Ross Bentley - Building Future Champions
© Andrew S. Hartwell

dailysportscar.comAt dailysportscar, we like to keep in touch with our friends in the sportscar game – especially those we don’t see on the track as often as we would like. Ross Bentley is one of those friends.

No stranger to the readers of dailysportscar, having raced in just about everything from LMP 900 Prototypes down to karts, Bentley is one of those multi-talented people who can do as well as teach. A veteran sportscar driver and instructor, he has been a busy man of late. He has authored three books on the subject of driving racecars ("Speed Secrets - Professional Race Driving Techniques", "Inner Speed Secrets - Race Driving Skills" and his latest, “Speed Secrets 2”) and he runs the Speed Secrets Development Camp, a place for new talent to show itself at speed.

We managed to pull him out of the classroom long enough for him to give us this update on his activities of late. It seems he has recently taken on yet another role as a mentor to tomorrow's racing champions. You can almost 'hear' the pride he feels in his young charges in the words that follow.

"In addition to coaching the Quantum Autosports drivers in the Fran-Am series, I'm way too busy! A while ago we started the Speed Secrets Driver Development Camps, and that was a dream come true for me. Prior to the very first program in April, I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be like to work with the young drivers - how much fun it would be, how well the program would work for the drivers, how our coaches would work together, and so on. Man, was I off! It was better than I expected - way better.

"The drivers we've had so far this year - all but one under the age of 18 - are an absolute delight to work with. They soak up everything we have for them. Their abilities in the car (for some, the very first time they've driven a car) are better than I expected. The cars are perfect for what we're doing, and the team (coaches and mechanics) I have are awesome.

"Before the first camp, I realized I had at least five days worth of material, and only three days to cover it all! I decided I would just move through the material over the course of the first camp as I felt the drivers wanted and needed it. My goal for the camps are to pass on my experience to the young drivers - without them having to spend 25 years to gain it. That's why I had so much material.

"What's come out of it is this: No two camps will ever be exactly the same. Another goal of mine has always been to personalize the program to the drivers, but it has turned out even better than I thought it would in this area. It's like we have a menu of things to cover, and we just pull up whatever the drivers seem to want or need at any one moment. So, the program is even more personalized than I had ever expected. This is one of the reasons we are so different from the racing schools.

"One challenge we're facing is that some drivers who've been through the program don't want to talk about it - it's their secret, their competitive advantage that they don't want their competition to have. So, the word of mouth marketing is a bit slower than I'd hoped for, but I know that will turn around soon."Now it's my turn to brag about a couple of drivers who don't mind talking about their participation. You will hear a lot over the next few years about Colin Braun (with Ross, right, and below). He came through one of our Inner Speed Secrets seminars last year, and then he had the best racing season of his young career (he was only 13 at the time!) in karting. He won the SKUSA 80cc JR Championship, and was the only American invited by Yamaha to go to the annual All Japan Karting Championships event in Japan.

"Interestingly, many people commented on how all of a sudden he seemed to be winning. Thankfully (for us), Colin gave most of the credit for the step-up in his performance to the training he received from us.

"Colin next came through our first Speed Secrets Driver Development Camp in April. I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of young, talented drivers in the past, but no one has impressed me more than this kid (he's now 14 - although he has the maturity level of a 25-year-old).

"All of us were blown away by his ability behind the wheel, his technical knowledge, his understanding of the business of racing (although his father, Jeff Braun the engineer, deserves most of the credit for this), his personal presentation, and his commitment and desire. We believed, and we told anyone that would listen at the time, that it wouldn't be long before he made a big impact on the racing world.

"We were right. Five weeks later, at Willow Springs, he made his car-racing debut at the age of 14 years, 8 months. It was a Fran-Am 1600 race. There would be two races that weekend. For the first race on Saturday, he took the pole by 0.5 seconds. In the race, he diced it up with four other drivers (all with much more experience than he), and came out the winner. First race ever - first victory. The youngest driver in U.S. history to win a professional open-wheel car race!

"Oh yeah, and on Sunday he took the pole by over a second and led from flag-to-flag to take his second win! Perhaps as impressive as his on-track performance, his comments on the podium and after the race proved how valuable he will be to his sponsors.

"While his budget and age will limit how many races he can compete in this year, keep an eye out for Colin in the future. All of the scholarship and shoot-out programs that various people are offering these days are a great way to discover young talent, but maybe the natural selection process will still provide the real champions of the future - guys like Colin.

"By the way, his next race is in a Formula Renault 1600 (same as the Fran-Am 1600 here in North America) event at Dijon, France on August 16-17. It's part of a program where the top young driver in Europe, Maxime (Max) Hodencq will race at Thunderhill, California on September 6-7 - kind of an "exchange student" program. Max will be driving one of our Speed Secrets Driver Development Camp cars - a good opportunity for us to prove that our "training" cars are every bit as competitive as the cars racing. And, it's a great chance for us to help prepare Colin for a race overseas.

"I could also tell you about how well Chris Wehrheim (above), a strong competitor in the Stars of Tomorrow ICA karting world did in his very first time behind the wheel of a car at our June camp; or even how well our eCoaching (where we coach drivers by email and phone with fantastic results) has worked with John Olsen, one of the contenders for the Star Mazda Championship, or Lou Larimer, one of the top GT-1 SCCA racers in the country; or about my upcoming work with some Formula Ford drivers in Australia; or…"

We get the picture Ross! You love being an instructor and guide for these talented young people. It shows, Ross, it shows. Now get back in class and keep churning out those future champions!
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