Each day starts in the class room, heads out onto the skidpad or the circuit, returns to the class room after lunch, and goes back out once again. Alternating between learning theory and applying it is part of the success of the program, helping to iron out the differences between what you think should be happening and what really is happening on track.
Combined with near-instant feedback after each lap or lapping session from a handful of instructors, this helps drill down quickly to the things you're doing well in the car, and the things you need to improve. In my case, line, throttle application, and general braking were OK, but I wasn't releasing the brake (trail braking) smoothly enough. I spent almost the entirety of the course working on it, eventually nailing it more often than not.
For others, coaching on line, entry speed, cornering speed, heel-toe downshifting, braking effort (getting the most braking done at the start of the braking zones), and much more were all on the table--and always being checked even for those of us that were getting it right most of the time. The attention to detail, and the amount of detail the instructors can derive from just watching you as you pass their corner, is not just amazing, but amazingly helpful in improving your driving.
It's often impossible to really know what you're doing in the car in any given moment, especially if you're operating at a subconscious level. Having the immediate feedback and recommendations for improvement/corrections/different techniques to try for the next lap or session circumvents the tail-chasing we all do when self-analyzing.
It's worth noting that this curriculum and program has spawned the careers of a number of professional racing drivers, including some of the school's own instructors. Along the way, you'll pick up dozens of valuable but slightly counter-intuitive nuggets of wisdom, like "brakes are dangerous, the throttle is safe," and "it's better to go in slow and come out fast than go in fast and come out dead."
The three-day school's $4,400 cost is definitely a hurdle to overcome for many, but taken in the context of racing expenses, it's a rather modest amount--the price of a decent set of coilover shocks and hardware, for example--and it will return dividends in terms of lap time and safety well beyond any equipment upgrade, because it's an upgrade to the most important piece of equipment in the car: the driver.
For the casual enthusiast, the race school is probably too much. Too much instruction, too much intensity, too much expense. For the amateur racer, autocrosser, or track day enthusiast, it's a solid investment in improving your skills. And for the aspiring racer looking to move into the semi-pro and pro ranks, it can be a great intro to the basics you'll need to master to get your foot in the door or an opportunity to push already-developed skills to new levels of polish and precision--but you'll need to work on marketing, sponsorships, media relations, and all the other skills that go along with acquiring a pro race seat elsewhere.
At the end of the three-day school, as you strap in to take to the track in your final lapping session, you'll probably be amazed at how far you've come (perhaps in spite of yourself) in such a short time. No time to reflect on that now, though; cinch up those belts, be sure the steering wheel is all the way on, adjust your mirrors, visualize your line and remember: in slow, out fast--in fast, there's a $3,000 deductible on your insurance policy. You did get the insurance, right?
Skip Barber provided free entry to the school for the purposes of this article. Video provided by Helix. All other expenses were paid by the author.
For a look at Skip Barber's more road-oriented High Performance Driving School, read our three-part review here.