the fun happened. The students’ attitudes were great; they arrived with a wide range of experience and skill levels, but with an expectation of learning instead of just driving fast. I was fascinated by their reaction to the information and their willingness to discuss the facets of track driving and car control, and was pleased that the more experienced passed on tips and explanations to the newer students.
Even better was watching students’ newfound appreciation as they returned from their on-track sessions, having successfully applied static classroom teaching points to real-world driving—often with a speed and confidence that they may not have expected when they started that morning. This improvement was brought about by our excellent in-car instructors, who continue to amaze me with their ability to calmly get the best from the students at speed under stressful conditions.
The 2018 Flat-Out Classic was expertly planned, organized, and executed by a dedicated team that is at least a generation removed from the driving-school committee I served on in the past. Computers have supplanted paper, but a strong effort was still needed to put everything together, fix all the little glitches, and make the whole thing look easy. The end result was a good time for the students and a communal sense of satisfaction shared by organizers and instructors. I was happy to see that spirit of camaraderie and accomplishment had not changed from the “olden days.”
The Flat-Out Classic is essentially a regional event, with volunteers from four BMW CCA chapters working together: the St. Louis BMW Club from eastern Missouri, the Sunbelt Chapter from Oklahoma, the Great Plains Chapter from Nebraska, and the Kansas City BMW Club from western Missouri and eastern Kansas. We also relied on some instructors from the Porsche Club in order to establish a good teacher-student ratio.
An unexpected highlight for everyone occurred when one volunteer received well-deserved recognition. In front of all the HPDE attendees, BMW CCA South Central Regional Vice President Jeff Goman announced that Kansas City BMW Club president Angel Hall, who works at the school in registration and operations—and practically everything else—was the recipient of the BMW CCA Outstanding Chapter Officer Award for the South Central Region. No one works harder than Angel, so I was pleased to see her officially acknowledged as one of the best.
If my travel and racing schedules permit, I need to stay connected to our chapter’s HPDE program. The sense of purpose, camaraderie, and accomplishment as part of a team is hard to beat. If you like driving and you also like making things happen, then volunteering to help at your chapter’s driving schools is a great way to do both.
Speaking of team efforts, a glance at the calendar reveals that the BMW CCA’s biggest national team effort will kick off in about four weeks with Oktoberfest 2018 in Pittsburgh. BMW will be the Marque Of The Year at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix on July 14–15, and at the Historics at Pitt Race the weekend before. Those race events bookend Oktoberfest, which could be one of the most well-attended and action-packed Oktoberfests in recent memory; attendance was pushing 900 when I last checked, and might get to the magic 1,000 mark before we’re through.
We may end up with two kinds of BMW CCA members: those who were at Oktoberfest 2018, and those who wish they had been there. There is still time to get in on the fun, so you may want to check out the website at https://ofest.bmwcca.org.
Oktoberfest contains so many activities that it is almost impossible to do everything. Choose from the fun rally, the TSD rally, the concours d’elegance, driving schools, gymkhana, autocross, club race, tire tech talks, car-care tech talks, photo contest, trivia contest, covered bridges tour, vendor area, Michelin Driving Experience, car-control clinic, BMW CCA Foundation charity rides, Fallingwater tour, Michelin hot-lap rides, and the BMW corral at the PVGP. Then there are the social events and dinners, which this year will take place at the Sheraton Station Square, Grand Concourse, Carnegie Science Center, and the Gateway Clipper riverboat.
By the way, the riverboat cruise on Tuesday evening has a Gilligan’s Island theme, since it’s a three-hour tour (get it?). Participants are welcome to arrive as their favorite Gilligan’s Island characters. It’s bound to be hilarious—and on a serious note, Shell gas cards will be at stake.
It’s not too late to sign up for all or part of Oktoberfest and the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. Pittsburgh is a great town and one of the best-kept secrets in the country. Full disclosure: I lived in Pittsburgh for almost three years. I didn’t want to go, but the Army was not inclined to give me a choice. Once I arrived, I discovered Pittsburgh’s attractions. Most important, that’s where I met Betty; this alone makes it the best assignment of my career.
We were married on the University of Pittsburgh campus in Heinz Chapel, a gorgeous building only a few blocks from Schenley Park, the site of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. If there is a lull in the racing action on Saturday or Sunday, Betty and I just may take a stroll over to Heinz Chapel for old times’ sake.
Little did we know 36 years ago that eventually we’d be back in Pittsburgh—along with 900 or 1,000 of our closest friends. Back to the future indeed.—Scott Blazey