Welcome to a new world - high performance driving events. Known colloquially as HPDE.
This is a world full of exciting and rewarding experiences no matter what side of the car you are seated in. Whether you are a greenhorn or professional coach, driver-seat or passenger-seat, knowing what each seat offers many developmental experiences and make you a better driver in the end. And that is the most important part.
“Wide open throttle out of turn 7. Crest the hill. Aim slight right towards black flag station. 5th gear. Ease car right past the station. Tap brakes to seat pads. Braking at 450 feet. Squeeze into brakes. Downshift to 4th gear.....clutch and brake – two feet in. Hold wheel. Keep both feet in. Eyes up. Breath. Brace for gravel pit. Shut car down. Are you ok? Wave to corner station. So what did we learn?”
What is control while being out of control? This learning opportunity presented itself at Road Atlanta when my student miss-shifted into 2nd gear going into T10A, causing the rear tires to backspin and send us into the gravel pit at 100 mph after finishing 3 complete spins.
Students rely on the leadership of their instructor in all aspects of their track experiences – on and off the track. Starting from the moment they say “hello”; instructors build talent, problem solve, communicate, and tease out courage from their students. Every interaction together is another section of piping for a scaffold of successes. Instructors put their trust completely into their students; in return, the students put their trust into us.
Clear, Calm, Patient, Even Keeled
Imagine how the spin could have gone if one of the above elements was lost. This does not mean instructing is akin to being a robot and printing off notations for the driver! You are a human element that goes with the vehicle - as much as vehicle as the suspension or brakes. When the conversation between instructor and student is clear and well-metered, the connection between driving the vehicle, learning the track, and instruction becomes seamless. The student becomes completely engaged and focused with the tasks at hand; and for the instructor, a feeling of driving together by wire.
Telling a Story with as Few Words as Needed (Note: need – I didn’t say as many as possible)
Remember the student is juggling accelerating, braking, turn in, early apex, late apex, track out, trail braking, maintenance throttle, up shifting, downshifting, rev matching, passing, being passed…and trying to listen to you! Proper communication with the student is the only link the instructor has to the vehicle. Instructors tell a story with the needed information that is delivered timely for what the student is experiencing or about to experience. Over-talking may cause distractions that disengage the student from the moment. It’s OK to have silence at times and it’s OK to dictate every action. Often there is a healthy mixture of both as the student progresses. Instruction is assessing your students’ capabilities, knowing when to push and when to hold back.
Leave the student with 3 positive reinforcements and 1 take away lesson after every time on the track together.
“Great session and braking late into turn 10. You did really well remaining calm after the spin and kept it in control off the track. For this next session, let’s work on gear selection and clutch release to make corner entry smoother.”
The effect is a building of abilities and the creation of new norms. Students get an average of 8 sessions on the track over the course of the weekend; that’s 24 positive reinforcements and 8 areas to grow – every weekend! The next session on the track is to work on the take away lesson for that session. Last session of the day? Great time to implant a take away for the student to focus on for the next morning or next event.
Life is full of opportunities. Sometimes it may take the assistance of others to point those moments out to you. And being an instructor is one of the most rewarding interactions to a track weekend for all involved.
You never lose the ability to be a student in life. Taking the first plunge into a road racing experience as a Level 1 High Performance driver? Running flat out for time in Time Trials? Seasoned wheel to wheel veteran aiming for another championship season? All of these scenarios have many opportunities laced within them for learning, development, and growth as a driver. Every session on the track is an opportunity to learn and should be treated with that mindset and respect.
You have unlimited talent and you hold the key to unlocking those talents. Be honest and capture your thought processes with pen and paper or electronic device. The act of physically writing or typing out how you stand forces you to be overt and explicit – bring a focus to you. Evaluate your strengths and areas where you have potential for growth. Capture those thoughts, goals, future plans, and previous experiences that are helping build towards those achieves. Challenge yourself with on-track exercises and rewards for correct actions. Share your experiences with others in the post session downloads. Cultivate your talents! Maintain clear game plans to progress through in each session.
Identify skill-sets for you to learn and ways to tackle each set of skills. Encourage yourself to break personal boundaries and apply new techniques towards learning how to drive safe and fast. Never be afraid to seek out and ask for guidance. No one is ever too good for an instructor, coach, and mentor.
Capture session and weekend information, thoughts, experiences, and actions. Did you seek feedback? Review your progress towards your goals. Remember to cultivate self awareness for all components of your learning.
Step forward to volunteer and if given an opportunity to push yourself beyond your comfort zone – do it! The act of being placed into an environment that is slightly beyond comfort hones focus and increases learning. Find your inner enthusiasm, engagement, and have drive. Strike an appropriate balance between driving dynamic analysis (positives) and opportunities for improvement every time you are on the track. Hold yourself accountable for actions; you hold the keys to unlocking your talent.
Remember every weekend should include the goals of being safe, having fun, and aiming to exceed your personal expectations for what driving to learning can be.