Recently I signed myself, my 60 year old parents, and my brother up for the BMW Performance Driving School at their 137 acre test track near Spartanburg, South Carolina. I wanted to get more comfortable on the track without risking my daily driver, and didn’t want to go solo. There are many class options, but we opted for the two-hour program for $300.
We started with check in at 10 AM and a safety briefing with our two instructors for the day.
Mom and I partnered up for the off-road course. After a radio check, our instructor talked us through the course in our BMW X5 M50i. We did a water crossing, hill climb, and some side angled obstacles built to showcase BMW features like the controlled descent feature, balanced weight distribution and the traction control.
This course was technical and slower paced, but Mom made it fun by hitting every puddle and speck of mud on the course. She lagged the group so she could get a good run at obstacles until the instructor caught on and told her to keep up.
The last obstacle was a side angle tilt obstacle, which she took as a personal challenge and tipped us 27 degrees to the side according to the dashboard display. While the off road course activities were very limited, we did have some aggressive obstacles and managed to make it fun.
The track section was next, and I paired up with my dad while my brother drove with Mom. We drove the X5 M Competition, the M5 Competition X-drive, the M4 Competition RWD, and the Z4 M40i RWD. The only “rule” on the track was to keep stability control engaged. The instructor told us to drive as hard as we could.
We took a pace lap behind the instructor and she talked us through the course over the radio. She then pulled her car off to the side and sent us through the track with a 30-second spacing. We took a pace lap behind the instructor, then we were turned loose for a while before switching driver and passenger.
I drove the X5 M Competition first. I remembered from last May’s trackcross that two of the fastest vehicles were SUVs, so I was excited to drive it. With 617 horsepower, it’s the most powerful car that I’ve ever driven. The X5M Competition was stupid fun to drive. Dad and I grinned and giggled around the track. Every turn, every hard brake, every tire squeal.
We swapped places just long enough for me to come down from my adrenaline rush slightly before jumping into the M5, which was my favorite car of the four. I started to settle a bit on the second run, and focused on my driving.
I braked later before turns. I tried to hit my entrance, apex, and exit cones they had for us on the track. I forced myself to look ahead into the next turn instead of looking at the cone closest to my car. There was a point where I realized that I was so focused on driving the car and having fun that I was just living in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about work or stressing about anything else. Just driving.
Just when I thought I was starting to figure things out, we switched to the rear-wheel drive BMW M4. I think with more experience this car would’ve been my favorite. The little wiggle coming out of turns under throttle was enough to scare me into being more cautious. The all-wheel drive cars felt more secure and made me feel more confident. My mom almost put the M4 in the grass, and got a reminder over the radio that “if you look in the grass, you will end up in the grass.”
All too soon, we wrapped things up in the Z4, which was its own brand of fun. I’m a big and tall guy, though, and that car did not fit me well.
Our last activity was a hot lap with the instructors, featuring two M4 Competitions with a special tune. We went on a larger track with more speed where they showed us snap turns, then drifted around a wet skidpad before spinning the car 270 degrees to line up perfectly with the skidpad exit.
Afterward, Dad mentioned having a moment on the track where he remembered his dirt track racing days started to come back to him. He hadn’t driven that way in 40 years. My mom wanted to do it again. My brother was mad that they didn’t track lap times because he was sure he had beaten all of us. We all added a shared experience to our lifetime memory reel.
I felt so comfortable driving at the BMW Performance Driving School that I drove my Focus ST in the most recent Out Motorsports event at Summit Point. I learned that I can brake, corner, and accelerate hard and still be in complete control of the car – and now I can’t wait for the next event. If you’re wondering if you should try it yourself, do it! See you on the track!