Saturday, August 13, 2011

Three Great Days at Ron Fellows Performance Driving School

After spending three days at Ron Fellows Performance Driving School in Pahrump, Nevada this past week, I can honestly say, using an old line, it was the most fun I have had with my clothes on :-)  I received two days of a free driving school at either Ron Fellows or Bob Bondurant when I purchased my 2011 Grand Sport.   Being a Corvette guy, I decided on Ron Fellows as well as my wife greatly preferred being near Las Vegas (45 minutes west) compared to Phoenix where Bondurant is located in Phoenix.  Long time friend and Corvette expert, Steve Ferry, put me in contact with someone who attended the Ron Fellows School and highly recommended paying for the third day - which I did.  The third day is when you go out for open laps and can have an instructor come along.  This was the most fun by far because it allows you to build upon your skills from the first two days.

I can not say enough good things about the entire experience at Ron Fellows Driving School at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club.  The entire facility is absolutely first class and the instructors are great.  Rick Malone and all the instructors are absolute professionals, extremely organized and very patient as they teach.  I was a little gun shy about performance driving schools because I was concerned it was going to be like another track I went to on the east coast where it was, let's just say "less than organized in terms of dividing drivers up by their skill sets".    I explained my concerns to Rick the first day and my fears rapidly went away when he explained how they run their training..

Above is the Hoover Dam as we flew into Las Vegas.  Behind the dam is the Hoover Bridge Bypass.

This is me in a 2012 Mustang GT at the from of Mountain Springs Resort and Country Club.  The resort was amazing.   That was an added bonus, because I was there to drive :-)

This was me sitting in a $125,000 Corvette ZR1 supercar that can do 0-60 in 3.0 seconds and top end of 205mph.  Yes, that stupid looking grin was on my face the entire time :-)   The ZR1 is a freaking rocket ship.

All of the Corvettes have two way radios in them that are run through the sound system.  They are always providing positive instruction if you need it.  You can also pick up the microphone to ask specific questions.  Since Pahrump, NV can be pretty hot, the windows are closed and the AC is set to 60 to 65 degrees.  This makes a big difference :-)

Something that really impressed me was how the Ron Fellows School incorporated those family members by riding in the lead car above.  The instructors also took the spouses around for a performance drive to give them an idea of what these Corvettes are capable of.

This was the view looking at the eastern mountains our front balcony at sunset.

Here I am looking the ZR1 or Grand Sport I want to take out for a run.  I usually decided on the ZR1.  They normally have Z06s, but were in the process of replacing the Z06s and waiting for new ones to arrive.

Julie took this photo from the Road and Track Tower at the school.

Above is me taking off from the start line and entering the track.

Above is a walk around in the morning.

Above is the last turn before the final straightaway.  I hit 120 once in the ZR1 and 110 once in the Grand Sport and that was plenty fast for me with my skill sets :-)  Normally, I was doing about 105mph on the final, long straightaway.

Above is Chief Instructor Rick Malone going through the course and showing how a real pro does it.

The biggest challenge for most students is heel and toe shifting - which is the number one thing you need to learn how to do in order to do high performance driving.  According to the instructors, heel and toe driving should be called ball of foot and side of foot driving.  Heel and toe shifting is the historical name.  The whole purpose of heel and toe shifting is turning the downshift while you are slowing down into a situation where the lower rpm is "blipped up" so your down shift does not cause your car to needlessly slow you down.

I think I as getting about 1 out 3 correct heel and toe downshifts at the end.  Which I actually felt very good about considering I did not think 2% correct at the beginning of the day on Monday.

I can not explain this nearly as well as Ken and Victor at Spring Mountain Motorsports.  When I was writing this blog post, I found this posting on the Z06VetteForum and thought I would include it here as well in its entirety.  I am sure Ken and Victor would not have a problem me reposting this.  Plus, I will drop them a note to let them know I did this.

Heel-Toe Down Shifting (and an introduction)

Hi all,

My name is Ken Melgoza and I will be posting for Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch on this forum. As a consistent driver and racer at Spring Mountain for the last 5 years, I can attest to the exciting and challenging nature of this track, and the exceptional quality of the staff. Spring Mountain is committed to supporting the driving and racing community, and to that end I plan on creating a series of performance-driving related articles. My first piece in this series is about one of the foundations of performance driving: heel-toe down shifting. If you prefer, go straight to the Heel-Toe video for an action peek at this technique, then come back here for a more detailed explanation.

Heel-Toe Down Shifting

Heel-toe down shifting is the process of matching engine RPMs to transmission RPMs while braking and downshifting. Done properly, your vehicle will remain stable and balanced, resulting in faster lap times.

Here's how it works:

As you press the brake to slow your car, RPMs drop - makes sense, right? Here's the catch; when you depress the clutch to begin your down shift, engine RPMs will drop even more because the engine is no longer coupled to the transmission. If you just down shift and let the clutch out, the engine RPMs will be much lower than that of the transmission. The result is the car lurching forward and a possible loss of control (you know, that "chirping" the tires make when you let the clutch out too fast). This can greatly upsets the balance of the car. Not too much of a deal on the street, but imagine if you're trying to out-brake an opponent on the track, at a minimum you lose time. If it's really bad, you might lose control.

This is where heel-toe down shifting comes in and improves performance. As you push the clutch in and move the shifter through neutral, you "blip" the throttle. "Blip" means to give the throttle a quick push to "rev" the engine. When you "blip" the throttle you want it to be just enough so that when you let the clutch out the engine RPMs and transmission RPMs match exactly. Easy, right?

Now you're probably thinking to yourself, how do I brake, press the clutch and "blip" the throttle? I only have 2 legs and my arms are a little busy steering and shifting! The name "heel-toe" is a little deceptive but it gives you a clue that you're supposed to use one foot to do two things (brake and "blip").

