Racing-school dream fulfilled – for now

Alexandra Straub tackles Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Skip Barber

Published: May 22, 2012, 1:00 AM
Updated: November 22, 2021, 3:45 PM

Skip Barber - MX-5 Cup Cars on the grid at Laguna Seca

MONTEREY, CA – As I sat in my first classroom session at the Skip Barber Racing School, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I felt like continually pinching myself. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t dreaming. I really was about to drive in this world-renowned racetrack.

Attending the three-day racing school had been on my bucket list for some time now. Not only am I a huge fan of motorsports, I welcome the opportunity to hone and perfect my driving skills any chance I get – something I know can take a lifetime to do.

Where better to do it than at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with professional racing instructors? In a Mazda MX-5 cup car. Life is great!

The Skip Barber Racing School is one of the largest racing schools in the world. Founded in 1975, it has expanded through the years from just two cars to approximately 120, and counting. In 2007 the school joined forces with Mazda to create another amazing racing program, in which I was now participating.

Giving students the best of both worlds, classroom sessions and track time make up the majority of the three-day racing school. Track etiquette and terminology are taught, but more importantly, emphasis is placed on learning racing lines, apexes, racing in the rain and more.

Making the learning experience that much better was an all-star line-up of instructors, each hailing from different racing backgrounds. Whether from NASCAR, ALMS or Formula vehicles, they each brought their own flair to the classroom.

The information communicated could have been relatively dry and boring but instead was fun, entertaining and extremely informative.

Adding to the dynamic classroom and track atmosphere was a fabulous group of students. Regardless of their backgrounds, whether they had previously raced or not, the camaraderie of the group made the three days together fabulous.

Unified in the mentality that learning was the operative, egos were checked at the door and mutual respect was the watchword. I couldn’t have asked for better classmates.

It wasn’t until I walked out to pit row and selected the number 20 Mazda MX-5 cup car as my weapon of choice that I felt that everything was materializing. I would soon be taking to the fabled racetrack and learning how to push myself, as well as the vehicle, to become a more proficient driver.

Even less-than-perfect weather conditions couldn’t dampen my spirit. However, fits of torrential downpour and a wet track made for interesting driving conditions! Moreover, Mazda MX-5 cup cars are devoid a roof, meaning I managed to get well-soaked by the end of my sessions.

Thank goodness the heating system was left intact despite the interiors of the cup cars being stripped to accommodate the roll cage. That was a saving grace since driving around the raceway at upwards of 150km/h with water beating upon me left me thoroughly chilled in spite of working up a sweat.

Getting a good feel for the 200-horsepower MX-5 took a few runs, but as soon as the roadster and I became more acquainted, life became sweeter. The constant feedback from the instructors also made me more comfortable behind the wheel.

While they weren’t in the vehicles with us, they were positioned at various turns throughout the track. After each session, they would come up to us individually and tell us what our strengths were, but more importantly, where we could improve.

Among many, one valuable lesson I learned was to trust myself a little more when on the track. This was, after all, my first time at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and my first time in a modified MX-5, so it was natural to feel a little apprehensive.

But I had to remind myself that I was in a safe, controlled environment and had the proper tools and trainers to propel my driving skills forward. And while I thought the added degree of difficulty – the rain – was somewhat of a detriment, it actually proved to be an extremely valuable way to learn. Besides, it’s not always sunny on race day, right?!

It felt like the three days at the Skip Barber Racing School were over too soon. Being behind the wheel of the Mazda MX-5 cup cars, accelerating at full throttle after turn 11, and snaking my way through ‘The Corkscrew’ was an incredibly awesome experience.

The wealth of knowledge I accumulated, along with the track time and memories, will stay with me for a very long time. Until I go back and make some new ones!

For more information about the Skip Barber Racing School programs and courses they offer, visit

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