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Even Some of Driver's Competitors Have Taken Part in His Sprint Car School at Ventura

August 30, 2000|DARIN ESPER

There are several schools in Southern California that offer interested fans the chance to drive a race car.

Most are geared to give a layman the chance to experience a few laps at speed on a race track rather than actually teaching a person how to race.

Cory Kruseman's Sprint Car Driving School at Ventura Raceway is the exception.

Kruseman, who won the inaugural non-winged world championship of sprint car racing last year, does more than just teach his students how to drive and race sprint cars.

Some of his competitors in the Sprint Car Racing Assn. have taken his class, and two students with no prior dirt track racing experience rented Kruseman's cars to enter Ventura Racing Assn. events.

The school advertises it can teach people to drive fast and turn left, the basic premise of oval track racing on pavement or dirt.

The slogan is an understatement, because the driving technique for dirt track racing is different than pavement racing.

Dirt track racing entails using the brake and steering wheel to turn the car sideways heading into a turn and applying the throttle to power-slide the car through the corners, while pavement racing uses the throttle for speed and only the steering wheel to direct the car.

Jesse Denome, 36, of San Diego was one of Kruseman's first 10 students when the school opened in March. He took one intermediate course and one advanced course before entering his first of six races, and has made it to the main event three times, with one top-10 finish.

"Cory really teaches you how to drive, rather than just get around the track," said Denome, who assists Kruseman with the school and has purchased a United States Auto Club silver crown for Kruseman to race as he moves up the ladder in his quest to land a ride in the Indy Racing League.

Sam Vail, 53, of Ojai, a commercial pilot, took five beginner's courses, one intermediate course and one advanced course before making his racing debut Saturday at Ventura. He finished fifth in the 12-lap semi-main, calling his effort "successful" because he stayed out of trouble and didn't crash.

"The thing that appealed to me about sprint cars more than anything is this is really a finesse situation," said Vail, who decided to attend the school at the urging of his friend, 60-year-old Mike Dewey of Santa Paula. "A lot of times, you fly by the seat of your pants. In a sprint car, smooth is fast, and in an airplane, you have to be smooth. With sprint car driving, what's fun is strapping in with all that horsepower and you have to be smooth."

Dewey has taken four classes from Kruseman after taking a sprint car racing class in Northern California taught by veteran Jimmy Sills, and plans to take one advanced class before renting the car for a night of competition.

"[Kruseman] does a great job with this," Dewey said. "He has the background and the experience, and he has a real knack for teaching."

In the beginner's course, Kruseman conducts an orientation to familiarize students with the car's cramped cockpit. The first of two on-track sessions follows, in which Kruseman has the student drive the car around the track at slow speed to learn what the car wants to do.

Kruseman explains how to turn the car using the brake and steering wheel in conjunction, and walks the students around the track to explain the line they should follow and how to use reference points on the track to determine that line.

Students are then turned loose for 15 laps at speed.

The intermediate course includes all the instruction offered in the basic course, but features smaller class sizes and an additional on-track session.

The advanced course takes one day, with a maximum of two students, and includes instruction on changing a driving style to suit the setup of the car.

An aspiring racer can rent one of Kruseman's two cars for $850. An additional $100 buys the services of crew chief Steve Watt, who formerly served as crew chief for Troy Rutherford of Ojai when he drove for the Jordan Bros. in the Sprint Car Racing Assn.

Watt's talents were put to the test the first time the car was rented for a race. The mechanic stayed up until 2:30 a.m. that night repairing $5,000 worth of crash damage to the $32,000 car.

Kruseman said he got inspiration for the school from Ventura Raceway promoter Jim Naylor, who was asking Kruseman to come to the track to help rookie drivers.

The success of the class, which has a waiting list from two weeks to one month, took Kruseman by surprise.

After six months, Kruseman acquired a second car for the school.

Although some of Kruseman's competitors have taken his advanced course, it has yet to haunt him in competition.

"You just never know how good a teacher you'll be," Kruseman said. "If you just come out and try your best, you will be successful. It doesn't matter if I'm driving a sprint car or brushing my teeth, I always try my best."

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