So, you have successfully completed a few races now, and overall things are going well, but you want to be faster. How do you accomplish this goal? It is normal to get to this point and become a bit impatient. Usually the first thing people want to look at during this stage is improving the car and making it faster. There is a common saying in racing, “First you need to fix the nut behind the wheel.” It is pretty scary how quickly the costs of go-fast parts can add up, as you will learn in the Moving On section. It is more important to develop your driving skills first, so for now, keep racing on a budget! Too many people believe that simply throwing money into their car will automatically make them fast. Sure it will make them faster, but will it make them a better driver in the long run? If you take the time to develop these skills now, just think how fast you will be once you have a better-prepared racecar. Continue to focus on obtaining seat time and additional coaching whenever possible. If you have a choice between a go-fast part and a test day, participate in the test day. It is also important that you develop strategies on how to make the most your seat time. While seat time by itself is great, take the effort to study racing techniques, and apply them while out on the track. One can practice over and over again, but if the wrong techniques are being practiced, it won’t be beneficial. Your goal now should be to develop the building blocks for greater speed in the future. Once this is completed, then you will be ready for the next step of further improving the car. To be truly successful in racing, it takes a complete package, beginning with you.
What Should You be Doing at This Stage?
When you go to races, study other drivers and what they are doing. Are they approaching the corners the same way you are? If not, what specifically are they doing differently? Be forewarned that just because someone else who is known to be a very fast driver takes a different line, it does not necessarily mean that it will also be the best line for you. The line they are taking could work better for their specific car setup, or they could just be taking an incorrect line. How do you know if what someone else is doing will help you improve your times? Ah, this is how test days should be used. Try different lines, and experiment to determine what works best. Also, don’t be afraid to talk with more-experienced drivers and ask for advice. You will find that most drivers will be more than happy to talk with you. Buy racing books that focus on driver technique and the overall art of racing. Go to the forum on this website and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Attend high performance driving events and ask instructors to ride in your car so they can give you helpful feedback. Look for people who you recognize from the club you race with who have reputations of being good drivers, and seek their guidance. Be aware that someone who is an excellent driver, may not be an excellent coach. If you don’t learn much from one driver, ask another. For some reason many intermediate or advanced drivers fail to take advantage of more-experienced drivers and miss out on the knowledge they have to share. Seeking coaching should never stop. Think about extremely successful professional drivers and how they heavily seek and rely upon coaching. Everyone can benefit from some good advice.
Instruct at High Performance Driving Events
To most people this idea may be a little intimidating, but it will prove to be a great learning experience if you choose to pursue it. Are you really ready to instruct? You have done several track events and have a good understanding of the basics, but you are far from a seasoned veteran. Take a few minutes to reflect on what it was like the first time you drove on the track. What were the primary goals at that time? Be safe, learn the basic lines, and have fun. If you are confident in your understanding of theses items, and you feel as though you can communicate this knowledge to novices, you are ready to instruct. The first time I instructed at a HPDE, I was very nervous even though I felt confident in my driving skills. The evening before the event I thought about what I should be talking to the novice driver about and made some notes. Here are a few very basic questions I ask after being introduced to novice drivers:
- Is this the first time you have been on a track? (If not, find out more information, such as how much track experience they have and at what tracks.)
- Have you modified your car? If so, how?
- What did you adjust the tire pressures to?
There are many other facets to becoming a good coach, but it is not as daunting as it may appear to be. A suggestion to increase your comfort level when you first start instructing is to find a car that is fairly similar to the one(s) you have driven on the track.
Of course, you want to know how instructing at HPDEs will benefit you. While I was a student at HPDEs, I used to think how great it would be to become an instructor, because of the free track time instructors receive. When I eventually became an instructor, I came to the surprising realization that while the free track time was nice, it was not the best part of being an instructor. It is a great feeling to help spread your passion and knowledge of racing. By instructing others, you also reinforce the importance of the basics of racing for yourself. Sometimes when people become more-experienced it is possible to lose focus on some of the little things; instructing will help you keep it all in focus.