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Need for Speed: A Corvette racing safety lesson in the Nevada desert

"The Speed is wonderful, but learning how to control the car is more important," said Corvette owner Jaclyn Townzen. 5/23/2016 [Chris Jones/KSNV]

Back in the day, drivers with a need for speed souped-up their cars to make them faster. No need for that anymore because brand new cars roll right off the assembly line with the power of a race car under the hood.

Average horsepower has shot up 112% since the 1980's. The time it takes to get from zero to 60, has been cut in half! And something else shot way up, deadly one-car rollover crashes. Speed and a loss of control are big factors in a lot of them.

To try and reverse that trend, car makers are sending their customers with a need for speed back to driver's education classes. As it turns out, the top school in the country is just a short drive from Las Vegas.

Peek through the weathered wood fences on the dusty edges of Pahrump, and you'll spot the shiniest modern machinery Detroit has to offer screaming around the track. The people at the wheel are not professional race car drivers, they're amateurs.

David Zake has owned Corvette's most of his life and tells us faster is always better. Jaclyn Townzen is a Vette vet too. She agrees, but adds that learning how to control the car is more important.

"Oh it was awesome; they really explained how to use the breaking system associated with the Corvette," she said.

That is exactly why Chevrolet pays most of the tuition for everyone who buys a brand new Corvette to come to the Ron Fellow's Performance Driving School for two days. During that time, new owners learn how to control their new monster machines so they don't wind up wrapped around telephone poles all over the country.

Rick Malone is the Chief Driving Instructor; he says the lessons he's teaching will keep his students from making fatal mistakes.

"It's going to keep them safer as they go back home and drive their new corvettes," he said.

To that end, he pushes these drivers to their limits. Mark Koehler says it worked for him, and he's a lot more comfortable handling the horsepower he just bought.

"I feel a lot more comfortable, it's amazing what I learned in the first day! In an emergency situation, I'm far less likely to panic," said Koehler.

Malone says the most meaningful compliments often come after his students get back home.

"Letters and emails saying, the braking exercise saved me, the visual scanning saved me, the car control saved me," he said.

The school started out at the Las Vegas Motor speedway 20 years ago. Anyone can take the class for $4,000. Chevrolet pays $3000 of that for new Corvette owners.

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