October 1, 2021
The Bank of America Roval 400 takes place this month at Charlotte Motor Speedway. At a private racing school in Concord, racing enthusiasts can experience the thrill first-hand.
by Vanessa Infanzon
When Paul Sexton was a boy growing up in Denton, a rural community in Davidson County, he remembers seeing a 1965 Shelby GT Mustang at Hill Motor Co. “Every 11- and 12-year-old’s dream is to drive a hot car,” says Sexton, 69.
The High Point resident bought his first Ford, a 1966 silver-blue Mustang with a 289-cubic-inch V-8, when he was in college. Over the years, he purchased two more: a 1973 blue Mustang Fastback and a 1986 black Mustang GT convertible.
“When the Ford v. Ferrari movie came out a couple of years ago, it kind of reignited that fire in me,” says Sexton, who, with his wife, now owns a pair of Ford Escapes.
In May, Sexton treated himself to a two-day course at the Ford Performance Racing School to celebrate his retirement from Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. The school offers one- and two-day classes at its facility in Concord. Professional instructors teach participants how to drive on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s roval (road course and oval) in a Ford Mustang GT.
“My heart rate goes up — you crank [the engine up], you hear the motor and you take off, and you start following the lead person. At every turn, [the instructors] are talking to you through the mic in your helmet — they’re telling you where to break, where to turn and accelerate,” Sexton says, describing the experience.
“It’s exciting anytime you’re going to get to drive faster than you can on the highway,” he says. “It’s exhilarating in a controlled environment, where things are safe.”
Ford Performance Racing School is a private entity with permission to operate under the Ford name. The school offers corporate team-building and custom programs. An SUV experience program operates in Asheville at the Biltmore Estate and in Park City, Utah.
Instructors come to FPRS from a variety of backgrounds in professional racing. They have knowledge of various vehicles, from go-karts to NASCAR Cup cars, on different styles of tracks. Some have worked in testing, government training, the film industry and private coaching.
“These folks are highly trained,” says Matt Reilly, who joined FPRS as the instructor supervisor when the program moved from Grantsville, Utah, to Concord in spring 2020. He has more than 30 years of experience as a professional driver and instructor. “[We want them] to extract the best out of each student.”
Participants must already know how to drive a manual transmission. Each student is fitted with a racing suit and a helmet. Mornings include ground-school training in racetrack nuances, how to recover from a skid and flag recognition. Students learn about acceleration, heel-to-toe downshift and weight transfer. Each participant is paired with a track-prepared car equipped with racing seat and harness, radio communication, roll cage, and modified brakes, exhaust and suspension.
The afternoon is spent on the racetrack in three, 20-minute behind-the-wheel lead-follow sessions. An instructor in the lead car is followed by the students. Everyone rotates to get a chance behind the instructor.
By the end of the day, most students will hit speeds in the three digits, Reilly says. “Each session, we are building up our speed with every lap. There’s no speed limit at a racetrack. There’s no state troopers on the racetrack.”
Sexton hit 120 mph by the end of his day on the track. On the second day, his instructors set him loose on the roval once they gave him the instructions.
“When you get on the high bank, that’s a thrill. Everything in your body is telling you, ‘You can’t take a corner this fast,’” he says.
“We teach an everyday person to be a race car driver,” Reilly says. “The whole purpose of this program is for enthusiasts to learn car control and how to properly drive on the racetrack. It’s geared for the person who wants to go on the racetrack and have fun.” SP
Ford Performance Racing School is located at 5115 Morehead Rd. in Concord. fordperformanceracingschool.com