The Renowned Training Ground Continues Helping Aspiring Pros and Excited Thrill-Seekers Sharpen Their Skills
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There is an unmistakable energy in Dan DeMonte’s voice as he talks about the Skip Barber Racing School. His family purchased the famed driving school in 2017 and has been busy maneuvering the iconic operation into a corporate apex of speed and marketability.
Inspired and determined, DeMonte eagerly rattles off the names of Skip Barber’s famous graduates who range from IMSA stars like Ricky and Jordan Taylor to Indy 500 winners like Alexander Rossi and Juan Pablo Montoya.
The school has long been regarded as the sport’s Harvard of speed – where drivers learn to handle their first sequential gearbox, to master the apex and for many, where they begin dreaming of big trophies and big-time championships. From teaching the basics of sedan and formula competition, to tutoring NASCAR stars at road courses to providing unforgettable corporate events, Skip Barber is a world-renowned property.
And DeMonte, who owns the company with his brother and two sisters, is full of ideas to take this proven formula into the future.
“We’re building a team to take the great history of the brand and company and expand that physically and logistically,’’ said DeMonte, chief marketing officer for Skip Barber Racing School.
“In the next 12 months we’ll run 200 events and put 10,000 students through our schools running at most of the iconic tracks across the country – Laguna Seca, COTA (Circuit of The Americas), Sebring, Road Atlanta, Lime Rock Park and New Jersey Motorsports Park.”
And the impact spans multiple racing series. In May, IMSA announced that the Skip Barber Racing School has become a series partner and will take a bold presence at its events as the “Preferred Racing School of IMSA.”
“Skip Barber Racing School has earned a reputation for providing a vital first step to so many racing drivers who, over the years, have gone on to achieve the pinnacle of success in our sport,” IMSA President John Doonan said in announcing the partnership.
“IMSA is proud to officially partner with Skip Barber Racing School with an eye toward developing a new generation of sports car driving talent. We also will work together with the Skip Barber team to provide ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities through the school’s other experiential programs available to IMSA partners and enthusiasts.”
That same month, in a nod to its versatile outreach, the Skip Barber Racing School played a huge role in preparing NASCAR drivers for their competitive debut at COTA. Kyle Busch, Bubba Wallace and this year’s Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell were among those who spent time with Skip Barber instructors to learn the new road course on their schedule.
“I was in a meeting watching the drivers talk about the track and there were questions from Kyle Busch, and I saw Michael McDowell was taking notes furiously,’’ DeMonte said. “But if you think about it, it makes sense because our (Skip Barber instructors) had been around that track a thousand times. It wasn’t just that those NASCAR drivers wanted to get seat time, which of course they did, they wanted to listen to our instructors who are talented.
“We do that for average students as well as those on a higher level,’’ he continued. “I was really pleased and proud they had an impact. Michael McDowell told me, ‘You guys were superior to most anything we’ve seen.’”
Skip Barber Racing School has long held a special presence in auto racing.
From sunny days on Sebring International Raceway pit road to cool afternoons working at New Jersey Motorsports Park, chief instructor Terry Earwood and an impressive list of other talented racing professors have helped shape the sport’s competitive landscape for decades.
“We get to say in every school, ‘the system works, trust it,’ and it does,” Earwood said in his distinctive Southern drawl.
“God bless Skip. He was a good racer, but he had a focus and knew what people needed to know to go faster, and then he hired some real good people and they all fed off each other.’’
From the racing schools’ earliest days, Earwood recalled, you had to have a racing championship of some kind on your résumé to be considered for an instructor job. Earwood, an accomplished road racer and the winningest driver in the history of the IMSA Firestone Firehawk Series, still gets a kick out of the irony of his longtime employment teaching road-course skills at the school.
“I had four drag racing championships, but still they were championships,’’ Earwood said, adding with a laugh, “At first, I got confused there after a quarter-mile, but I learned from some good people and was finally able to turn left and right.”
Founded in 1975, the Skip Barber Racing School figures to have trained in excess of 350,000 drivers since then. Its honor roll is notable with IMSA standouts such as the Taylor brothers, Indy 500 winners like Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay and racing crossover stars such as Danica Patrick and current NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger all receiving instruction through Skip Barber at some time in their careers.
You may well hear of a new generation of Skip Barber students, too. And that’s the idea.
