One of Radford Racing School’s seven Formula 4 cars is parked in the pit lane in Chandler on March 24, 2022. The steering wheel of Formula 4 cars comes off to allow drivers to get in and out of the single-seater. (Photo by Alex Gould/Cronkite News)
CHANDLER – Engines roar, tires squeal and rubber burns at the Radford Racing School, where drivers learn to handle a range of cars used in professional and junior racing categories.
Students can drive such cars as the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Lotus Evora GT and Ligier JS F4, the exclusive model for the Formula 4 U.S. Championship. The Formula 4 category helps drivers take the first step from go-karts to single-seat race cars.
But the skills taught at Radford aren’t reserved for would-be racers – they’re invaluable for daily driving, instructors say.
Brett Barnard, who attended the four-day school with his son over spring break, said the most exciting thing about driving the F4 cars is how strikingly different they are from commuter cars.
Radford’s F4 cars have a carbon composite monocoque and are powered by a 2-liter Honda engine, which can produce about 160 brake horsepower.
“There’s no windscreen in front of you; you can see the tires in front of you lock up, how they’re moving,” Barnard said. “When you get in the Formula 4, you feel everything, you’re feeling every gearshift you do, every breaking you do and how you turn, and if you’re doing it wrong, you know.”
His son, Cole Barnard, said the F4 driving experience was unlike any he’s ever had.
“It’s open-wheel, you’re down just sitting 2 inches off the ground,” he said. “It’s like high-def driving, there’s nothing in front of you besides the road.”
The only thing shielding the drivers from the wind is their helmet and race suit.
The Barnards and a third student, CJ Enns of Canada, spent the morning of their final day at the school learning about the differences between the Ligiers and the Dodge Challengers they drove on the first three days. They drove F4 cars that afternoon, following an instructor on the track.
BJ Zacharias, a Radford instructor, said the skills students learn at the racetrack – from how to regain control of a spinning car to focusing on safety at all times behind the wheel – can be used on the freeway.
“Everything that we teach here at Radford Racing School applies to whether you’re going to get a carton of milk at the grocery store or you’re qualifying at Le Mans,” said Zacharias, who was a student at the school in 1993, when it was Bondurant High Performance Driving School.
The school was sold In 2019 and renamed in 2021. Radford is now the test track for Radford Motors, a car builder co-owned by Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button and Motor Trend TV star Ant Anstead.
Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park is closing next year because of Interstate 10 construction; however, Radford Racing won’t be affected by the closure.
Cronkite News reporter Michael Garaffa contributed to this report.