Driver’s Ed Extreme: Race Weekend in a Dodge Challenger & a Toyota Supra

Odometer (Legend):  572,259

Twenty-two years ago today, on November 19, 1997, my student driving instructor Mr. Hiatt at Pine View High School issued me this Practice Permit.  Apparently I was 5’8″ and 130 lbs at the time.

How many miles have I driven since then?  It’s tough to quantify.  In my Legend coupe alone, I’ve logged 477,000 miles.  The ILX has traveled about 220,000.  And I’ve owned 27 other cars besides those two over my 22-year driving career.  Safe to say I might be a million-miler.  But even I still have things to learn.

“Everyone deserves to be a better driver,” is a saying I learned from my friends at Out Motorsports who spend their weekends in the relentless pursuit of speed and skill with their racecars.  My own professional driving experience is pretty limited, but I had the chance this past weekend to get behind the wheel of a couple very sweet performance cars to refine the entry-level skills I’m starting with.

Under new ownership this year, the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving has its home base at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.  Formal classes start around $1,900 and include a one-day program with these components:

  • Ground School
  • Throttle Steer
  • Slalom
  • Accident Avoidance Drill
  • Handling Drill – Oval
  • Skid Control Training
  • Autocross Session
  • Track Lead & Follow
  • Graduation

During a media event for the Phoenix Automotive Press Association (PAPA) last Friday, I got a taste of these offerings at a special event hosted by Bondurant’s Public Relations Agency.  And I must say, I came away impressed and grinning from the chance to put a high-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat through its paces.

The learnings came directly from one of the industry’s best drivers:  Rob Knipe, who personally instructed actor Christian Bale for the recent film “Ford v. Ferrari.”  I’m pleased to report that my best autocross finish time at the end of the exercise was only about 1 second slower than the best time for our group.  But what did I learn?

Some of the key skills that I came away with were fundamentals about understanding weight transfer (optimizing balance of the car’s behavior under acceleration and under braking) and keeping eyes elevated, looking at a wide angle view.  As drivers, we characteristically focus on only certain aspects of our field of vision, keeping a narrow and shortsighted perspective.

But it’s important in a racing situation – and in everyday driving – to take it all in as best possible:  Look where you want the car to go, not necessarily directly where it’s headed.  On a related note, we were instructed to avoid “target fixation.”  While it’s natural to look exactly at an object or obstacle we are headed toward, it’s important to look away from it, focusing on a desired destination.

Since the Challenger I drove that night was an automatic, I had little to worry about from a gear-hunting perspective.  I mashed the gas pedal when it was appropriate to, and trained myself to brake at the right times – in advance of a turn, putting weight on the front tires where it needed to be.  Thanks to traction-control aids I also managed to attack the entire course at the limits of my abilities without a loss of control which could have been embarrassing in front of my journalist colleagues!

Also on display was a not-yet-on-sale 2020 Dodge Charger Hellcat “Widebody,” pictured above, with massive 305-series tires that help this sport sedan achieve max performance.

On Saturday, I made the trip to Wild Horse Pass once more, but this time for a Toyota program.  New for 2020, the fifth-generation Supra has big shoes to fill, since the outgoing model was discontinued over 20 years ago and there has been a great deal of hype around the successor.  This time, Toyota partnered with BMW to create a sportscar that reignites the nostalgia by way of an inline-6 engine which is what the last generation Supra (called the “Mark IV” by enthusiasts) was also powered by.

Dave Lee, Vehicle Product Training Specialist, gave our group the lowdown on some of the engineering features, design background, and performance stats of the new Supra while waiting for our track session to begin.  Benchmarking Porsche Boxster and Cayman, the Supra achieves 50/50 weight balance and has a surprisingly smaller wheelbase than its “86” (formerly FR-S) sibling.

All Supras are powered by a 3-liter, 335-horsepower engine coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission.  A low center of gravity, launch control mode, active differential, and grippy Michelin Pilot SuperSport tires ensure that all the power gets to the ground exactly when it needs to.

