teachperfdrive.txt Time-stamp: <2003-05-15 16:48:48 lrc>

I've been teaching performance driving since 1989. I've never done it professionally, but I have taught with several clubs, with many different styles and techniques of instruction. What follows are my opinions based upon my experience. Most of what I say will be most applicable to a school teaching novice drivers 0-3 days of instruction. The student may only take one day of instruction, or several. The student's goals can be anything from a fun afternoon playing with their car to this being the first step towards a competition license.

It is important to remember that there is a large and vital difference between the techniques that will give the student the best instruction possible, and the techniques that will give the student the best instruction possible with the available resources.

When learning performance driving, the student faces two kinds of learning, Intelectual (book learning) and kinesthetic (body learning). Without an intellectual understanding of why they should do something, the student will just be learning techniques by rote, and it will be harder for them to internalize the techniques. Also, while it would be ideal if the student could learn the basics intellectually before getting to the track, in reality, they won't fully understand the the physics until they feel it with the seat of their pants.

It is important to remember that there is only so much that a student can learn intellectually at a trackside drivers meeting before they go on to course. All too often I see these meetings drag on for over an hour as the instructor tries to impart 5, 10, 15 or more years of driving experience in one dose, when the students are distracted by being at the race track, thinking about how they are going to be the next Juan Manuel Fangio, compounded with the fact that it is usually simply difficult to hear the instructor over the myriads of background noise.

The primary advantages of covering all the material in a group meeting is that it guarantees that all the students will be exposed to the core material, and that it frees up the other instructors to do other things. Assuming of course that the other instructors don't have to wait around during the meeting for their students to be assigned.

The ideal situation would be to have a lecture a few evenings before the track date, in a quiet room, where the students can easily hear the instructor, take notes and ask questions without it taking from vital time taking care of all the various details that crop up at the track. If it were possible to have one of these classroom lectures ahead of time, I would suggest giving the students a pass whereby they can leave the initial drivers meeting once the information critical for the day has been covered.

Rather than trying to cover all the material in one shot at the track, I would suggest prioritizing the material, and covering as much as can be (as long as the critical stuff gets covered) in some shorter, specified period of time.

I am considering the possibility of making a video tape that covers all of the basic material that students could watch in the comfort of their own home. I've written a book that covers this material, but it can be difficult getting people to actually read. I'm also working on a more interactive online version of the book.

Critical before going onto track:

Safety rules, flags, passing etc. ettiquette follow me signals Basics of line.

Important to know: proper way to sit how to hold wheel fast turn down

Good to know: basic physics- wight transfer, circle of friction, basically why we are doing this. How do you teach physics without using scary terms or numbers?

Assigning instructors:

Sometimes trackschools assign students to individual instructors, sometimes they just have a pool of instructors for each run group. The problem with the latter is that it is too easy for the students who most need help to get skipped over, and not get any help. At the very least there should be some sort of assignment such that each student has an instructor specifically keeping an eye on them. It is also often a lot easier for the students who most need help, to ask questions in small groups, rather than in front of the whole group.

If you don't have time to assign specific students to the instructors, take a couple of moments at the brief initial meeting, to introduce the instructors, mention what they are driving, and say a little about their experience:

Larry's been racing since 1988 and teaching since 1989. His current track car in a 1969 MGBGT, but he has track experience in everything from a Honda stationwagon to a 280Z.

Then take a break to allow students a chance to pick and meet their instructors, trying to keep the number of students per teacher fairly constant.

If you have novice instructors, have them co-teach with a more experienced instructor. They'll still be available to do lead-follow on the track or ride along with the student, but the experienced instructor can also keep an eye on them.

Learning on track:

Group download meetings after a track session can be very valuable. However, I feel that they should be kept short so that the students can have more time with their own instructors. Also, if the downloads are schedules at the same time as the instructor's "play sessions" students should be excused from the group meeting if they have an opportunity to ride with their instructor. If there is some issue in particular with a student, try to catch them as they come off the track from their session. This could be done via a white board with the car numbers of students that need to check in at impound posted at the track exit.

