Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles, 16-year-old son Carter take on the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School
IMS president Doug Boles takes on the challenge and fun of the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School.
(Editor’s note: Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and his 16-year-old son Carter took on the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School located at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, less than an hour west of Las Vegas. Doug and Carter offered to share their experience with Autoweek readers, and we took them up on it. Here is Doug’s story.)
Sitting in the parking lot, the afternoon sun coming through the window of my 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe, I started reminiscing about the anticipation I had 36 years ago, almost to the day, of getting my driver’s license. It was a right of passage. It meant independence.
The honk of a horn jolted me back to today. I glanced at my watch. We only had two hours and 10 minutes.
Behind the wheel of a 2003 Dodge Avenger, my 16-year-old son Carter had pulled into the parking spot next to me. In the passenger seat next to him was some man I had never met instructing him on how to drive. This was the fourth of six one-hour, state-law-required instruction sessions before getting a driver’s license in Indiana.
“If the instructor only knew where we were headed,” I thought as Carter hustled to the Tahoe and we headed for the airport.
Yes, 36 years ago I couldn’t wait to get my license. Now, as a father, the emotions were different. I wanted him to continue to love cars like he does, but I also know more acutely now the dangers that come with that passion and that independence.
From left, Carter Boles, Conor Daly and Doug Boles at the SKUSA Nationals in Las Vegas during the Boles’ driving-school week in Las Vegas. Carter and Conor are brothers.
“How was it?” I ask, knowing it wasn’t that exciting, but mostly wanting to know if Carter had hit anything, run a red light or generally messed up something that would slow his trajectory to a driver’s license of give me pause as a parent.
“Fine. Mostly neighborhood driving. And parallel parking,” Carter said. “What time is our flight?”
Good, I thought, his mind is on the trip also. “We’ve got a little less than two hours.”
We were headed Vegas. Father and son. Weekend trip. A short stop at the SKUSA Super Nationals to watch my stepson, and Carter’s brother, Conor Daly compete and then off to Spring Mountain Motorsports Park for two days at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School behind the wheel of 2018 Chevrolet Corvettes.
In addition to the six hours of instructor time, Indiana also requires 50 hours of driving time with a parent to get a license. Carter had that pretty quickly. In fact, he covered most of it in the first week.
We participated in the USAC American Adventure in 2017 the day after Carter became eligible to drive with me through a “learner’s permit.” Starting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we chased clues and challenges all the way to New Orleans in a 2017 white Corvette Stingray. Carter drove nearly every mile of the Naches Trail — and every other opportunity he could get me to relinquish the wheel!
When it came time to hit the circuit, Carter, 16, opted for blue.
Actually, Carter had his first experience behind the wheel of a Corvette as a 14 year-old at a makeshift autocross course in the parking lot of Sugarbush ski resort during the 2016 America Adventure. In fact, that was where he first learned to drive a manual. When we arrived at the check-point that day, the challenge, and extra points, was to see how quickly a team could get through the course. Three passes. But the driver and co-driver had to take at least one pass.
Quickly we spent time with Carter starting and stalling; starting, bouncing and stalling; starting and rolling; and ultimately starting and driving. We proceeded to the course. And, at the end of our passes, we left the challenge victorious. The next day, his second with a manual, Carter won the rally-cross challenge.
So, Carter had experienced the power and performance of the Chevy Corvette, as much as you can do and stay relatively close to the legally posted speed limits and in a few lower speed situations, but never in a proper school with proper instructors. So, the Fellows two-day program was something we both looked forward to experiencing together.
On the plane to Vegas, in between answering work emails (I’m still not sure whether Wi-Fi on a plane is a good or bad thing), my mind drifted to father-like thoughts. How did 16 years go so fast? For a first car, should I get him something used (anticipating it will be involved in some early incident) or go straight for the car with the most safety bells and whistles? Maybe no first car, just limited borrowing of a family car? How much will my insurance costs go up? Will that increase be offset now that I just had my last traffic ticket fall off my point count?
After a little time in the classroom, Carter Boles is ready to hit the road with his high-performance ride.
Driving to Spring Mountain from Vegas is easy and was one of the more pleasant drives I’d had in some time. The drive on Nevada 160 winds up through the Spring Mountain Range west of Vegas between the Red Rock Cliffs and the 8,500-plus-foot Potosi Mountain. On the trip, we passed by exits to towns with names you’d expect, like Blue Diamond and Bonnie Springs, in the West.
