Let it be here and forevermore known that I apologize.

I apologize to every single driver I've ever insisted on interviewing immediately after a race at Bristol Motor Speedway. I apologize to every driver I've ever mocked for having trouble there, including, if not especially Ken Alexander, who was once involved in no less than five accidents during a long-ago Busch Series event at Bristol.

It seemed oh-so comical that afternoon in the press box ... No. 63 car, Turn 4 ... 63 car, frontstretch ... 63 car, backstretch ... 63 car ... 63 car ... poor guy. It couldn't possibly be that hard to drive this place, could it?

Bristol is, after all, just another short track. Somebody once compared racing at Bristol to flying jet fighters in a school gymnasium. Somebody else said it was like rolling marbles around the inside of a cereal bowl. The analogies made for good copy, but it really wasn't all that difficult. Yeah, the turns are banked pretty steep, but what's the big deal? They're racers, and they should be able to handle it.

Oh, just shut up already.

Could there possibly be a more difficult track in all of NASCAR to negotiate? Nope, no way, and if there is, I don't know that I would want any part of it. Sure, road courses are probably more technically demanding, but that's different. That's way different. Your mind messes with you on a road course ... downshift here, turn right there, shift again, turn left.

Bristol is a completely different universe. Here, you're on the straightaway for, what, a half a second before you drive off the side of a cliff. You hang there in the impossibly banked turns, G-forces slamming your body hard into the right-side rib protector, your hands twitching this way and that on the steering wheel.

Finally, mercifully, you're out of the turn and onto another straightaway. You can breathe and relax, but almost before your mind can even register it, you're headed straight for the wall that is the next turn. This place is crazy stupid.

And that's just for the 50 laps or so of a session at DriveTech at The Racing School. 500 laps? With 42 other cars? Forget it. It's quite possible that the most amazing thing about any driver's performance at Bristol isn't quite so much that they actually completed a race, but that they're able to coherently talk about it afterward.


What They Do Right
Mark Ebert once sold insurance, but come Monday morning meetings, he noticed he was the only one there with grease under his fingernails. Ebert had been operating a driving school at Thompson (Connecticut) International Speedway part-time for a couple of years, and he had a choice to make.

Was he going to expand the school and go full time, or was he going to sit in an office for the rest of his life? The Attleboro, Massachusetts, resident took the school full time in 2001, and today, DriveTech at The Racing School offers classes at nearly 20 short tracks and superspeedways across the country.

It doesn't take long to notice differences between this and some of the other driving schools that are available. First, DriveTech at The Racing School sessions are laid back, even when struck by inclement weather. Nobody seemed to panic, and nobody tried to rush class participants onto or off of the track in order to beat approaching rain, which eventually put an end to activities altogether.

The mood translated to participants, some of whom were forced to reschedule their sessions for months down the road. Sure, they were disappointed, but understood. Others could come back the next day, and amazingly enough, were able to start their laps all over again.

A good PR move? You betcha.

Another HUGE plus for Ebert's group is its use of in-car radios. Instructors can communicate with students, but not vice versa, and that's fine. Most students-the sane ones, at any rate-are far too busy worrying about not busting their rumps to be concerned with finding the "talk" button.