If you have a fast car, chances are you’ve been at least tempted to push it — and your own driving skills — to the limit.
Thanks to the National Auto Sport Association’s Utah Region and its High Performance Driver Education program at Utah Motorsports Campus, you can do just that in a safe, fun environment.
“NASA’s program is not designed around ‘you show up and in two days, you’re getting a race license,’” said Dave Kizerian, co-regional director for NASA Utah. “It’s a longer process and it’s built around making sure you have the skills and the attitude and the knowledge to become a racer.”
Kizerian, fellow co-regional director Matt Guiver and registration and membership director Cheri Miller took over the day-to-day operations of NASA Utah in 2016. Kizerian is the organization’s race director and Guiver is the director of the HPDE program.
The HPDE program, which UMC public relations director John Gardner joked is a great opportunity “if you have a nice car that’s a fast car and you don’t want to talk to the police,” has four levels that help inexperienced drivers become race-ready. In the first level, drivers have a volunteer instructor with them as they take to the track at UMC, while each level that follows adds additional rule changes that include the ability to pass other drivers.
“The great thing that we have is that when you start in HPDE-1, you’ve got classes all day,” Kizerian said. “You come out and before you go on track for the very first time, you’re in a 40-minute class. They take you out on track with your instructor, you come off track, you park your car and 10 minutes later, you’re in another 20-minute classroom session.”
The classroom sessions enable drivers to discuss mistakes they may have made on the track, as well as how to avoid them in the future.
“If somebody spins, they’re going to talk to that person in front of the whole class, and they’re going to try to walk them through why they spun and try to make sure they understand what happened,” Kizerian said. “It also helps everybody else understand, ‘hey, if this is happening, this is why.’ Most of the time, it’s just a matter of slowing down just a little bit.”
Kizerian said track driving also takes away the motivation to drive fast on the streets.
“When I started in autocross, people were like, ‘oh, I drive slower on the street now,’” he said. “I laughed and then I got four or five events in, focusing on autocross, and I realized I was driving a lot slower on the street. Once you’ve driven as fast or as close to as fast as your car’s capable of, driving fast on the street becomes boring and you realize how unsafe it is.
“The track here is wide, and if you mess up, there’s a lot of space. You don’t have people trying to make a left turn in front of you. It’s just a big, safe area where you can really learn your limits and your car’s limits. People that drive fast in the canyons — this opens their eyes. This blows them away.”
Utah Valley University has two cars in HPDE as part of the school’s automotive program. The school’s instructors and advisors drive the cars, while students serve as the mechanics and pit crew. The two cars recently completed the license requirements and competed in their first time-trial sessions during NASA’s event over St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
The HPDE group runs during NASA Utah’s race weekends at UMC, allowing the HPDE drivers to watch the more experienced racers after they climb from their cars. NASA’s race fields include all sorts of cars, from expensive Lamborghinis to bare-bones street cars, including old BMWs and even a newer-model Cadillac that took to the track during a recent HPDE session. Others have driven old Subaru Outbacks and four-door Saturn sedans, Kizerian said.
But, chances are, if you’re driving it, someone knows how to make it go faster. A NASA race weekend is paradise for a car nut, with most drivers willing to talk about their cars all day.
“One thing with cars is almost any car has a dedicated fan base that likes to make them quick,” Kizerian said. “This is a great place to do that with any kind of car.”
Gardner said the atmosphere surrounding NASA’s events is particularly welcoming for youngsters who might someday be interested in driving a race car.
“These are great cars,” Gardner said. “To have this quality of entries in Tooele, Utah, is pretty remarkable. I can’t believe that more young people wouldn’t enjoy this if they knew about it. If I was a young kid, I would be living [at UMC]. The sounds, the smells … the drivers are friendly and they’ll talk to you.”
Kizerian encouraged anyone interested in participating in NASA Utah’s events at UMC to reach out.
“If you have any interest in it at all and you don’t think your car’s up to it, come out and watch,” he said, noting that NASA Utah has an office in the garage area at UMC. “Come out and talk to us. If you’re interested in getting involved but don’t want to drive on track, come out and talk to the NASA people. We’re happy to talk to you and point you in a direction you might be interested in.”
NASA Utah’s complete schedule is available on its website at nasautah.com. The next event is April 21-23.