We were 20 minutes from breaking for lunch at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain to learn how to throw the 2021 Corvette C8 around the track when I got the text from my realtor: “Call me when you can.” My heart sank.
Now, my realtor and I communicate with plenty of emojis, exclamation points, and laughter, so to see a text about our prospective house bid without any of those things wasn’t a good sign.
I was supposed to have dealt with all the house bullshit long before I hit the driving school. We’d placed a bid on a totally different house that was accepted, and our tentative closing was August 6. The week we were supposed to sign the papers, we found out that the sellers had failed to disclose the fact that, actually, they probably couldn’t legally sell the house. The selling realtor had previously told us that the homeowner’s wife had died, but he didn’t have legal ownership of the house, so we’d have to go through probate court. He then dodged all my realtor’s calls. When she finally got through, we found out the truth: the seller was deep in debt and was trying to use the conservatorship money he’d been awarded to take care of his wife’s children to pay off those debts, sell this house, and buy a new one. A judge had denied that. The selling agent apparently just wasn’t going to tell us that.
So, we lost the house. But mere hours later, our dream house had popped back up on the market. The one we found in January that had started our search to buy a house. The one with the specially-built garage in the back designed to fit a lift. The one exactly where we’d wanted to buy a house, that had more land than we knew what to do with. The seller had previously taken it off the market himself, deciding it wasn’t the right time to buy. And when we toured the house to find Donut stickers, Road & Track magazines, and sim racing equipment, it felt like we’d actually found the perfect place. We slapped a bid down. We’d find out if we got it on Tuesday, August 10, while I’d be in the middle of a performance driving school.
We didn’t. Our offer was exactly the same as the winning bidder, with one exception: their option period was two days less than ours. I kind of hoped the earth would open up and swallow me whole so I wouldn’t have to attempt to go through this godforsaken process again. I even compared the window sticker of the Corvette I’d been driving to the cost of a down payment and thought to myself, huh — I could actually afford one of these instead.
Thankfully, as I’d come to learn, driving a Corvette very fast around a race track is probably the best way to get over any kind of heartbreak.
Full disclosure: Chevrolet invited me to drive a Corvette C8 during a two-day performance driving school in Nevada. All opinions are my own.
The Ron Fellows Performance Driving School provides different levels of driving instruction for Corvette owners or other folks who are just keen to drive a Corvette really fast. There are several different levels that range from beginner to master. I took part in the two-day school for owners, which is designed to get new buyers acquainted with their machine (though you don’t drive your own car on track; you use the school’s cars to learn how to use your own). There, we learned everything from the tech of the cars and how to access certain features to open lapping and autocross efforts.
That’s pretty much the base-level school, which costs either $3,695 for the standard student or $1,000 if you just bought a new Corvette. There are discounts for every driving school with the exception of the master course, which clocks in at a whopping $5,495. This is not a pursuit for the thin of wallet.
Like many other performance driving schools, the Spring Mountain track contains luxury properties that track enthusiasts can buy, with several classrooms and a clubhouse dotted around the property. There are also a handful of condos that can be rented out either on a longer term basis or just for the folks who are heading to the track for the two-day school.
Spring Mountain also hosts racing events, a Cadillac driving school, Sports Car Club of America licensing courses, and a Radical racing school.
The two-day format of the Ron Fellows Driving School is a serious game-changer. I’ve only done a one-day school with BMW in the past, but it’s not just that the second day obviously packs in more track time — it’s the fact that you actually get to sleep on what you learned the first day, think about things, and re-apply what you learned again the next day. Not only do you show up the second day feeling more confident, but you can also make some pretty drastic improvements to your skills.
The first day, our group split into three groups and rotated between several different tasks: an acceleration and braking exercise, a serpentine exercise, some exploratory laps on the track, wet-track exercises to learn the limits of the car and experience with the weather settings on the car, classroom exercises to learn the fundamentals behind cornering and the Corvette’s data recorders, and then some faster lead-follow laps on the track.
The second day, we had autocross events, several lead-follow sessions on track, an educational session where instructors looked over our performance data recordings and told us more about what we needed to know to improve, tech talks about the car, a launch control demo, and some more classroom cornering exercises. We ended out the day with a graduation session and the reveal of our autocross lap times.
But seriously — the structure was integral. I felt like I was able to digest so much more information this time than I did at the BMW school, in part because this was my second school but also because everything I learned the first day was immediately reinforced the second.
And because I was on a press trip, that meant we all got to have a dinner where our group further chatted about what we’d done that day. I made friends with the two people who had never done a performance driving school before because I wanted to hear their impressions of the format, and they both had a stellar time — and also felt that they made exponential leaps forward.
The Spring Mountain track is also a resort, so you’re definitely getting a solid pinkies-out experience when you’re there. You can nab an on-site condo with a bed, kitchen, and swanky bathroom, and you can also have all your meals at the site’s clubhouse. If you bring a friend or partner who isn’t into driving, they can hang out at a gun range, have a massage, do some paddle boarding, or take on a jetpack flight experience.
When I found out my house bid had fallen through, I had to excuse myself to the clubhouse bathroom, where I sat at the vanity and shed a few (read: a lot of) tears and then was able to compose myself with the help of some well-placed tissues and face wash before enjoying some very delicious tacos for lunch. By the time I headed over to our classroom, I had recovered some semblance of composure because, again, it is difficult to be sad when you’re being plied with incredible food and fast cars.
- It’s impossible to be sad when you’re driving a Corvette on a race track.
- There are actually parts of some race tracks where you want to coast a little bit, where you’ll neither be on the brake or the throttle — something much different from what I learned at BMW but that worked seriously well for me here.
- Learn your limits: when you get tired, you’re not going to be at your prime. I was rip rarin’ ready to go at the start of the second day. I was setting some of my best lap times, hitting some of my highest speeds on the straight, and feeling more confident about my lines. By the last lead-follow of the day, I lost control of my line quite a few times and had to back down because I was exhausted.
- There’s no shame in backing down, by the way. As our instructors told us time and again, it’s better to go slow and hit your marks perfectly than go too fast and either lose control or mess up your racing lines.
- It’s not easy to match speed with on-track motions. For example, when I was going slower, I was obviously not going to be hitting my marks at the same time as before — but I was still trying to do that. So, I’d slow down way too dramatically before I hit a corner. It’s not intuitive for everyone, so if it takes you a while to get it, there’s no shame.
- Ask questions, and ask for advice. When you hear that an instructor at a driving school has been running track days for decades, it can be easy to get intimidated. But these are the guys you want to chat with. They have an eagle eye for all of your mistakes, and they’ll be more than happy to give you tips on how to get better.
- Keep an open mind. Again, your driving probably isn’t perfect, so there’s no sense in getting grumpy when you’re told you can improve. Yeah, it’s tough spending two days essentially paying to be criticized, but you’ll come out a much better driver for it.
- Don’t schedule the end of your house-buying option period to coincide with your driving school. Driving did get harder when I found out I wasn’t getting that house. But as I write this now, a few months removed from that seriously depressing day, with a whole different (and even better) house lined up to purchase, I wish I’d have been able to enjoy the drive day unimpeded. I still had a great time, and there is probably no better place to be sad, but my performance just wasn’t where it could have been.