We’d stopped at Blue Diamond’s McGhie’s Bike Outpost on a couple of occasions because the mountain biking is stellar and offers great views of the Red Rock Canyon. This time, we just passed the exit and commented on trails we could see from the car we were certain we’d ridden and recounted the experiences through embellished stories of near-death encounters with rocks and wildlife. I imagined the stories about our driving we would be telling on the way back in a couple of days.
Once we crossed the mountains, there was absolutely nothing, blank-sheet-of-white-paper nothing, until we reached the exit to the driving school. Or what we thought was the exit. Carter and I relied on our GPS, which took us off-route early, and we literally ended up in a dead-end gravel road that terminated in indigenous vegetation. We could see the racetrack. We debated off-roading for a moment but the wiser of us — the 16-year-old, in this case — was concerned about the potential of some Nevada law that we might violate, not to mention the fine print in the rental car agreement.
We were fortunate to be staying at the condo-like hotel rooms on the Spring Mountain property where most school participants stay. We checked in, grabbed a bite to eat at a local Japanese restaurant and hit the sack anticipating the fun of the next two days.
Carter starred in the classroom and on the road.
I woke up early. Again thinking about how quickly time had passed and that soon, Carter — the kid the rental car company said was too young to help me drive to Spring Mountain — would be learning the importance of weight transfer to the handling of a car, keeping your vision where you want to go, proper throttle application, use of the ABS system and all the things that make driving, and automobiles, so much more fun than just an appliance to get from point A to point B.
I must admit, I was looking forward to the on-track portions of the two-day school the most. But from the moment we started in the classroom, what I found most impactful was how much of what Carter was learning, and I was relearning, was going to be useful on the road, in everyday driving situations.
Many of the students alongside us were new or longtime Corvette owners and they too were going to be much better equipped to handle their cars in all conditions after completing this course. It was an eclectic group car enthusiasts from all walks of life, brought together for 48 hours through a shared love of the V8 horsepower under the hood of America’s Sports Car.
The cone course driving, especially with the front windshield blocked, drove home the importance of looking ahead of you to know what is coming your way and where you want to the car to go as you’re turning it. The heavy ABS braking in the dry and wet helped to make us understand, and use, what the Corvette has engineered into it to help keep drivers safe.
When your dad is president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you get used to being surrounded by high-performance automobiles.
When we got to the wet figure-eight skid pad was when I knew that Carter was going to outdrive me. I struggled, even though I’ve done them many times, to keep the car from spinning. Carter never spun while driving sideways like Tow Mater drives backwards in the “Cars” movies. Naturally.
On day two, we spent most of the day on-track or in the classroom talking about the elements of cornering and how to cause, remedy and avoid understeer and oversteer. Four proper on-track sessions really gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs.
At one point during the final session — that point you are comfortable enough that everything around you slows down — I found myself thinking about Carter getting his drivers license as he followed the instructor and I followed him into turn 1 on the road course at Spring Mountain approaching 120 mph. I realized how much of what was making him faster on a track, and what he learned in two days, was really going to make him better on the road.
Awareness. Focus. Vision. Deliberate decisions. Throttle use. Brake application.
A few corners later, I missed the entry to turn 6. Fortunately there was runoff. The admonishment from the instructor over the radio and the number of times I have heard the story retold by Carter since that day have made this moment a “highlight” of the two days!
After shaking hands with the Indy 500 veteran, NASCAR driver, accomplished off-road driver and longtime performance driving coaches who served as our instructors, we gathered our things and jumped in our rental car to catch a late plane home to Indianapolis.
We talked the entire trip back. Mostly I just prompted the conversation with a question here and there and then just listened. Dads love to listen as much as we love to teach. Beyond the thrill that any nonlicensed teenager would have behind the wheel of a Corvette on a racetrack for two days, I wanted to know what Carter had learned. What would make him a better, safer driver. Not a racer.
It was clear that the two days had given him an understanding of why cars react certain ways under different inputs, the importance of knowing your surroundings and where you want the car to go, and mostly staying calm and focused on the task at hand – not the phone, the radio or that friend who just won’t stop talking in the backseat.
Yes, 36 years ago I got my driver’s license. I was turned loose with little training in my arsenal to help keep me from wrecking a ’78 Impala and early-model Celica. With a little Ron Fellows training under his belt, I am hoping Carter will be better suited for the road. And I think I am more comfortable with being a parent of a soon-to-be-driving teenager.
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