There are various means of watching students and giving them feedback. Each of them have advantages and disadvantages.

instructors watching from turns:

This has the advantage of keeping instructors "out of harms way", and allowing more students on the track as you have fewer, or no, instructors cars out there. Instructors can theoretically take written notes and don't rely on their memory about who did what. Also, instructors can listen to the students and hear who is properly modulating their throttle and who is constantly on and off it. The disadvantage is that by the time the student gets any feedback it's half an hour to an hour later, and they've already finished the session.

unassigned instructors on track:

Have instructors driving on the track with students. If they see a student having a problem, they can signal a student to follow them. They are also observing who does what during the session and can give feedback at a group download. Students can make mistakes and never have anyone around to notice them. Instructors have to be able to see and remember car numbers, or at least something distinctive about the car (an especial problem in marque club schools where everyone is driving nearly identical cars).

lead and follow with one student:

This is my favorite way of teaching a student the line. It is the clearest way to show a student where to drive short of grabbing the steering wheel from the passenger seat and steering the car for them. When students follow the instructor it is a lot easier for them to keep on the line and they are often able to be "towed around" the track significantly faster than they can go on their own. It is important to let the student pass and try the line on their own, before taking the lead again and reminding them of where they should really be. All too often, students can become excellent at following an instructor without developing the skills of finding their own refernce marks.

lead and follow with several students:

If an instructor has several students in the same run group, it is not possible to give them each the level of attention that a single student will get. Have the students line up together, with the instructor in front. It's generally best to have the best student immediately behind the instructor, and the student who needs the most help at the back of the group. Make sure that the students stay as close to each other, and to you, as they comfortably, and safely can. If they get too spread out, it is impossible for the last student in the group to see what the instructor is doing. Let each student follow for a lap or two then wave them by so that the next student can follow immediately behind the instructor. You may want to give the students the option of rather than passing you, just pulling out and letting the other students in the group pass, and falling in at the end of the group.

When the student passes the instructor, they can either keep back with the group, or run ahead and fall in behind the next instructor and group of students they catch.

riding with student:

While a lead and follow can be the best way of showing a student where to put their car on the track, riding with them is the best way of teaching them how to put their car there. Many students have reasonably clean lines at the low speeds of their first day on the track, but have many bad habits which will cause them problems when they start picking up speed. Also, by riding with them you can tell if they make common mistakes like too slow of turn in, not being smooth on the gas, turning in, steering away from the apex, then turning back in and so forth. Also, by riding with a student, you can tell them that they missed the apex, and by how much, as it happens.

It is very important to not only tell the student what they need to hear, but to shut up and let the student concentrate on their driving. Don't overwhelm them with advice, you aren't going to be able to correct all of their mistakes in one session, or even one day. Concentrate on a couple turns, or a couple of skills each session.

There are several exercises I've found to be very helpful for students, when I'm riding with them. On their warm up and cool down laps, I have them drive an exagerated line, and actually drive up on the berms (unless it is raining), so that they can feel where the edges of their car are. Once they get good at that, I have them just barely tick the edges of the berm enough to feel it, but not enough to upset the car.

The complement to this exercise is to have the student concentrate on entering a turn all of the way at the outside of the track, waiting for the turndown point, and making a quick clean turndown. Probably the two most common mistakes of students are too slow of a turn-in, and "cheating their turndown point", i.e. edging in to the middle of the track before so that when they turn in, they are already several feet from the edge of the track.

It can really help a student think ahead and focus if you have them "teach you the line", and tell you what you should be doing about two seconds before you get there. Tell the students that they don't have to speak in complete sentences, or even in English, but they should at least vocalize their thoughts.

Every so often, a student just won't understand where you want them to put their car. They may not see where you are pointing, they have preconceptions, or just don't believe that the car will go there. In these cases, it may be helpful to actually steer the car for them. Before doing this, ask them for permission, and have them slow down a bit extra as it is harder to steer from the passenger seat. Often, feeling the difference of the improved line will help the student understand where they should drive and why.

Often, when a student is on a track for the first time, I have them shift as little as they can. If they have a car with a broad powerband, I have them leave the car in fourth gear as much as possible, and concentrate on the line. I remind them that if they let room build up beteen them and the car ahead of them, then they have more room to drive fast in the turns without being caught behind slower cars.

Once a student has a pretty good understanding of the line, have them alternate between driving as slow as they have to in order to drive a perfect line, and driving as fast as they (safely) can. The alternation of fast and a little sloppy, and slow and correct is one of the fastest ways to get them to reasonably fast and reasonably correct.

