Have you ever dreamed of mastering the skills needed to drive on a racetrack? Have you ever wondered what it might be like to push your car to its limits, or to YOURS? If you’ve answered YES to either of these questions, the NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky has the answer.
Each year, the NCM Motorsports Park hosts a series of HPDE events that are tailored to teach drivers of all levels how to further improve their skills on the MSP’s 3.2 mile racetrack. Whether you are a complete novice or a serious automobile enthusiast, these HPDE events are designed to provide you with a driving program that fits your particular needs/skill level. You’ll learn how to improve your track times, and drive faster and safer than you ever imagined possible.
The NCM Motorsports Park hosted its most recent HPDE class on the weekend of August 26-27, 2023. Having had a strong desire to improve my lap times and to master the skills needed to begin running the track without a lead car, I knew I needed what this class had to offer. I had previously attended an HPDI class in October 2022, and had already learned a great deal about how to circumnavigate this highly technical, 23-turn road course. What I hadn’t been prepared for was just how much I still had to learn, or how working one-on-one with an instructor would provide me with new skills far more effectively than any lead/follow instruction ever could.
Our day started at 7:45am with a drivers meeting in the classroom area next to the track. The “classroom” area is currently a large common area within a temporary, makeshift facility that’s been erected on the premises and which houses the track store, a picnic area, and a partially enclosed meeting area/classroom. This area has been serving as the track’s primary center of operations until repairs to the track’s primary facilities are completed. As we’ve shared in previous posts, the track facilities were damaged last December when a tornado ripped its way across much of the state of Kentucky, including the city of Bowling Green and the National Corvette Museum’s facilities.
Instruction is provided on how the two-day event will unfold, what participants can expect, what safety protocols are in-place (including hydration areas – which was important as it was especially hot during this particular event), and what is expected of participants in terms of track etiquette, driver responsibilities and the like. From there, students and instructors are partnered up for the weekend.
After the initial classroom session, the class is divided into three groups – green, yellow, and black.
“Green” (the group I was in) are novice drivers ranging from individuals who have never been to an event at the track and/or who have never participated in an HPDI/HPDE event to drivers (such as myself) who have previously driven on the track/have attended at least an HPDI class (I’ve done both, including multiple trips to the track for various tour laps in my own car, the C8 Experience, and even the Z06 Fast Pack Experience (click on each for more information about these experiences.))
“Yellow” is a class session for experienced drivers who have completed at least one HPDE class and have some solo track experience. These drivers still receive one-on-one instruction, but at this level, the expectation is that they’re improving on established skill sets to further improve their individual driving performance.
“Black” is the most advanced group and is composed of the instructors that are teaching the “Green” and “Yellow” groups. The black track sessions are, essentially, an opportunity for the instructors to get some valuable track time between coaching sessions. Given that all of the instructors for these events are volunteers, the Black track sessions are a “value-add” to the volunteer instructors, especially given how pricey track time can be for anyone looking to get out and run solo on a race track. Considering that the track has to have flaggers at stations around the track, and a plethora of NCM Motorsports Park track staff on-hand to oversee the event, it’s easy to understand why the cost of these classes/events can be so expensive.
But here’s the deal – this two day course wasn’t expensive at all….especially when you consider what is included in the ticket price. The registration fee for this TWO-DAY event was $500.00 and included multiple track sessions each day (10 total for each group) at about 20-minutes per-session. That is a LOT of track time for the money. What’s more, you get one-on-one instruction from an experienced HPDE instructor. And when I say experienced, you are partnered up with individuals who have years (even decades) worth of experience doing these events all over the country and, equally important, at the NCM Motorsports Park racetrack. They are seasoned pros who can help you master the “best line” around the track, show you the correct way to navigate-and-master each turn, including how to properly hit the APEX and then to “track out,” thereby increasing your overall speed around the track.
My instructor has been participating in HPDE events since 1983, and his knowledge/expertise on the track is undeniable. Yet, despite his obvious experience and tenure at the NCM Motorsports Park, he remained patient and encouraging while I sorted through the areas of the track that challenged me. He provided continual feedback and helped me until I was carving up that track at speeds I had previously never thought possible. What’s more, he took me out as a passenger in his car, a 2015 Corvette Z06, during one of his Black track sessions and showed me what good really looks like. My time spent with him – both as a passenger in his car and with him as an instructor in mine – gave me the tools/techniques I needed to better navigate that track.