Toyota had slotted our group’s track time into an already-existing National Auto Sport Association (NASA) event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park which meant our time was closely calculated.  I saddled up in the driver seat with my helmet securely fastened and with a professional driver in the passenger seat.  The Supra launched me around the 1.6 mile track with speed and agility.

Photo credit:  Six Speed Blog

I remembered thinking to myself a couple of times, “I have never driven my own vehicles this hard,” as the trainer yelled at me “BRAKE HARDER!”  It took a couple of laps until I got comfortable actually pushing the vehicle to such an aggressive extent without feeling like I needed to apologize to it.

The Supra left me feeling impressed.  Even with a helmet on, I had ample head room to pivot and oversee my surroundings.  The acceleration was responsive and rapid, and the car’s lack of body roll was confidence-inspiring.  With each lap, I shaved time off – thanks to being more comfortable with the car, with the track, and with my skills.  I think I need just one more session to really fine-tune my expertise ;).

Thanks to the folks at Dodge and at Toyota for letting me satisfy my need for speed!

Jared & Rebecca from ClassicCars.com

Part of the Dodge fleet at Bondurant

Getting ready to head out for a “lead and follow” session

With Paige & Jessica from Toyota’s Public Relations team

Great minds think alike:  Each ‘demo’ Supra had its own maintenance binder

Thumbs up to this one

15 Responses to “Driver’s Ed Extreme: Race Weekend in a Dodge Challenger & a Toyota Supra”

  1. Chris Miller Says:

    Looks like an awesome pair of events. I really want to take my TL-S to one of the evening instructor-led track events in NJ next summer. That car begs to be flogged.

  2. Awesome opportunity Tyson! Thanks for sharing.

  3. That seems like a really cool experience! I enjoyed reading through your track training. Do you find that anything you learned during the track course has changed your day-to-day driving at all?

    • Certainly – I think the skills on the track very readily translate to skills on public roads! I’ll definitely put the technique into practice when I’m hurrying to the store or running late for work 😉

  4. These are some seriously hot topics. Above, Tim states they are cool; I say they are HOT. Smoking HOT! Your VIP status has extended now to Toyota…. another fantastic car manufacturer! I sure am enjoying my Acura RLX and hope to see it roll over 100K and beyond. That could take four or five more years! Remember — be sure to view the movie Ford vs Ferrari. It will suck you right in.

  5. Fun! Oddly enough, I just saw a very positive Supra review by SavageGeese on YT earlier. He also made an interesting comment about the lead Toyota engineer telling him they took the BMW engine back to a lab in Japan, disassembled it, and analyzed every piece to see if it was up to Toyota standards for reliability/durability. It passed with zero changes needed.

    • That’s impressive! I wonder how Toyota’s warranty process will work. I heard that a recent recall was actually performed by BMW for Toyota units. One of the participants in our track group did ask if “Toyota Safety Sense” technology comes on the Supra and we were told that it does not.

  6. Tyson, are my eyes deceiving me? Please take a look at your first driving permit. Look at when the permit was issued. Then look at your date of birth on the permit. Do you see a problem? You must also have a Delorean in your collection because I think you performed a Back to the Future trick. 😉

  7. Thanks for the shoutout and seeing you autocrossing/HPDEing two very different cars is awesome. I always love reading about folks’ early track experiences and what stands out to them. The “I’m braking as hard as I can” thought followed by the instructor telling you “no, push harder” and the ABS actually doing its job is a very common one.

    Good point about keeping your eyes up, too. Everyone drives to the nose of their car. Take some painters’ tape and put a line across your windshield, halfway up. Then go for a drive while only looking out the top half of the glass. You’ll find it very difficult at first.

    Can’t wait to see more!

    • That’s a cool idea about the tape! I’ll try it in a controlled environment before I head out on the interstate doing that. One day I’ll surprise you and show up at VIR to show you what I’ve learned. Haha

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