By Matthew Goldberg

While many of us dream of racing professionally, few of us will likely ever get to. We can, however, participate in the BMW Performance Center’s BMW One Day M-School in Thermal, California. Equipped with an ID badge, lanyard, and lunch, drivers can spend an exciting day learning the ins and outs of professional racing and walk away with a certificate of completion at the end of the day. 

School begins at 8:30 a.m. when students gather in an outdoor seating area for a classroom session. Instructors greet drivers, introduce themselves and outline their respective backgrounds in professional racing. Their expertise ranges from Indy 500 races to winning the Long Beach Grand Prix and they had decades of teaching experience between them. 

Students are given a detailed course with key points for driving a vehicle efficiently with a presentation and discussion. The first few slides detail the importance of proper seating, including correct seat height and seatbelt fit, allowing for the most comfortable and effective handling of the steering wheel and gas/brake pedals. Drivers must have maximum steering control and the precision of turning corners is underscored. Proper technique and keeping eyes far in the distance allows the driver to have maximum exit speed as he or she emerges out of a turn. Correct operating procedure is vital and allows the car to maintain balance and perform at peak efficiency.

Throughout the day students drive the BMW M2, M4, and the M5, the latter being the fastest. Each vehicle can switch from automatic to manual transmission and each has a 2-way radio so instructors can give live direction and correct mistakes on the spot. Clear, straightforward feedback is continually offered to enable drivers to perfect their skills in real time. 

Students experience six stations in a day: Three in the morning and three in the afternoon.

Cornering exercise

An instructor leads drivers around a short course in which the focus is a sharp turn between two longer straightaways. Then instructors drive the cars and demonstrate the best way to take a corner. Students then drive as fast as possible on the first straightaway, slam on their brakes to get around the corner and then floor the gas to get the fastest exit speed possible. 

Skid Pad: Drift Training

At this station, students drive on a big slab of polished concrete in a large circle. Here, drivers turn off the stabilizing feature in the car that prevents spinning out, so they practice skidding, turning, and drifting. It can take a few laps to get the hang of it, but students learn to control the vehicles the more they practice.

Complete Circuit

This exercise is a longer circuit track with a lot of tight turns and short straightaways on the course. The instructor drives around the track with students following behind in their own cars. There is quite a bit of strategy and technique in each distinct turn based on how much time there is to accelerate before and after each turn. Cones are set up on the edge of the track to indicate when to speed up, slow down, and how to angle the vehicle. The instructors encourage students to step outside their comfort zones with speed while staying in control. 

Following the three instructor-led laps students drive on their own and get to drive as fast as they can around the track. After about 10 laps students notice marked improvements and tighter turns. 

After completing the first three stations, it’s time to break for lunch. The catered meal consists of a choice of food options such as Greek salad, ham and gouda sandwich, or turkey and swiss sandwich. Lunch includes a chocolate peanut butter brownie, butter cake, chips, fruit, and a drink. With a full belly, students take on three more stations.

Skid Pad: Rat Race

Cones are set up in a larger oval instead of a circle and students compete in 2-person race.

The race is structured so each person begins on opposite sides of the oval. The first person to finish three laps is the winner. But because this takes place on a concrete slab, the key is to drift/skid around the corners. If drivers go too fast, they’ll slip out of control. The race component is fun and creates friendly competition.

High Speed Track: Instructor -Led Laps 

Adjacent to the BMW Performance Center are three separate tracks where students drive behind their instructor for about 12 laps, at some points at 110-130 mph. 

Time attack: Complete Circuit 

Instructors talk students through laps, so they have a better grasp of the best way to approach each turn. Drivers start from a complete stop and then at the end of the track they stop in a rectangular “stop box.”

At the end of the day students get into the instructors’ cars to experience how much faster the professionals take the laps around the course, which is a thrilling experience for every student driver. 

Finally, the instructors review some of the concepts taught earlier and remind drivers how those techniques can apply to day-to-day driving. They then announce the winners for the fastest times on the track. 

The BMW Performance Center experience is one that lovers of racing will remember for a lifetime. To make a weekend of it, a stay at Hotel Paseo, a luxury boutique hotel in Palm Desert, is recommended. The hotel is located within walking distance of many restaurants and shopping centers. There is a gorgeous pool and calm outdoor seating area directly opposite of the entry, which boasts a perfectly restored old Cadillac as the centerpiece. As a weekend getaway, the BMW Driving Experience offers a unique adventure and makes a perfect gift for and car buff. 

BMW Performance Center:

Hotel Paseo: