The Keys to Learning
Get Your Driver’s Education On Track
Jeff Lacina - March 21, 2013 10:00 AM
Image: Jefferson Bryant
1 Track Guys hit the track at Sebring International Raceway in Florida last year. If you missed it, they’re coming back.
2 Classroom instruction is part of every success and comprehensive driving program. This class for Bondurant School of High Performance Driving is an example of how students get the right information to face the challenge of improved driving.
3 If you are using your own car, you will be going through a tech inspection. The car must pass the safety check. It’s for your own good and the good of others in the class.
4 Don’t expect to charge right out onto the track by yourself. Many experiences require parades to get you familiar with the course. Sometimes, you’ll have an instructor right there in the car with you.
5 If you look closely, you can see two helmets. Having an instructor right in the car saves time from reviewing tapes. You can start making those ability corrections immediately. It’s even best to let the instructor take the wheel so he or she has a better understanding of your car before you take over.
6 The instructors are there to help you, so let them. Their experience can push your learning curve much farther than doing it your way. They are not competitors, but allies.
7 In many places, you will find experience levels that vary. Overtaking is allowed, but only done safely. Don’t race the car ahead of you or try to stay in front of the guy behind you. You’re trying to learn, not trying to win.
Track Guys Events
(subject to change or addition)
April 6-7 Texas World Speedway, College Station, Texas, 2.9-mile road/oval
May 25-26 Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, Florida, 3.7-mile road course
Sept. 20-22 Motorsports Park Hastings, Hastings, Nebraska, 2.15-mile road course
If you have the car and the time, why not really get your driving on track by attending a performance driving school?
Chances are very good, since you’re reading this publication, you are into performance – and very likely, performance that is above that of a stock vehicle. We all enjoy “making our cars better” via our custom-selected addition of aftermarket performance parts, but think about this. You put all that time, research and money into making your car better, but what have you done to make you, the driver, better?
You owe it to yourself to attend a performance driving school – and we’re not talking about racing just yet. We’re talking about getting you, the driver, the fundamental principles and techniques that are required to get the most out of both car and driver. It’s time to go back to school. And trust me, this is some classwork and homework that you are really going to enjoy. It’s time to get your driver’s education on track.
The first thing I want to address is not all road course driving is racing. True, there are many race series that hold wheel-to-wheel racing on road courses, but you’re going to need some experience and education before you should make the jump into sanctioned, wheel-to-wheel racing. If you’re not participating in racing, you are enjoying “performance driving”, using many of the same techniques required in racing, but with significantly lower risk of damaging your pride and joy. There are many opportunities for you to enjoy your vehicles on nearly every road course on the planet. With a little planning, it’s a whole lot easier than you think.
Finding the Right Event
To get started, you are going to want to seek out or do an online search for the following terms: performance driving school, performance driving events, driving schools, performance driver education, high performance driver’s education.
Notice a theme? Education ... school ... driver’s education. That’s right, if you really want to get your performance driving career and experiences off on the right foot, it really is time to go back to school.
The reason is simple: your car is significantly more capable than you are as a driver. Add in the fact being a proficient, safe and confident road course driver entails a lot more than you realize and it’s pretty easy to see that when it comes to performance driving, you need to be ready to learn.
Chances are, you’re going to learn as much about yourself as you do your driving. Bottom line? Performance driving is one of the most mentally and physically challenging things you can do in a street car. Believe it or not, there are numerous companies, clubs and groups who want to help you become a better, safer and faster performance driver. This is where companies like Track Guys Performance Driving Events come in.
Once you locate and sign up for a performance driving school, here are some of the ways to prepare yourself (not your car) to get the most out of the event.
1) Go to the event to LEARN.
You’ve signed up for a school, thus, your goal should be to learn as much as possible. Trust me, there is a LOT to learn about performance driving. You’re probably not going to learn it all at your first event, so ...
2) Don’t get frustrated
The lead instructor and your in-car instructors have a job to do, to teach you as much as they can get wedged into your head about performance driving. Keep in mind, they have been doing this a long time and you haven’t. There is a great deal of information, terms and concepts they are going to discuss with you, both in the classroom and in the car out on track. So please be patient with yourself ... cut yourself some slack ... there’s a lot to learn.
3) Put the ego away
OK, you might have the latest and greatest car equipped with the latest and greatest go faster goodies the performance aftermarket has to offer. That certainly doesn’t mean you know how to take advantage of it in a dynamic situation (driving) on a very challenging road course ... while a completely stock V-6 Mustang stays right with you. Put the ego away, listen to your instructors and concentrate on learning. Another part of the ego thing: women make better performance driving students than men ... especially men who aren’t listening to their instructors. Women are better listeners and they are much less likely to let their ego get in the way of their learning.
4) Take notes
You’re in school ... trying to learn lots of new techniques, terminology and principles, so take notes. Take notes in the classroom and take notes after you’ve come off track (wait until your hands stop shaking). Ask your instructor to give you feedback and help you set realistic goals for the weekend and for your next event.
Get your instructor’s name and e-mail address so you can stay in touch with him/her after the event. Make notes about your car like the tires you’re running, air pressures, strut/shock settings, brake pad compounds and so on. You can also develop a checklist of items to check on the car (and the driver) before your next on-track session.
You can also write down the questions you want to bring to class or ask your in-car instructor. Did I mention how important it is to take notes?
I’ve also seen numerous first-time and novice students make mistakes that can have a negative impact on their fun and learning at a performance driving school. Here are a few key novice mistakes to avoid.
1) Making modifications to your car a day or two before the event.
You’re coming to a performance driving school to learn how to drive, not how to work on your car in the pit area! The goal is to have a car that is as “bulletproof” and proven as possible. Waiting until the last minute to make major upgrades is a recipe for a less-than-fun weekend. The focus of your weekend really needs to be on learning how to drive your car in a performance manner. Yes, you want good tires, good brakes and the best suspension components your budget can afford. But honestly, your stock car is more capable than you are as a performance driver.
2) Driving above your skills
Performance driving is a lot of fun ... and it’s fun trying to “keep up” with the other drivers in your run group. However, in your desire to keep up with, catch and pass that car in front of you, you may actually be “driving over your head”, placing you, your car and your instructor in a potentially dangerous situation. I tell my students to accept the fact that there will ALWAYS be “someone faster” in their run group. It’s always someone with more experience or someone who is “getting it” at a pace different than theirs. The job is to drive within their skills and proficiency ... and listen to their instructors.
3) Not listening to your instructors
You signed up for a performance driving school. You came out here to learn, right? Then why aren’t you listening to your instructors? I’ve had these conversations with students before.
Let’s face it, you’re at a racetrack, helmet on, in your car, going faster than you probably ever have before ... with other students doing the same thing. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of the day. Unfortunately, some people have a difficult time balancing adrenaline with listening. There is a LOT to learn and you only have so many on-track and classroom sessions to “get it”, so it’s important to get the most out of each and every time you’re in the classroom and in the car.
4) Not keeping your vision “up”
You will hear this term over and over, both in the classroom and in the car: “Keep your vision up!” We are talking about getting your vision and focus up and out in front of the car as far as possible.
You’re driving in an unfamiliar environment (a road course), in an unfamiliar setting (school with other students doing the same thing), with corner workers waving all manner of colorful flags at you. The flags are the way they communicate with you, so they are important. We actually work with students to develop a vision checklist – things they need to be looking for and looking at while they are on track.
This list is extensive and includes: the track itself, your braking point, the turns, turn-in cones, the apex, the track out, corner worker stations and their flags (or no flags), your mirrors, the car in front of you and finally your gauges. See what I mean? There are lots of things to be looking for and looking at. Keep your vision up.
5) Not taking care of themselves while at the track
Performance driving is a lot of work, both in the car and in the classroom. You’re going to be working hard. If it’s during the summer, you’re going to be sweating a lot. It’s so important to take care of yourself, so keep your body hydrated and as cool as possible. Overheated brains and cars simply don’t perform very well. Get plenty of rest the week before your first school, work out, eat right and bring lots of water to drink. Try to eat as healthy as possible while you’re at the event and do not drink alcohol at the event or during the weekend. Alcohol dehydrates you and impairs your judgment – two things you do not want happening at a performance driving school.
So, just how important is previous experience for a driving school? The simple answer is: it’s not. Our Track Guys Performance Driving Program is designed to get the complete beginner or “rookie” driver introduced to the performance driving hobby in a fun, educational and safe manner. We’ve seen very young drivers do well at our events ... as well as drivers well into their 70s. It’s never too late to learn something and have fun doing so. About the only experience we want you to bring with you to the event is basic operation of your car and remembering how to learn... and have a great time doing it.
For more information about performance driving, visitwww.trackguys.com and we sincerely hope to see you and your driving get on track at your earliest opportunity.
About Jeff Lacina
Jeff has more than 30 years of performance driving experience, including autocross (solo II), go-karts, sports cars, stock cars, open wheel cars and even monster trucks. Lacina was contracted by Ford’s SVT Owner’s Association in 2003 to develop and conduct performance driving clinics for members across the US and Canada. He founded Track Guys Performance Driving Events in 2002 and to date, has driven and instructed on 75 different road courses around the U.S. and Canada. In 2012, Jeff co-drove a 2013 Roush RS3 Mustang to the Tire Rack One Lap of America SSGT2 Big Bore class championship and 16th overall.