As part of our job here at Motor Authority, we test performance cars in a performance environment. That means we spend several days every year at race tracks wringing the living daylights out of the latest sports sedans, sports cars, and even supercars. We do this as a service to you, our loyal readers, so we can report on the high-speed capabilities of today’s machinery. It’s tough work but someone has to do it.
Automakers are taking a risk by handing the keys to journalists and letting us have at it at triple-digit speeds in cars that can top 500, 600, or even 700 horsepower. They assume a certain level of competence from the journalists who drive their cars, but that ability has to be nurtured somewhere.
In 2013 and 2014 I served as the president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). My reign of terror ended this past January when I turned that role over to Cars.com Editor-in-Chief Patrick Olsen. Patrick and I agreed that MAMA could provide the track training needed for inexperienced automotive journalists.
With that in mind, we worked our contacts. We knew that the CGI Motorsports track driving school based at Southwestern Michigan’s Gingerman Raceway could provide the training. We’d just be on the hook for the track rental. We then approached the good folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles [NYSE:FCAU] for sponsorship dollars and cars to drive at the event, and they agreed. Bob Broderdorf, Head of Dodge Brand Cars, explained Dodge’s reasons for getting involved: “The opportunity to go to a venue like this and showcase what we’re trying to do is a great opportunity for us. The fact that you guys are doing this builds the enthusiasm with journalists. It’s an admirable thing to do.”
With those pieces in place, we put the word out to MAMA membership that 24 spots were open for journalists to learn the basics of how to handle a car on a race track. MAMA members gobbled up those spots eagerly, and MAMA Track School was set for July 21.
From there, each attendee paired up with an instructor and hopped into the assortment of Scat Pack, SRT, and Hellcat Dodge Chargers and Challengers and Jeep Grand Cherokees FCA provided. Groups of six journalists hit the track at a time for three 20-minute sessions, giving each an hour of total track time. As part of FCA’s sponsorship, Dodge and SRT gave a midday presentation that marked the end of the day for the morning group and the start of the day for the afternoon group.