Corvette driving school report (Ron Fellows near Las Vegas)

This is a report of a minivan driver’s experience at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School in Pahrump, Nevada. A friend and I took the two-day intro class for complete novices. The school operates a fleet of nearly 200 C8 Corvettes, a fleet of 670 hp Cadillac Blackwing sedans, and a fleet of open-cockpit Radical pure race cars. We were in the Corvette.

Everyone asks “Was it fun?” The answer is that it is like flight training. You’re learning a lot and it is interesting, but you’re always frustrated because you aren’t doing as well as you want to.

The location is the nation’s most extensive race track, Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump, Nevada, about one hour from Las Vegas. There are currently 360 members who bought in at prices ranging from $4,000 (originally) to $75,000 (today) and then pay $7,500 per year for the right to use the track for up to 16 days per month. The members will typically rent some garage space at the track or build a house somewhere on the 1,000 acres. Plans are in the works for a 7,000′ straight section of track on which a jet can be landed, which will be helpful because most of the members are coming from other parts of the U.S., e.g., Florida(!).

The structure of the school was to alternate between 30-60 minutes of classroom and 30 minutes in the car. The in-car session might be on the track, skidpad, dragstrip, or autocross course. Each day starts promptly at 8 am and concludes at 4 pm with a one-hour lunch break. We were exhausted at the end of each day from the mental and, to some extent, the physical effort. Here’s your fearful author in the morning intro (no helmet) and the afternoon track session (helmet):

The instructors, all of whom are former and/or current racers, are usually in front of you in their own car or somewhere on the sidelines. Either way, they’re communicating with you via CB radio that has been piped into the car’s AUX input.

Who takes this class? Primarily new owners of the C8 Corvette because Chevrolet pays for most of the class, resulting in a price of just over $1,000, which includes a night of lodging at the track. A Ferrari-owning friend was recently invited to a similar class in the Ferrari 296… for $18,000.

What did we learn that can be translated to street driving? First, that the C8 Corvette does not have a tendency to oversteer and, therefore, if you’re in a corner that feels too tight it never helps to add power. You’re always better off braking lightly, which will transfer weight onto the front wheels and help them steer. Also, with the stability control computers and anti-lock brakes, it is nearly always better to slow down with brakes before departing the paved surface. Accelerating transfers weight to the rear tires and makes the car understeer (move out toward the outside of the turn).

After spinning out on the skidpad a bunch of times, with the fancy computer systems disabled (press and hold the stability control switch for about 8 seconds), we learned about the magic of the Weather mode, in which the computer systems become hyper-vigilant. “It doesn’t limit the car as much as teen driver mode,” an instructor explained, “but it can be very useless even on dry pavement for novice drivers.” See the follow video starting at 5:00.

The class may not be for those who think that Twitter is now unsafe. During the explanation of the glow-in-the-dark emergency release lever inside the frunk, it was pointed out that “You can’t kidnap hookers anymore.” For everyone else, the instructors point out that this is the safest driving any of us will ever do. “There are no other cars nearby, no pedestrians, and no concrete walls near the road.” The realistic hazard is motion sickness, which snares several students in every class. Even a pilot with aerobatic experience in our class reported feeling “dizzy”. The school keeps a package of Dramamine up front. If you thought that you couldn’t make yourself sick when at the wheel of a car, you haven’t subjected yourself to constant 0.5-1g corners and speed changes.

The organization, pace, and instructor enthusiasm and skill was superior to the $50,000+ jet type rating classes offered at Flight Safety.

Speaking of aviation, you couldn’t spit in this class without hitting a fellow pilot. A handful of the attendees were airline pilots and one was an airline-track hours-building pilot. about half of the rest of the folks seemed to have at least a Private certificate and current airplane ownership was common. Here’s our merry and diverse band of brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters in Corvette appreciation:

Breakfast and lunch are included both days and there is a social evening after the first day. The clubhouse includes a Connelly pool table!

The night before class we dined at Symphony’s, a restaurant run by a local winery. They had a literal white privilege license:

If you want to meet up with Hunter Biden, note that Pahrump is the first county over from Las Vegas in which prostitution is legal. Sheri’s Ranch has its own restaurant and the $14 cheesesteak was excellent (plainly freshly grilled from sliced-up steak):

Does this mean Pahrump is not a family-friendly town? By no means, according to a bumper sticker parked in the local gourmet supermarket (Walmart) where we stopped for 70 cent/lb. bananas (I noted that these used to be 30 cents/lb. and an older lady mournfully agreed with me):

Speaking of family, quite a few students brought wives along and they seemed to have a good time in the lounge outside the classroom, in an observation tower 4 stories above the track, and at meals.

Aside from the regular street cars, the track is home to a Radical race car showroom and we also saw some fun ATVs:

Once you’re in Pahrump, Death Valley is only one more hour away. So it makes sense to combine the class with hiking in Death Valley (and/or family members can explore Death Valley National Park while a car nut is at the school).