DeMonte points to a pair of young aspiring talents – from 23-year-old Instagram star Lindsey Marie Brewer, who attended Skip Barber Racing School and now competes in both its open-wheel and sedan series, to 20-year-old Colin Harrison, who has begun a promising career in the series’ sedan ranks – as drivers to watch.
“It’s like raising kids, you’re so happy when they succeed,’’ said Earwood, who started working for the school in 1984. “That’s why I look at the results every Sunday night and Monday morning, going ‘how did my kids do?’
“They will always be in my mind and my heart because I know what they’ve come through to get there, so I’m just so proud to watch them. I was watching an IMSA race with some of my Trans Am Series co-workers and they said, ‘How many kids have you taught?’
“I said let’s look at the finish list and I’ll show you the percentage of either Skip Barber former instructors or students. Makes you proud.”
That pride goes both ways.
With thousands of students attending some version of Skip Barber Racing School annually, there is a broad spectrum in talent level. A few attend the one-day and three-day racing schools to lay a foundation for a possible professional career. Others are interested in amateur racing. And, of course, there are die-hard “car people” who admittedly just love to drive fast and appreciate the chance to acquire a fine-tuned skill set behind the wheel.
Brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor still cherish their time at the Skip Barber school more than a decade ago.
Ricky, 31, who currently leads the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) standings, attended two-day and three-day courses at Sebring as a 16-year-old. Younger brother Jordan, 30, who leads the WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) standings, attended as a 14-year-old – both brothers having just completed a successful go-kart career and ready to take the next step and test themselves behind the wheel of a Formula Ford.
“You want to make the jump from go-karts to cars, and at the time, Skip Barber was clearly the top choice,’’ said Ricky Taylor, who has earned two WeatherTech Championship titles and this year picked up a second Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory.
“You want to have as many people around you that know what they’re talking about, and Skip Barber has always been built around the instructors and building the fundamentals.
“There really wasn’t a better place for us to go out of go-karts than Skip Barber, so we did everything. We did two-day school, three-day school, regional series, national series, scholarship shootout. We did a lot of Skip Barber.”
And according to both Taylors, there were many takeaways – certainly, the fundamentals and broad skill sets that they have been able to put to use at the highest level of competition today.
“You couldn’t change the car,” Ricky Taylor said of his first experiences in the Skip Barber open-wheel cars. “The car was what it was, and you had to learn I think a really great trait, especially for a sports car driver, you had to learn to drive around a problem.’’
“Since you couldn’t change the car or make it exactly how you wanted it, you had to learn technique to make the car do what you wanted. In sports car racing, when the track is changing and the car is changing throughout the race, you have to be really adaptable. That’s something I think Skip Barber taught me really well.”
Certainly, the Taylors bought in to the lessons and opportunities at Skip Barber – a belief verified considering the achievements of fellow students. Ricky raced in Skip Barber with IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden and Jordan was going wheel-to-wheel with Conor Daly and Gabby Chaves.
“The list is huge, there’s IndyCar champions, IMSA sports car champions. I’m sure NASCAR drivers went through there; Montoya, Andretti,’’ said Jordan Taylor, who has a pair of Rolex 24 wins in the DPi class and this year earned another with Corvette Racing in GTLM.
“Even when we were there, you’d hear stories of what those guys were like when they went through Skip Barber and it kind of makes it all relative that those guys started at the same level as you when they were at that age.
“They were once students as well and progressed to where they are now, and it kind of gives you hope that the process works. That’s what is so great about Skip Barber, that all these guys started their careers there and some became IndyCar champions, some became sports car champions and all these things. It definitely opens your eyes to what’s possible.’’
You might say, it’s been a win-win-win for the Skip Barber Racing School, which will assume a higher profile on IMSA race weekends.
“It’s a really nice relationship,’’ DeMonte said, adding, “They are trying to tell the IMSA story and there’s no better way to tell it than through the seat of a Skip Barber Racing School car during a program. So, I think there are a number of engagement points.’’
DeMonte is excited about the future. In addition to the at-track sessions, plans were announced this week for a 40,000-square-foot indoor electric karting track at the American Dream Mall located outside New York City, where he hopes to develop young drivers and perhaps guide the “next American Formula One driver.”
Between the driving schools, racing programs and raised exposure, DeMonte sees nothing but green flags and fast laps for the Skip Barber Racing School.
“What I think we’ve done,” he said, “is a good job with is melding the history and looking toward the future.”