Driving into the parking lot of ProFormance Racing School I was far from in my element. My family wouldn’t necessarily describe me as a great driver in general, let alone dare to put me behind the wheel of a sports car. So you can imagine how surprised I was when Explore Washington State and ProFormance Racing School reached out and offered me this comped racing lesson in exchange for the article you are reading now.
It was an early morning, at least for me it was. I pulled into the the ProFormance parking lot at 7:25 a.m. The air was crisp and cold. As soon as I got a glimpse of the track I couldn’t help but get anxious. After mustering up the courage to get out of my car, I was greeted by a gentle giant - a dog. He sat next to me and put his nose under my arm, signaling he wanted to be pet. Oddly enough, it was the best way to start my day. He put me at ease before being greeted by a man.
“Do you need to be fitted to a car?” he said. I nodded, hoping yes was the right answer.
I was so out of my element. But when I sat in the car and adjusted the straps, it felt like the seat was made for me. Strapped in like a toddler in a car seat, I felt nothing but safe.
I headed inside where coffee and muffins called my name. Shortly after walking in I was greeted by Shannon, who later would be my instructor. She started out just like me, a student in the racing school. To my surprise, in her first class she was kicked off the track for driving too slow! Yet, this only pushed her to become a better driver. She kept coming back and practicing, and now she is an instructor and races herself. She is a professional driver for many manufacturers such as BMW, Rolls Royce, Acura, and Lexus.
Shannon checked me in and welcomed me to ProFormance Racing School. Her kind voice and joyful demeanor calmed my nerves for what was about to come. The room was filled with nervous energy. Car junkies, motorheads, and auto buffs alike, have come together to learn and drive.
8 a.m. hits, class begins.
ProFormance Racing School
Don Kitch walks into the classroom. His voice carries across the room effortlessly and his confidence is unquestionable. He introduces himself and gives you an introduction to what your day is going to look like. His list of credentials is long and impressive and as you watch the conversation change from welcome to racing, his face lights up. His passion shines through every expression, his body language, and the memories he shares.
The class starts out with understanding a car's limits, systems, and what it is capable of. “You know how to drive a motorized vehicle, we are going to teach you how to drive a car.” he said with a smirk as the classroom built with anticipation.
Who is Don Kitch?
It doesn’t take very long before you realize Don is very well-known among the automotive industry. The classroom is filled with moments from his racing career: everything from photos of him signing autographs, traveling, awards, and my personal favorite, Don racing alongside one of his long-time friends Patrick Dempsy in France.
With over 35 years in motorsports, Don has participated in over 200 professional and amateur racing starts and has experience in nearly all aspects of the industry. In 1997 he founded Team Seattle. Don and his team race for “The Heart of Racing,” fundraising for Seattle Children’s Hospital.
It doesn’t take long at ProFormance Racing School before you’re enamored by Don Kitch and his long list of credentials. Garth Stein, the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, started out as a student, just like me. After reading Don’s essay, he realized some of the racing lessons Don has learned over the years can be applied to your day-to-day life.
This was the beginning of what we now know as the New York Times best selling novel and movie The Art of Racing in the Rain. His book and later movie, talks about those lessons from the voice of their family dog, Enzo. Little did I know that the pup that calmed my nerves this morning was an absolute star.
Don Kitch is a reputable and talented driver. Yet, he also has an incredible story, one that millions have come to love.
Learning to Drive a Car
After some instruction in the classroom our group headed out to the track for driving exercises. This is the section of the day that every teenager should be taking before receiving their license. Personally, my school’s football coach taught me how to drive around the school parking lot and the neighboring residential roads. My first encounter of losing control of my car was in extreme weather conditions not too long after that.
These driving exercises not only tell you what your car is capable of, but how to utilize and recognize the systems built within it to keep you safe and in control. Truthfully, I was a bit of a nervous wreck heading out onto that track to the first exercise. Driving a sports car, especially one I didn’t own, was new and scary for me, but purposefully losing control of it was something that was far out of my comfort zone.
The first exercise I took slowly and cautiously, which was quite the opposite of the goal. The instructors were encouraging, and kind. They gave me the space to become comfortable with the vehicle, and time to gain confidence behind the wheel.
However, it was the second course exercise where something switched inside of me and it hasn’t yet switched back. The second course had us going fast, losing control, and asking the car to do something that it can’t necessarily do. Again, the first time through I didn’t get fast enough, and hit the brake too early.
The instructors yet again were firm and supportive. Then it happened… I lost control and I was okay. I watched as the instructors literally jumped for joy and began screaming in excitement. From then on, I was hooked.