As you might guess, (right) foot placement is critical and will vary based on the car you're driving. In general, you want to place your right foot firmly on the brake but shifted slightly toward the accelerator so you can roll your foot enough to "blip" the throttle while maintaining the right amount of pressure on the brake. The pictures and video below are from a Lotus Elise. I chose this vehicle mainly because it was easy to place cameras.

The following sequence of pictures shows the process:

This image has been resized. Click this bar to view the full image.

This image has been resized. Click this bar to view the full image.

Here is a short video that shows the heal-toe technique in real-time and in slow motion:

Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch - Heel Toe Video

Above is the class photo we took.  I ma in the back in the middle.  The guys in red are instructors.


Heel-toe down shifting is one of those basic performance-driving techniques that must be mastered if you want to be competitive and maintain safety. Becoming proficient in this technique not only greatly improves your lap times, but also reduces wear and tear on your car. Your car stays more balanced, and track safety is improved.

As with all performance driving, heel-toe down shifting should only be practiced in a safe, controlled environment.

At Spring Mountain, we offer classes for all levels of drivers. Our performance driving schools give you the opportunity to learn from professional instructors and practice and master heel-toe down shifting along with threshold braking, car control, proper racing line, and a variety of other advanced driving techniques. So whether you're interested in Corvettes, Lotus', Radicals or our new Mini school, you will learn and master the techniques to make you a better, faster and safer driver all in a safe, controlled and fun environment.

Spring Mountain is located just 45 minutes from Las Vegas in Pahrump, NV. In addition to our driving schools, Spring Mountain is the home for the exclusive Club Spring Mountain, the premier private motorsports country club. While a student, you will enjoy access to members only Club amenities including the 8,000 SF club house, men and women?s locker rooms, fitness center, pool, Jacuzzi, massage therapy, racquet ball court and indoor gun range. Spring Mountain is truly a unique experience.

If you have a topic you would like to discuss, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

For more information or to sign up, visit Corvette Driving Schools and Sportscar Racing Schools in Pahrump, NV or call 800-391-6891
Victor Resendiz
Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch
Ron Fellows Performance Driving School
The Official High Performance Driving School of Chevrolet

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Ron Fellows Performance Driving School Notes I Took

- ABS stands for Ability to Brake and Steer at the same time
- slow in, fast out
- heel and toe driving should be called ball of foot and side of foot driving.  heel and toe is the historical name.  the whole purpose of heel and toe driving is turning the downshift during slowing down into a situation where the lower rpm does not slow you down
- I should order Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 ZP in spring to replace my my Goodyears.  Note, this is my personal note after driving Grand Sports with Michelin versu Goodyears.  I have always preferred Michelin tires.
- early in, easy out    --- turn in early and you will miss the line and it will be EASY to get off the track
- balance is very important in driving
- by braking, you put on the front end, which helps with steering
-- on Turn 3, if they tell to pretend that you are pulling a trailer, it simply means to take the turn as if you have to go to the left hand side of the turn and then at the last second you turn sharply to the right as if you were pulling a trailer
- by accelerating, you put weight back on the rear tires
- If you have a choice, ask for Bldg. A for a better view of the track
- Nugget Casino Steak House, Ohjah Japanese Steak House and Wulfy's for lunch were good choices

Above is me getting my completion certificate from Rick "Ricky-Bobby" Malone who was an absolutely first class lead instructor.  He uses the name Ricky-Bobby sometimes because of the number of instructors who names all begin with "R" and can sound similar on the radios.  All of the instructors were amazing.

After the performance driving school, we went to Las Vegas to spend a couple of days before we flew home.  The two above photos were taken from our corner suite at the Bellagio that Julie got for us at $125 a night.

Above is a short video I shot for my mother.  She has my grandma Thompson's old Singer Sewing machine and when I saw this story that 1,800 old sewing machines in the window (for no logical reason whatsoever) I thought I better capture it.

Above is the fountain show at The Bellagio.

Here we are at Margaritaville in Las Vegas the last night celebrating three GREAT days at Ron Fellows Performance Driving School.

How To Clean A Rockfish

Below is the Captain Jeff Shores of the fishing boat Hard Ball Charters showing us the right way to filet a Rockfish.  We caught our limit a week ago and Captain Jeff cleaned the Rockfish for us.

Above is Captain Jeff clean and filleting a Rockfish.  Below is the three GREAT ways Julie cooked up the Rockfish:  Clockwise from 11:00 o'clock position:
  • Marinated in Zesty Italian Dressing
  • Captain John's recommendation of mayonnaise/mustard, Old Bay, butter and lemon
  • Julie's dipped in flour, Old Bay, egg and then fried

Catching Rockfish aka Stiped Bass aka Stripers aka Rock on the Bay

A week ago, after AMT's Board of Directors Meeting, a few of us went fishing for Rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay.  We went out with Captain Jeff Shores of Hard Ball Charters.  It was a picture perfect day and we hit our limit :-)

That is me holding one of the three Rockfish I caught on Saturday the 6th of August.  That is Doug Woods, president of AMT back on the right with his shirt off.  The lady in the left part of the photo is Pam Haffely.  Pam's husband is Gene who is the Chairman of the Board for AMT.  Carl Reed, Board Member, and his wife Dixie were also along.  It was six of us total and we all caught our share of Rockfish.

Above is the big cooler loaded up with Rockfish.  The limit is two per person and one for the boat.  We took back 13 Rockfish.   Here is the link where I recorded Captain John cleaning and filleting the Rockfish and how my wife Julie cooked it up three days.

Below is my lovely wife Julie in front of the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay where we stayed for three days.