In early 2000, SCRA ace Cory Kruseman and track owner Jim
Naylor brainstormed putting on a sprint car driver’s school at Naylor’s
beautiful Ventura Raceway, the self-proclaimed “Best Little Dirt Track In
After reading several articles about the school, talking
with a couple of graduates of Cory’s school, then visiting Ventura Raceway for
a tremendously competitive SCRA show, the “Yeah, someday…” of attending
class there turned into “You know, I gotta do this!”
Squirreling away a few dollars here and there and
religiously searching for loose change behind the sofa cushions would get me
there, but it was looking like a next season thing, until my ever-supportive
wife, Kim, stepped in with a surprise anniversary present. (…and birthday, and
Christmas present – for the next three years) It was a gift certificate to
Cory Kruseman’s Sprint Car Racing School Advanced Course!
Gotta be catch, right?
Not. Well, unless one were to count that affidavit I had to sign for Kim
that stated no way, no how was I to become a driver or car owner after attending
the school. That girl knows me too well…
So, that’s how on a beautiful morning in late October I
found myself along with Pryce Movis and David Adamo, intently listening to Cory
outline the day ahead of us. Ground school, to be followed by 150 laps of
racing, doled out in 25 lap sessions, interspersed with track walks, one-on-one
coaching and bench racing in the pits.
Pryce had attended Cory’s classes 4 times previously and
was now shopping for a used 360 to run next year. David was a special guest
student in our class; Cory had just finished building David’s brand spankin’
new 360 car for running in the Ventura & Santa Maria 360 series, and this
was David’s break-in session. Yours Truly, shaking in his boots, was the real
rookie. (unless one counted the many hours I spent racing at Ascot Speedway –
on the SlikTrak go kart track outside the main entrance, that is…)
We sat and listened to Cory, then checked out our school
car, the #1 TCR chassis 360 that Cory built specially for the school.
It looked like your basic fire breathing, rip snortin’,
dirt slinging sprint car, with all the proper racing trimmings, and it looked
quite well cared for, despite racing 2,3, sometimes 4 times a week.
We then walked over to David’s beautiful #27 for the
chassis set up briefing.
The car had never even been fired before, and it shone in
the morning sun like a newly minted nickel!
Cory showed us how to “block” the suspension, then he
walked us through the basics – stagger, wheel offset, torsion bar adjustments,
and he emphasized the importance of taking notes of what worked and what
didn’t for set up at each track that a driver visited.
Wife Kim earned some serious bonus points by shooting
“beauty shots” of David’s car, something neither Cory or David remembered
in their hurry to get the car on the trailer the day before.
Cory then had us suit up in school provided safety gear;
Pryce won the toss to go out first on the greasy slick track and wheel pack it
for the rest of us.
I watched with Cory and Don Adams as Pryce slip-slided
around the track, spinning the wheels at the slightest provocation of the
No fast sessions until the track came to us a bit more,
which was fine with me.
I was taking Cory’s advice about “smooth first, fast
later” to heart.
Backing smoothly into the wall was NOT what I wanted, first
thing out of the gate.
Pryce pulled in and I took his place in the cramped
Don helped with the belts, snugging them down with a
running start while holding onto the adjustment end.
“Don,” I gasped, “tight enough!!!”
“When your eyes bug out just a little more is tight
enough.” he replied.
With a last “Don’t forget to breathe, and have FUN!”
the push truck sidled up behind me, and with a gentle nudge, we were out of the
pit gate, over the 4th turn berm, headed down the front straight.
I was quite surprised that the racer’s huge Hoosiers spun
readily in the greasy clay once I let my foot off the brake.
“Whoops – there’s some oil pressure. Let’s see if
this Off/On switch does anything…”
The monster 360 lit off with a soft bang and I could feel
each individual cylinder firing, shaking the chassis and the seat.
No counterbalanced, cushion-mounted, overhead -cammed
blender motor here!
This was raw Chevy hot rod, ready to do some serious earth
I tenatively stabbed the throttle and the noise level
rocketed, the car jumped sideways and almost spun itself before I could back off
I’d like to say I went right out and broke the rookie
track record, but truthfully, the only thing I almost broke was my jaw from
grinning so widely.
The next 2 sessions were faster, despite my lines being
wrong by a mile, and my throttle foot stabbing instead of rolling on the
Cory professionally coached us thru what he saw from
watching and listening to us; he ventured out onto the infield (brave guy!) to
watch and point to us where our lines were off, or where we should be on the
After the 3rd session, Cory had us all walk the
track with him, and he pointed out apexes, targets, (hope that palm tree never
gets cut down outside of turn 1!) and braking points to set the car up for the
run past the apex onto the straight.