I was used to being overly safe and cautious while behind the wheel. Yet, I now realize although I was safe and cautious I was also ignorant and avoidant. I had very little knowledge about what my car was capable of, so I avoided putting myself in dangerous situations. However, this is a recipe for disaster.
The first time I encountered swerving, slamming on my brakes, fishtailing, or driving off the road were in emergencies. I had no idea how to react or what to do. But at ProFormance Racing School they put you in those emergency situations in a safe environment and give you the knowledge and encouragement to overcome them.
By the end of the driving exercises I was confident, and exhilarated.
When we came back in, I noticed a bunch of new vehicles parked and many new faces outside of the classroom. These visitors most definitely looked like they knew what they were doing. They had custom gear, beautiful vehicles, and a confidence about them that I mostly definitely did not have at arrival.
These people were the intermediate drivers. Some drivers compete, others are working towards licenses, and many race recreationally. All of them were kind to us newbies and it was quite fun watching them hit the track during lunch hour.
It is like looking at your future after you have already begun to realize you may want to stay a bit longer than just one class. Maybe in a few weeks, you will be racing with them.
Learning about the track in the classroom was eye opening. The mental work and visual concentration that goes into racing is astonishing. I admit, I thought we would be talking about driving in big circles, but that was so far from reality.
After getting briefed in the classroom, you get back out into your cars, this time around you are a passenger. Shannon, my instructor, drove around the race track explaining what she was looking at, why she was driving the way she was, and how to navigate the track. After a few laps, it’s time to switch.
The first few times around the track, we are instructed to take it slow. Although I must say 30 mph felt like 50 mph while simultaneously learning to navigate the twists and turns of the track.
Picking Up Speed
After a short break I head back out to the track with Shannon. This time around, we bring up the speed. I’ll admit that little voice in my head telling me to be slow and cautious was screaming at me. But something about pushing past it was freeing. The third time around I became comfortable with speed, I became more aware of the driving mechanics, and I became more confident in my ability.
As the speedometer went up, my worries and anxiety went down. This was something I never expected walking into the racing school that day. But Don instructed us to leave our worries and daily life struggles at the door because racing took up all of your mental and physical capabilities.
Truthfully, I believed he said that because he wanted us to have fun. But when faced with the track, I realized we had to choose from the beginning: racing is beyond mentally exhausting, it demands your attention.
Closing Classroom Session
At the end of the session, you exit off the track and let out a huge breath. You’ve done it. You’re alive. You have an adrenaline high and you are sad to see the track leave your sight.
Don gathered everyone back into the classroom for one last classroom talk. Sitting on the stool listening to Don give the last few remarks, you find yourself realizing how tired you’ve become and you start to recall your dredded responsibilities. There is a moment when you realize how present you’ve managed to be. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I was so present for so long.
And as the murmurs of goodbyes begin to fill the room, Don and his wife Donna begin passing out certificates to everyone in the class. And as I drove home that night, I looked at the road and my vehicle in an entirely different light.
While reflecting on my day on the drive home, I realized that without this opportunity I never may have ever experienced racing. It is evident that whether this is a one time bucket list activity for you or a hobby you do on a weekly to monthly basis, you are sure to have a special experience with every visit.
It is a sport that has something to offer everyone. At the end of the day I did not bring back a champion racing trophy but I did take home life long memories and a new perspective behind the wheel.
You can participate in the same curriculum as I did. You have the option to drive in your own car or a ProFormance Racing Vehicle (Toyota GR 86’s).
History of ProFormance Racing School
Don and his wife, Donna, founded the ProFormance Racing School in 1994 and it is now the premier performance driving school in the Pacific Northwest. Drivers of all levels gather here to achieve their goals no matter how big or small they may be.
The opportunities at ProFormance Racing School are endless because they host groups that cover everything from Corporate Building and Bachelor Parties to individuals from ages 15.5 to 84.
Don and Donna’s favorite part of this program is watching their students' smiles get bigger and bigger throughout the day. They have a knack for teaching and creating a fun and safe environment to learn.
April- September: Wednesday - Friday
October - March: Friday - Sunday
The racing community in general is large and lively. The clubs and associations are endless and new generations of car lovers are not sparse. However, the community at ProFormance Racing School is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. There are no limits to what car you can drive and the kind of things you want to achieve.
If you are interested in just getting to know your vehicle better, you are welcome. If you want to participate once for a party or special occasion, you are welcome. If you strive to be a competitive driver, you are welcome. It doesn’t matter if you drive an SUV or a Ferrari, you are welcome.
The ProFormance Racing School is open to all levels of experience. If you are looking for a track with safety, community, and fun, you’ve found it.