Of all the reporting trips I’ve taken over the years, last week’s was, without a doubt, one of the best. As you already know if you read this blog, I have the opportunity to try my hand at a lot of very cool activities and new sports while reporting my stories, which take me all over the world. I get to walk a mile in the shoes/boots/flipflops of the athletes I’m writing about, so to speak. Last week, I laced up a pair of Oakley race boots and went to racing school. Actually, I went to two racing schools.
As part of his sponsorship deal with BFGoodrich, Shaun White is learning to be a better driver. Initially, BFG wanted to turn him into a professional rally driver. But when they found out that he didn’t know how to drive a stick shift and his driving record was less than stellar, they altered their plans with him. Instead, they gave him the opportunity to test out different cars (after mastering a manual transmission, in a Viper, of course) and a variety of styles of auto racing while improving his skills behind the wheel. If he finds a style of driving he likes, they will give him the training he needs to compete–if he’s interested in competing.
And I got to go to school with him. First, we flew to Monterrey, Calif., to attend Skip Barber Racing School. (Shaun’s brother and sister and one of his good friends, as well as a couple guys from BFG and Mike from Edmunds.com also took the class.) There, we learned trail braking and spin control in a Mazda RX-8, and then transferred our new skills to Formula cars. We finished the day driving the Laguna Seca course, corkscrew and all, at around 95 mph. (Which feels like 395 in an open car that sits three inches off the ground.) I didn’t think it could be possible to have more fun.
And then we went to rally school, at DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, Washington. The first day, Shaun took the class by himself and I watched and interviewed him between lessons. It was easy to see which style of driving he preferred. “Just wait until you get into the car!” he told me. “This make so much more sense. It fits my skill set better. It’s just so much fun. I can’t believe Pastrana and those guys never told me how awesome this is.”
The next day, I took the one-day class, along with a really fun group of guys from G4, Askmen.com and GrindTV. I quickly realized Shaun was right. There was just something about sliding that Subaru around in the mud that was addicting. The more I learned, the more I learned how little I know about driving.We learned to slalom, we learned a cornering technique called the Scandinavian Flick–my favorite skill and my new favorite term–and we raced around a course they call The Boneyard.
With his new sponsorship, White now has the opportunity to turn his newfound love into something more tangible, like a rally racing career. Right now, he says he’s not interested in turning in his snowboard (or his skateboard) for an Impreza, but if he can find the time to train, he would like to compete in the X Games rally race, perhaps next year. And then, who knows. He has time to decide … he still isn’t old enough to rent a car.
In the meantime, I think I’ll start looking for sponsors.