15 thoughts on “Corvette driving school report (Ron Fellows near Las Vegas)

    • Except for me. I was better at it than I thought I would be. I got the second best time in my Skip Barber class and I was driving a 140 HP car. The guy who beat me was in a Corvette.

    • I am also an exception. I expected to be terrible and I was terrible. The instructors have a kind term for the slow/incompetent: “conservative”.

  1. The lion kingdom got sick from driving up Mt. Hamilton at street speeds. Wonder if driving teachers at Corvette driving school know they’re doing the same thing as high school driver’s ed teachers. Guess most of the cost is the leases for the land & the car.

  2. In 1980, I got some notoriety among the car guys at my suburban Boston high school when I ran a 14.0 sec. quarter-mile at New England Dragway in my rebuilt ’69 Camaro. I still have my time slip.

  3. I’m glad to hear that you had two exhausting but worthwhile and info-packed days of driving under controlled (! heh !) conditions. You’ve taken one of the best – if not the best – introductory driving school courses in the US and being exhausted at the end of the day is exactly what should happen. The cars don’t come much faster or more capable than the C8, either. I’m envious of you in the best sense – it counts as a 10/10 in my book.

    Since Chevy picks up part of the tab, it’s a bargain. I think the Bondurant school was well over $1,000 for two days back in the 1980s and early 90’s, and it looks like Ron Fellows’ school totally outclasses them in terms of technology and amenities – and the cars! 670 horsepower Cadillacs!

    Did you get the chance to see Harry Reid’s wax museum exhibit-in-progress? I hear through the grapevine that Madame Tussaud’s is actively working on likeness, because the Good Lord knows how much he’s done for Nevada over the years. He certainly warrants an exhibit in the wax museum.

    It’s hardly surprising to me that there were so many private pilots in the group. These are the people who want to do it right, not the jackasses who buy an $80,000+ car and promptly spin it out into a curb while showing off, or much worse. I’m also not surprised the cheesesteak sandwich at the whorehouse was fresh and tasty. Even the brothels know that a good man runs on his stomach. Or something like that. Lol.

    I’m glad Death Valley didn’t git ‘ya and we don’t have to worry any more about the buzzards picking Greenspun’s carcass to pieces out there in the middle ‘o nowhere:

    “Oh my goodness that’s horrible! What did he die from?”

    “Buzzard. BIIIIIIIIG buzzard. The BMW conked out with a total in-car network failure. How’s that for strange? None of the modules could communicate with each other and without a scan tool, they were lost. Couldn’t even limp home! 5G didn’t work, as per usual. Then the iPhone lost track of the satellite. Then the buzzards came…..” 😉

    Anyway, @philg, all my comic stylings aside, I’m really happy for you and I hope you have lots of safe and fun miles behind the wheel of a C8.

    • That autocross segment in the video brought back good memories of an SCCA-prepped Volkswagen Scirocco. That car was built to corner like crazy on a tight course and so ‘flickable’.

      VW showcased that car’s responsiveness in a magazine ad with the factory-spec car. Now build it up for SCCA and you have one eager, high-energy superkinetic puppy of a car. Watching the autocross segment reminded me nothing so much as tha even though the C8 is a much heavier car, it is nimble.

  4. Hi Phil – Off topic: what are your thoughts on Graph Databases? Have you played with Neo4j at all?

    I understand Palantir’s core product offering is an entity graph which munges data from across different DBs into a single, coherent view.

    Feels like the next generation Oracle to me.

    Are graphs the new news in commercial computer science?

  5. I’m glad to see you made it to the track. It was my favorite hobby for a few years when I had the time.

  6. As an alternative to stranding her in the comfy cafe, you could also take your wife along for the drive, like Riccardo Patrese.

    • That’s an awesome video. First of all, it is pretty easy to scare someone – anyone – in the passenger seat of a fast car because not having control is frightening. Second, it’s easier to scare someone in the passenger seat of a fast car when you are RP. Hence, you are used to fast cars that have at least 2-3x the G capability of the one he’s driving around with his wife. Finally, it’s a lot easier to go fast after you’ve had as many races as RP, and your passenger hasn’t had very many at all.

      And yeah, I’m defending his wife here because secretly, despite this video, I’ll guarantee that she likes the way he drives and that’s why she agreed to do the video and also as part of their marriage. She knew she was going to be scared. She is the kind of girl to look for and hold on to if you find her. I hope it all works out.

    • It never fails to put a smile on my face (or is it a smirk). Why do girls insist on going on roller coaster rides anyway?

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the driving school experience. I would be the one that gets “car sick” so I will sit this one out and watch others.

    On a side note, it is a great “rabbit hole” to watch the various You Tube videos on the engineering of the new Corvette and the throught process. I will never own one as I don’t like to drive fast, but am fascinated by those that do buy these cars and “why?”

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