M School at BMW Performance Center West
By Greg Lee
My heart is beating out of my chest. My palms won’t stop sweating. I struggle to catch my breath. I can’t believe what I just did. A few seconds later, I remember I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of a powerful BMW M5. I just used C.P.R. (not what you’re thinking) to keep my car from spinning out. I look at my instructor and yell, “That was awesome!”
Picture me just three hours earlier: I’m standing on my balcony at the La Quinta Resort, watching the sun quickly blanket the pristine property. It’s early, but I’m excited and nervous. On my 30-minute drive to the Thermal Club, I can’t help but gawk at the open spaces of the east end of the Coachella Valley.
In the middle of the desert, I arrive to find a world-class racetrack. There are buildings being built and there’s work to be done, but just the skeleton inspires awe. I walk into the BMW Performance Driving Center and take a seat next to David, a BMW owner from New York. He tells me he’s owned his M4 for a year, and has wanted to take the One-Day M School course since he got it. That’s the consensus of each of the 14 other people in the class with me. Most of them own BMWs and just want to learn how to drive their cars better, faster. We have no idea what’s in store for us.
We’re taken into a classroom, where senior instructor Adam Seaman welcomes the class with a Southern drawl and humor, immediately putting my nerves at ease. He introduces the other instructors for the day. “Collectively we have probably 40 or 50 years’ experience, if not more here today,” Seaman explains to us. The teachers all have backgrounds in motorsports, including successful careers in racing. As we all introduce ourselves, I realize there is no single “type” that takes this class. Professions range from geologist to craftsman, from business consultant to county employee and engineer. We’re from all over California, and all over the country. And, believe it or not, not everyone here drives a BMW.
What follows is an hour and a half of classroom instruction. I’m enthralled by Adam’s mini-lesson. He walks us through the proper way to set the driver’s seat (head 4 fingers from the ceiling, left foot placed on the dead pedal, arms forming a 90 degree angle with hands on the wheel). None of us will ever admit it, but we realize how many things we’re doing wrong in the car every day. After several more valuable tidbits like this, we head out to the parking lot.
We’re split up into groups and each of us gets into our own M model car. What follows is the most exhilarating, informative driving experience that I’ve ever had. My instructor is talking to me over a walkie-talkie but other than that, I feel the independence of driving through these exercises by myself. With safety stressed at all times, I am learning to drive fast, pushing the limits of the car and basically overcoming any fear or apprehension I may have had when I got behind the wheel. I am doing all of this in one of BMW’s newest M-model cars.
I mention fear because if you’ve ever been in a car accident, there are certain things that spark terrible memories. For me, a family car ride on an icy road led to us spinning out several times and ending up in a ditch. Remarkably, no one was hurt. So, when I hear one of the class’s exercises is called “the skid pad,” I panic. With an instructor in the passenger seat, you intentionally lose traction in your rear tires and recover using C.P.R. (Correct. Pause. Recover). After spinning out several times and nearly being paralyzed by fear, my instructor walks me through the correct form; then I do it. This is a feeling I’ll never forget.
That’s how I would describe this class in a word: unforgettable. You can’t help but smile because you’re driving fast, and you don’t realize it at the time, but you’re learning how to master, not just control, your car.
The lone woman in the class, Danielle Hanson from Pasadena puts it well, “They need to see what their car’s built to do, what it’s capable of. They’re only using maybe 25% of their car’s potential.”
And this is just ONE of the classes offered at this BMW Performance Driving Center. There are several others including one for teens (please sign your kids up for this parents). Here’s what you need to understand: I went into this thinking, “what a cool opportunity to feel like a racecar driver for the day.” And while I did feel that way, I learned so much about how to be a better driver. While talking off-the-cuff, Adam says the most profound and true statement about the whole class, “Everything we teach applies to real life.”
He’s 100% right. Case in point, while driving back to the resort, my hands are at 9 and 3 and I keep looking past the car in front of me to the next “obstacle.” I can hear the instructors, “eyes up, eyes up.” I feel like a much better driver because of this class, I just need to fight the occasional urge to speed off the line.
BMW Performance Center West
Located in Thermal, CA, BMW has built an exclusive paddock and track area for the BMW Performance Driving Center at The Thermal Club that spans over 30 acres, including a 1.6-mile road course that has all the Spartanburg features. When not behind the wheel at the track, you’ll find world famous golf courses, active nightlife and art museums nestled in a gorgeous southwestern backdrop.
If you’re looking for a chance to expand your driving abilities, look no further than the BMW Performance Driving Schools. You can choose from a variety of skill-based programs; prices listed are based on attending the One-Day or Two-Day program.
To sign up, please call (888) 345-4269. We’d be happy help you schedule a trip for your team.