Thoughts on Driver Skills (DS)


Know your student. If your DS is structured so that you're climbing in and out of different cars all day long, make sure you say hello, introduce yourself and get at least the briefest of sketches of where they're coming from, what their experience is. A simple, "Is this your first event?" is often all it takes to get enough information to make a difference. That and maybe, "How long have you had this car?"

A friend of mine had half a dozen track days in a different region of the country from some outfits that don't share their data with our clubs. I wanted to get him integrated into our club and get him some instruction, so I ran him through DS so that he would be allowed to register for HPDE events. He expressed some frustration that most instructors didn't ask him about his prior experience, approached him with very basic direction, then expressed surprise when he either nailed the task or wanted to approach it from a slightly different tack.

Conversely, I have been 'directing' DS for a bit and also participating in some other clubs DS programs where the instructor coaches from outside observation (not in the car). Just this last weekend, I went to another club's DS (Porsche) to assist them with in-car coaching. I was reminded over and over again what it means to start at the beginning. I had several students who had no idea how to fasten a helmet - it's one of those things like tying a necktie that you get so used to doing, you have to think a bit to explain to another, and like a necktie, it's tricky to do 'backwards', when you're facing somebody. I had a few other students ask me to explain this whole 'apexing thing'. They had received a pretty good briefing first thing that morning that covered all the terms, but when they get out and start actually trying to apply it, they find that they've been bombarded with so many new terms, they've forgotten half of them.

The majority of DS instructors are "track rats" who tend to view DS as merely a stepping stone to lapping (HPDE). Not all of our students see it that way. Many are just there to learn to drive better at the limits. A fair number are there somewhat begrudgingly because a friend or relative has pushed them into it. It's our goal to be welcoming, show them that this is fun, and gently guide them through the most stress-filled parts of DS, like accident avoidance. As my wife tells me, "Go faster!" gets really tiresome for some of these students. You can get to the same place (usually) by doing it as dialog:

"How fast did you go last time?"

"I'm not sure, maybe 35?"

"Do you think you're ready for 40?"

The other thing my wife told me about her experience with DS is that it's useful to take a step back out of the details. She had driven her Mini Cooper S for 6-7 years by the time she attended DS, and she drove it competently and spiritedly. When she ran it through DS slalom, she had three different instructors give her three different approaches (all valid) "Give the cones a little room, stay wide." "Your steering wheel should move constantly and smoothly." "Look 2-3 cones ahead, don't stare at the cone in front of you."

She had three raggedy runs. When the fourth instructor got in the car, they had a dialog where she expressed some frustration at all these seemingly conflicting directions. Fourth instructor says (wisely), "Hell, just drive it. Let's see what you've got!" Best run by far.

I have had different students give conflicting feedback about rotating instructors through DS. A couple have told me that they got the most out of it when they had the same instructor back to back on a given exercise - they could work on a single aspect and get feedback from the same instructor. I have also seen a student give feedback that having the same instructor all of the time denied them the chance to benefit from the other instructor's experiences.


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