“Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports … all others are games.”
– Ernest Hemingway

There’s a reason American Express, Citibank, Chevron, Pepsi, and hundreds of other corporations have sent their employees to Skip Barber Racing School. And it’s not because they want faster drivers.

“It develops confidence,” says Rick Roso, the company’s marketing manager and an occasional instructor. “When you do something that you thought you couldn’t do, something that seemed impossible, it carries over into other parts of your life.”

But what’s so impossible about racing a car?

“When you watch it on TV, it looks easy,” Roso says. “But that’s only because you don’t feel the g-forces, the braking forces. When you’re in a race car, it’s ten times more difficult than it looks. You’d be surprised how many people don’t want to come back after the first day.”

That’s where the confidence building comes in. Skip Barber instructors, all competitive drivers, are masters at pushing through those psychological barriers, those fears that inevitably taunt you when you realize you’re going to be hurtling around a racetrack at 130 miles an hour in a flimsy, 1,100-pound car.

That’s why Roso has often heard the three-day racing school referred to as the “Outward Bound of motor sport.” According to him, it will do a lot more than teach you how to downshift, brake, corner, and pass other drivers on the straightaway. It will make you a better person. “When you do something this radical, it changes you,” he says.

It also qualifies you to race (yes, actually race) in the Skip Barber Race Series, the largest open-wheel amateur championship in North America. Drivers with career aspirations have long used the Race Series as their entrée into the sport, but most of the drivers in the series are everyday folks who just want to take a green flag, to actually be behind the wheel when they hear that familiar refrain: “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

Graduates of Skip Barber’s Three-Day Racing School are automatically qualified for the Race Series. On these race weekends, which culminate in four regional championships, Skip Barber brings the cars, the pit crews, and the fireproof jumpsuits. All you do is show up. And fork over the cash for Friday practice—mandatory if it’s your first time–and two advanced on-track programs.

But back to the qualifications. According to most experts, you get 90 percent of what you need to know to race competitively in the three days of instruction. The other 10 percent comes through “seat” time—time spent practicing and experiencing the various track layouts and surfaces, driver attitudes, and weather changes.

The Three-Day Racing School, the company’s bread and butter, is held at some of the best tracks in the United States and Canada, the same tracks the pros race on. In fact, if you look down a roster of pros, you’ll find that a good percentage of them have also trained with Skip Barber.

“You take an average NASCAR field of 43 drivers and usually about a dozen would have gone through our driving school,” Roso estimates. “At Indianapolis, you’re looking at 30 to 35 percent that would have trained with us.”

That’s not to mention the school’s impressive celebrity alumni including Paul Newman, Al Pacino, and Charlie Sheen. Not that you need any kind of credentials.

“We don’t presume any knowledge on your part,” Roso says. “We even get folks from New York whose only experience in a car is a cab.”

Skip Barber started his school in 1975 with four students and a pair of borrowed race cars. By the end of the first year, he was $10,000 in debt. But the same mentality that propelled his success as a professional driver wouldn’t let him give up. Today, the company (Barber sold it in 2002 to concentrate on the famous Lime Rock Park racetrack that he was able to buy after the racing school took off) owns 200 high-performance race cars. It has locations in Sebring and Daytona Beach, Florida; Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin; and Monterey, California, as well as its headquarters in Lakeville, Connecticut. From those four locations, the company shuttles cars and instructors around the country, scheduling the three-day racing schools, as well as one-day, advanced, and high-performance courses.

Skip Barber Racing School, P.O. Box 1629, Lakeville, CT 06039, 800-221-1131, www.skipbarber.com.