Due to my own exhaustion from day one (as mentioned earlier, we experienced extreme heat during the Saturday session. This left me feeling utterly exhausted by the end of the day) combined with a series of heavy storms that forced the track to close for much of the Sunday session, I elected not to return to the track for day two. However, feedback received from my instructor at the end of day one indicated that I had demonstrated the skills necessary to get out and run some solo laps…omething I hope to do at the next available opportunity.
So is HPDE for you? If you have a desire to master your car (sports car or otherwise), I’d say ABSOLUTELY YES. You won’t find many opportunities at any race track that offer you as much for your money as this two-day session provides you, regardless of skill level/experience. But to be balanced in my comments, let me also offer you some thoughts for additional consideration before booking your experience.
Performance driving is exactly that, PERFORMANCE DRIVING. This isn’t a Sunday cruise on the backroads of your home town. These track sessions will push you and your car to your limits. If you plan on participating in an HPDE event, you want to make sure your car is in good mechanical condition. There were several participants at our class who had to perform maintenance on their cars throughout the day, including navigating issues with brake fade, transmission shudders, and overheating.
These classes will add to the “wear and tear” on your vehicle. This class is hard on your tires, suspension, brakes, engine (you need to make sure your cooling system is in good repair) and fuel tank. I went thru a full tank of gas during my five track sessions on Saturday. Not surprising – remember you are running the car/engine wide open. I have a 2016 Corvette Stingray Z51 coupe and, like any Corvette, it will readily “suck down” a tank of gas if you drive it the way I was driving it on track. Also, while my car is equipped with Brembo brake pads and slotted rotors (both of which handled the event without issue), there were a few complaints about brake fade/premature wear from some of the drivers running hard out there.)
Second, there are several other cost factors to consider. You’ll need a helmet (which the track can rent to you for the weekend), track insurance – your regular auto insurance will probably NOT cover any damage that might occur on a racetrack. Make sure you check on that before you go – you can purchase track insurance from a number of companies, including Hagerty, the company that sponsored this HPDE event at the NCM MSP. Depending where you are travelling from, you’ll need to make hotel accommodations, plan for meals (probably my only complaint from this event was that food was not provided for lunch – it was during our HPDI class last October, which I thought was a big PLUS from that experience and one I’d pay extra for at my next HPDE class), the aforementioned fuel costs, added maintenance costs before/after the event (depending how “spirited” you choose to be in your car), and peripherals (such as extra supplies – rain ponchos, tire gauges (an important add to your gear bag), bottled water, ice, etc.)
I share these things because I want to give you, dear reader, an unbiased perspective of what an HPDE event can entail.
That said, I also want to encourage you to give an HPDE session a shot. Why? Because this experience (along with the HPDI class from last fall) remains one of the best automotive experiences I’ve ever had at any point in my decades long career as an automotive journalist/enthusiast. I know many other drivers who have said the same thing about their experiences. What’s more, I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE you to check out the experiences offered at the NCM Motorsports Park. To be clear, I have not been compensated to promote this event – I paid out of pocket for the class like everyone else – but I would venture a bet that if you asked ANYONE at our HPDE class about their experience, they’d tell you the same as me – its a GAME CHANGER in the best way imaginable.
The lessons you’ll learn/the experiences you’ll have will make you a more competent driver both on and off the racetrack. You’ll learn your limits as a driver, and then you’ll stretch those limits beyond anything you thought you were capable of.
When I started my track career a few years ago, it was at the NCM Motorsports Park. I did my first track session ever in the same Corvette I mentioned earlier while participating in the Park’s “Drive Your Own Car” Tour Laps experience. During that first session, I averaged slightly-better-than highway speeds (75-85 mph) around most of the track, and topped 100mph in the front straight. Back then, I thought that was pretty spectacular, and for that time, it was! Since then, I’ve put hundreds of miles on that track thru various experiences, and each time, my skills have improved, as have my lap times.
But here’s the thing – since taking the HPDE class, I’ve gone back and watched some of these sessions (I use the onboard data recorder to capture each session I run on the track), and in every instance, I can now see things I was doing wrong that slowed me down, and/or where I held back because I wasn’t aware of what my car was capable of (or what I was capable of as a driver.) Have I mastered the NCM Motorsports Park track? HECK NO! I’ll continue to run out there for years to come….but I definitely know I can navigate that track with far greater skill and confidence today than I could even a few weeks ago. For that reason alone, I absolutely encourage everyone to sign up for an HPDE experience….and you won’t find many tracks more challenging (or more rewarding) than the NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky.