Being an avid car enthusiast and photographer, I’ve been curious as to what it takes to actually be a race car driver. I think I’m pretty good auto-crossing and on the track at Pacific Grand Prix, but what does it take to get to the next level? Can you just show up at Laguna Seca and tear up the track?
I was given a call by Jon Bodwell, who was doing just that working on his track license for SCCA. I jumped at the opportunity to see what all it entailed. The Performance Driving Experience a.k.a. PDX is a driving school that teaches you skills and etiquette of racing wheel to wheel. It was held at Bremerton Raceway.
It’s a full day of racing on track and in the classroom. The chief driving instructor David Conover, discussed many topics including braking, load balancing, driver position, the role of tire pressure and contact patch. As well as track etiquette, flags, over taking, proper way to lose control of your vehicle (which sounds like an oxymoron) but is possible to control a spin and put yourself out of harm’s way.
I caught up with Jon while he was practicing threshold braking in his “Wired” Subaru Legacy Wagon. This car was one of Jon’s $300 purchases to use as a temporary race car while his Honda CRX is being built. That’s the thing; you don’t need an $80k purpose built race car to get started. Your daily driver, or even just a cheap project car. As long as it’s safe and passes tech inspection, you can go learn how to push it to the limits.
After lunch and some more schooling, it was time to go play on the full road course. Your first 15-minute session on track, you get an instructor to drive your car so you can see what lines to take, ask questions and get the sense of how fast you can really go. After two laps with instructor Brian Kelly, Jon got behind the wheel of his Subaru and put what he learned in class to the test. Racing against an Infiniti G35, Mitsubishi Evo X MR, and a Nissan 350z it’s no question that the Subaru was underpowered and out matched.
However this didn’t stop Jon from pushing the limits of the Subaru beyond what it was originally designed for. He was able to maintain speed in the corners, rather than slamming on the brakes and powering out. This allowed him to keep up with the other cars on course. The long straightway was his downfall. He was topping out at 95 mph while others were hitting 110+.
Back in grid, I got to talk with Jon about his experience and with other seasoned racers like Harley Johnson from Speed Factory with his fully built Honda Civic. When it comes to racing, it’s about technique and driving, not how much money is in the car. With Jon’s driving lines and knowing the limitations of his car allowed him to keep up with the other drivers. I was reminded there’s only 4 points of contact where the car meets the road. How you apply forces to these contact patches is how you’re going to drive, so learning the basics of how braking, acceleration and corning effects these four points is crucial.
I will be following up with Jon and his racing portfolio, so stay tuned!
Bremerton Raceway Track Map
Jon Cutting it Close
Taking the Checkered!