“Braking points, set the car up?” I worked that thought
over in my little brain; it was confusing.
For some reason I had always thought that the car was
pitched into the corner with the steering only. Braking was something one did in
a straight line, wasn’t it?
After a great lunch, (Cory provides continental breakfast,
lunch and cold drinks) my 4th session was better – with Cory’s
coaching the car was going sideways now around most of the turns.
My racing lines were closer to Cory’s track blistering
It still wasn’t right somehow.
Not very smooth or all that quick into the turns.
Rats. I was still having fun, but getting bummed with the
pace of my progress.
During Pryce’s 5th session, Cory indicated for
him to stop by in turn 1 for some pointers.
He coasted into turn one as I jumped into the push truck
As we got to the car, Cory was saying: “ …you have to
use the brake to help turn the car, then smoothly apply throttle through the
Again, I was confused – brakes were for stopping the car,
not turning the car, weren’t they?
Corey then told him to re-light the car, get a running
start down the front straight, then hit the brakes in turn 1 as hard as he could
until the car spun and the motor quit.
As we climbed back into the push truck, Don said to me:
“It’s true - you know, if your left leg isn’t aching by the end of the
night, you aren’t braking hard enough.”
Pryce lit the #1 off again, got a good head of steam up
down the straight, then, as he was entering turn 1, laid into the brakes for all
he was worth.
The car hooked sharply left, jumped the inside berm and
Far from being upset, Cory was almost jubilant: “
That’s it! Feel how the car turned itself with just the brakes?”
A little light went on inside my head just then. The
combination of braking, steering and accelerating was the secret!
When I belted in for my 5th session, I felt I
had enough knowledge and “easy” laps to try and put all the little bits I
learned so far all together.
We lit the car off and I took several easy laps to feel out
the track and try my own experiments with the brakes in the turns.
Hmm, feels right, I thought, “Let’s get it on and see
What happened was that the straightaways went away!
The car leapt forward, pushing my head back against the
Turn 1 loomed up right NOW.
“Brake, brake, brakebrakebrakebrake!” I yelled inside
The brakes grabbed, the car twisted to the left, I
countersteered, squeezed on the throttle, then a magical thing happened!
It was smooth! It was fast!
The car was blindingly fast, noisier than front row center
at a Metallica concert and incredibly violent in terms of acceleration, braking
and turning, but it wailed smoothly sideways around the turns, lining up far
earlier for the short dash down the straight to be pitched into the next turn.
I spent the rest of my session rocketing from one end of
the track to the other, pitching the car with the brakes, feathering the
throttle, lining up the apex, then squeezing the throttle on through the turn.
Great fun, but so violent that it beat the feathers out of
my out-of-shape hide and I had to slow down for a lap now and then to catch my
When I pulled in to the pits, Cory came up and asked me:
“Who pissed you off? You were driving like a madman out there! Good going!”
“Thanks,” I said, “I finally ‘got it’!”
We did another session after that, sort of a “cool-off”
session on a greasy slick track to play a bit more with throttle modulation and
lining apexes at slower speeds, then Corey handed out our diplomas back in the
High fives and Attaboys! all around, then we all headed off
to the peaceful SoCal freeways.
So, what did I get out of Cory’s school?
As a sprint car fan, I learned a TON more respect for the
drivers who buckle in and pilot one of these rockets with a field of their
I appreciate much better the finessing & tuning
possibilities of these supposedly “crude” dirt cars.
I admire the symbiosis that a crew and driver generate to
wring the best possible set up for constantly changing track conditions.
As a driver, I now know that mere mortals such as myself
can strap into one of these monsters, fire it up, twist it’s tail and live to
tell about it.
I have much more appreciation for the physics involved in
slinging one of these vehicles around the track at speeds that should have them
flying over the fence.
And, I had more than my share of fun hanging with some
really friendly folks who have a genuine passion for their jobs.
These folks made even a rookie like myself feel
comfortable, competent, and able to pick up a ton of working knowledge in a
limited amount of time.
I’ll be back soon, to add to the database of laps that
Cory has already coached me on.
Then too, Cory DOES rent the school car to advanced
graduate drivers who want to run the 360 or SCRA 410 series at Ventura
Raceway…and, well, it’s not like I’d be a car owner, or a regular driver,
or anything like that, right Kim?
For further exploration - links to: Cory Kruseman’s
school site: www.kruseman.com
and Ventura Raceway: www.venturaraceway.com