(WWLP) As students across western Massachusetts prepare to return to classes in the next couple weeks, I had an opportunity to go back to school this week as well. Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut offered the media and others a 2 hour class on road racing.
We received both classroom instruction and 2 driving sessions on Thompson’s new road course. Our instructor was Ryan Arciero of Orange County, California. Arciero has raced professionally for 25 years. He currently drives a trophy truck that competes in off road events like the upcoming Baja 1000 in November. We drove diesel powered cars from the former Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup series. Area road racing fans saw the series compete at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut. Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Marketing Director Theresa Condict used to drive in the series. At one point during our classroom instruction, she joined Ryan in explaining how we should brake through one section of the 11 turn course.
To help us learn the course was marked with orange cones. Each corner was coned at the apex or center of the turn and again at the exit of the turn to help us get back to the gas pedal quicker. The long front straight had countdown signs coming into the 1st turn. We were told to brake at the 1 of the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown. All race car drivers, be it an oval or road course, will map in their head the track they’re driving on. Ryan explained how that could be anything from a mark on a wall down to something as small as a sprinkler head or blade of grass. Fans who listen on scanners to drivers at local tracks will often hear their spotters say, “Come on, hit your marks”, a reminder of the entry and exit points of the turns. While circle track drivers are basically dealing with 4 corners road course competitors have more. Even with the cones in the corners it was not that easy to hit those marks in the 1st driving session with 11 corners to anticipate. In both driving sessions we all had an opportunity to follow an instructor car. Watching their brake lights and seeing when they actually turned was really helpful to learning the track.
While our class lasted 2 hours an actual Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Driving Experience course would continue all day. For NASCAR fans who have watched races on the Thompson oval, turns 3 and 4 are part of the Thompson road course. It was a strange feeling at first going the “wrong way” down the oval’s front straightaway then a hard right into turn 4 and off turn 3 then down the back straight of the oval with a left into the next turn. One of our on-track instructors R.J. told us, “If the guy in front of you is going around the corner, you can go around the corner. So you’re saying to yourself, ‘Well I’m going too fast, that guy’s going fast he’s not going to make the turn. If he does it 2 or 3 times, then you’ve got to say to yourself ‘Well if he’s doing it I can do it.'” . Ryan added, “You don’t know what you don’t know. The braking, you don’t what the capability is. You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Much of the growth and interest in road courses doesn’t necessarily involve spectator events. There are people with all types of cars that are looking for places where they can drive them and play. IMSA series driver and South Deerfield native Eric Curran has been doing driver coaching. At Lime Rock earlier this year Curran told 22News, “I teach people that either want to become race car drivers or people that have some kind of fun street cars. They like to go to the track and just learn how to drive them better.” Our class at Thompson had a wide range of ages among both men and women. All of the participants had one thing in common, big smiles each time they got out of the car.