My pulse is thumping, there’s a thin bead of perspiration on my upper lip, my mind is racing when I hear the instructor over the radio saying, “Nice job! That’s your fastest time yet, Greg. Excellent!” I had just completed my final timed run driving the BMW M3 at the BMW Performance Center West. Not only was it my fastest time of the day, but it would also hold up at the second-fastest time posted by anyone that day.
We have all had the fantasy of sitting strapped in behind the wheel of a high-performance car on a closed track to see just how far we could push ourselves and our machines. I had the opportunity to do just that this week at The BMW Performance Center at The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California.
The BMW Performance Center is a performance driving instruction center that is open to the public and also provides programs for corporate and group events. All courses are taught by BMW professional driving instructors and students can drive a range of high-performance BMW vehicles on three different FIA certified race tracks.
We were up early on Thursday morning and headed for The BMW Performance Center at the Thermal Club. After a quick breakfast, we met our instructors, who had over 40 years of professional driving experience between them, in the classroom for our safety instructions for the day, which included proper seat (probably a lot more upright and closer to the steering wheel than you are accustomed to) and hand positioning (it is 9 and 3 NOT 10 and 2 as you were incorrectly taught back in driver’s ed.) While both of these seemed foreign to me, I quickly adapted and have integrated these changes into my daily driving.
Our day at the track would be broken up into three stages. Stage One would give us time to become familiar with the track and allow us to drive a range of BMW performance vehicles including the M2, M4, 550i, and the X5 SUV. I paired up with long-time friend Gigi from The Awesomer and we would be making multiple practice runs through the first course before switching seats. Our instructor led us through the course single-file and as you can see in the video below, stopping several times to receive pointers on where to brake and our correct driving line through the turns and most importantly, where we would need to back off and be patient so that we could attack more aggressively coming into straightaways leading to better times.
For Stage Two, we would all be solo driving M3s on a timed track. We were given three heats to test ourselves and put up the best time possible. I could feel myself driving tentatively on my first run. I put up an okay, but not a great time of 30.765. During my second run, the instructor announced over the radios that someone had lost a GoPro on the track. I wound up coming in a full second slower as I was scanning the track for the GoPro. As I was waiting for my third and final run, I heard that Joe from JoesDaily.com had posted a time in the 27’s. Joe has driven in a number of these performance driving events and this being my first time, I had no aspirations of matching his time, but I did want to post something respectable. As I mentioned above, I let things fly and wound up with the second fastest time of the day.
For our final stage, we headed over to the Thermal Club where there are three FIA Certified race tracks that can be combined to make up one large 5.1-mile track. We would be driving on the South Palm Circuit, which at 1.8 miles and 10 turns, combines the longest straightaway at Thermal Club with sweeping turns. The two other drivers wanted to grab some video during the first runs, so I had the pleasure of heading out onto the track trailing only my instructor giving me basically a private lesson. We tore around the track a few times approaching 130mph on the straightaways before pulling back into the pits to let the other drivers rejoin us for a few more laps.
I’ll freely admit that I have never been much of a racing fan. But being behind the wheel of the incredible performance vehicles and being told by our instructors that we can go as fast as we want, awakened something in me. I’ll be honest, I wanted much more on our South Palm Circuit run. I found myself needing to reign things back in a little, not because of my limitations, but because I kept creeping up on the drivers in front of me. This is not a criticism of them, I would never want anyone to push themselves into an uncomfortable situation, but more the realization that I liked driving these cars fast and wanted to go faster and push myself farther. It’s a ridiculously overused and cliche saying, but I did feel the need, the need for speed.
The BMW Performance Center West offers a number of one or two day driving schools including Car Control School, M School, Mini School, M Track Drive and as the father of two teenage daughters I’ll be teaching to drive this summer, I am particularly interested in the Teen School which would allow them to practice potentially dangerous maneuvers in a closed, controlled environment. Also available are individual instruction and groups events that would be perfect for corporate team building.
Father’s Day is fast approaching and I can’t think of a better gift for Dad. The BMW Performance Center at The Thermal Club is located at 86-050 Jasper Lane, Thermal, California 92274. Just head over to the BMW Performance Center site or call 888-345-4269 to give Dad the adrenaline-pumping adventure he’s been dreaming of. And while you’re there, make sure to check out the BMW Performance Center shop where you can find unique items not available anywhere else.