Hidden away in an especially lush and distinctly rural area of south-central Tennessee, tucked into farmland and rolling hills behind a silo and single main gate just a mile down the largely untraveled Polecat Hollow Road, is a bright gem of a 2.1-mile race track.
A “polecat” is a Eurasian mammal, but in rural Tennessee, the word is slang for “skunk” — appropriate as what Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” was to modern aviation, the Polecat Training Center is to road racing. At once an ultra-modern training facility hosting both the PTC Driving Academy and Milspec defense training center, it is also a throwback to road race tracks pre the super-sanitary endless-asphalt era of track design.
Uniquely, PTC’s 19 corners are each purpose-designed to teach something, as if the late Piero Taruffi’s long-out-of-print hardcover reference “The Technique of Motor Racing” had somehow been translated from words to to pavement. A few of its corners mimic some of North America’s more well-known bends such: Turn 5 at Road America, the Carousel at Mid-Ohio, and others.
The track swoops, rolls and flows with the landscape, with 120 feet of elevation change from Turn 1 to Bistro (Turn 16 — so named because a gourmet restaurant there at the top of the hill is in the plan for Phase 3 of PTC’s expansion.)
PTC, aka “Polecat”, is the multi-million-dollar dream of Tennessean Paul Arnold, real estate developer, experienced race car driver (both a former NASA Eastern States and Factory Five Challenge champion) and enthusiast, whose brainstorming dinner with friend and veteran Skip Barber Race School instructor Keith Watts plus a stack of cocktail napkins in 2015 morphed into a serious action plan.
“This whole thing was the result of Divine intervention,” said Arnold, “from finding the land to getting the permits to designing and laying down asphalt to building a classroom and shop. As we needed them, so many good people just came on board …”
Permission to start clearing and building a track on the expansive farmland Arnold acquired between Fayetteville and Lynchburg was only the first of many challenges. Local government was initially opposed as close neighbors voiced noise concerns; one in particular raised objections to the plans for military training and shooting range.
In the end, though, greatly helped by across-the-street farmers closest to the property being in favor, and carefully winning over the nearby Mennonite community with sincere and open channels of communication (and no small amount of business for their lumber mill), Arnold, Watts and Co. got their permissions.
Since then, new mayor Bonnie Lewis, who saw in PTC another tourist attraction to add to the popular Jack Daniels Distillery tour that Lynchburg is known for, become another Polecat advocate.
Early on, a third local, Arnold’s long-time friend Randy Anderson, an experienced utility and grading contractor, was thrown into the mix, his all-around construction know-how filling out the management team. Together, this trio of doers began tree clearing and earth moving in early 2017. Incredibly, a very serious race track with a modern classroom and huge workshop opened just three years later, in fall 2020.
Arnold had the vision, financing, and know-how, but Watts’ contributions have been considerable and his skill as a driver key to the track’s steady refinement: From the beginning, PTC was to be the ultimate teaching environment incorporating every conceivable corner situation — slow to fast; camber/off-camber; suspension load/unload; blind and wide open.
To that end, once the land was cleared and the paving begun, Watts and Arnold drew up plans for the school that would become the Polecat Driver Academy. When they heard entire fleet of ex-Skip Barber Mondiale-Dodges was headed to bankruptcy auction, the pair headed to Atlanta. Intending to purchase a handful, they wound up purchasing the whole lot — 44 cars, all partially damaged, few in running order.
Calling on a variety of friends from the Nashville area, PTC has so far restored 18 cars to running order, all immaculate and featuring a variety of safety upgrades. Watts and long-time friend from nearby Georgia, Sean Rayhall, spent most of a week in early August tuning, adjusting and equalizing 10 of the cars to make available for fall schools — and for hosting Jeremy Shaw’s 2021 Team USA Shootout.
Spend more than five minutes with Arnold, Watts and Anderson — better yet, get an at-speed, 10-lap “guided tour” with Arnold in one of the school’s pair of Corvette C8.Rs — and you’re pulled into this dream right alongside them: Phase 2 of this ongoing project will include necessary safety improvements — tirewalls and other barriers, and more tree-cutting; an extension to the track, adding one long, sweeping corner connecting Turns 5 and 9 (which will add a second long straight to an otherwise tight and twisty back section); and a second workshop.
Phase 3 will include an upscale restaurant overlooking two key sections of the track; likely a second track extension onto recently acquired additional property; and expansion of revenue streams unique to any American circuit: cattle raising (45 head currently there is a small herd on the property, tended by the across-the-street neighbor); honey production (Arnold and Watts recently harvested honey from a pair of hives); and truck farming (with multiple acres set aside for vegetable-growing).
Soon there will be lodging available on the grounds, with plans drawn up for several cabins. And one of the most intriguing ventures is an internship program developed with the Atlanta, Georgia-based Lanier Tech, which already uses an ex-Skip Barber single-seater in its race car engineering program. The first group of graduate students set to arrive in mid-October to assist with the acquisition and set up of new CNC milling and other machines. The first group of graduate students landed in mid-October and were taken through every step of race car care and feeding, from fluids to nuts-and-bolts to several laps on track behind the school’s Corvette.
Ultimately, those future race engineers will assist with the acquisition and set-up of modern CNC machinery as PTC looks to expand its fabrication capabilities.
“I have a passion for young people with a dream,” said Watts, whose Driving Academy clearly aims to encourage those dreams, both on- and off-track.
As for the 2.1-mile track itself: “It’s not easy to learn this place in just a couple of laps“, said Indy Car champion Josef Newgarden, a suburban Nashville resident who’d “heard about PTC” but saw it for the first time in late August.
Newgarden joined fellow alum Andy Lally and Aaron Jeansonne in attending the Aug. 25-26 Team USA Shootout to offer instruction and support for the six young drivers competing for this year’s scholarship. After a handful of laps in one of PTC’s two Corvette C8.Rs, Newgarden clambered out beaming: “It’s a wicked track, super technical — off-camber, decreasing radius on that last corner. Really something.”
You really have to see for yourself. Log on to the PTC web site, ptcdriving.com, or the Polecat Training Center Facebook page for more information