Another good exercise, for the student who is starting to push the car a bit harder is to have them practice threshold braking. There are usually a couple of places on a track where a student can safely lock up the brakes, if there isn't any traffic near them. These are usually turns with lots of runoff at the end of a straight. Have the student make sure that there is no traffic behind them and practice threshold braking, or using their ABS when it is clear.

videos of student:

I am just starting to use a camcorder at the track, and haven't fully explored it's potential. Being able to go back and watch my own lines as shot with my in car camera is very helpful, as is being able to take verbal notes while I'm driving. I've also had the chance to watch videos that were taken by someone following me, and those were extremely enlightening. I can see that videos taken while following a student could be quite educational, especially for the student who swears that they are hitting the apexes, when they are barely in the same zip code.

student riding with instructor:

One very helpful way of showing a student not only what they should do, but why, is to take them for a ride in one of the fast run groups. Having the speed of the car carry it out to the edge of the track on the exit of a turn, or going fast enough that you need to let the car settle between lefts and rights in the esses can really help bring home to the student why you tell them to drive a particular line. Remember, the point of this ride is to show the student how to do it, not to scare them. There is also a fine line between demonstrating your abilities and "showing off".

Taking a student for a ride can be a good opportunity to show them not only how to do it right, but how to do it wrong. Show them the difference betwen a very early and a very late apex. Show them how to handle two (or four) wheels off at the apex. Tell them what you're going to do, and make sure that you do it in a safe way.


First day at track

credentials of instructor goals of student background of student

Go through critical, then important book learning

How to sit, hold wheel Basics of line

(if time) circle of friction/weight transfer

Lead and follow session Exercises on warmup/cooldown laps of hitting berms Work on line, student follow for a bit, then a couple laps on own, then follow again

talking: stuff from important to know and good to know lists discuss specific issues Once student has weight transfer/circle of friction give the what to do when things go wrong lecture

Give student ride in instructors car in fast group Shows the student why they need to do the things we are telling them Establishes credentials of instructor

Instructor ride along make sure student keeps hands on wheel de-emphasize shifting, heel and toe, just work on line Work on quick turndown


Miscellaneous bits, that haven't been fit into the structure yet.


scheduling: sharing cars time for instructors to change cars time for instructors to play

It is best if the day can be scheduled so that if the same person (an instructor) or car (shared between two students) is going to be on track in two different run groups, that there is at least one run group between them. This isn't always possible, but it's something to try to keep in mind.

Also, try not to schedule instructors to be in meetings during the sessions that they are allowed to go and play on the track. Free track time is not the only reason that people teach, but it is a major incentive, and it's annoying to have to choose between going to "mandatory meeting" and getting track time.

racing and teachin the same day

I've tried to both teach and race on the same day. I found it so exhausting to teach in two run groups before racing that my performance in the race was definitely affected.

Slow laps in the teacher's car before the students drive are of limited usefulness. The students don't have a frame of reference to hang what they are seeing on. These laps, later in the day, can be very useful.

Students with particular issues:

Teaching women, how is it different?

All generalizations are false, especially ones about women. That disclaimer aside, there are a couple of characteristics that I've seen more frequently with women than with men. They tend to be less aggressive, and more conservative on the track. They can have finely perfected lines, but not only will they not push the car to the latest possible braking point, they may not even use full throttle on the straights. This isn't really a problem, unless they are holding up traffic and not checking their mirrors to let people past.

I'm not sure how to correct this, or if it even needs to be. I did have a friend knock something like 20 seconds off her lap time at Malibu Grand Prix after I took her for a ride in the two seater car. Once she realized that the cars would take turns that much faster without spinning out, flipping over and bursting into flames, she went that much faster.

I think that a lot of this comes from the fact that very few women consider their femininity closely tied to their ability to drive fast, and as such have rarely, if ever, approached the handling limits of their cars. I've seen a button that said "There are two things every man thinks he does well, one of them is drive". But I've never seen the same said of women.

Oftentimes a woman comes to the racetrack with little prior knowledge or interest in performance driving. She may have just gotten a sporty little car and wants to learn how to drive it, or she may have been talked into coming out to see how much fun her boyfriend's or husband's hobby is. She didn't grow up reading car magazines, has never heard terms like apex, getting sideways and lateral acceleration before. You may have to assume far less background knowledge and explain a lot more. On the other hand, she may have fewer bad habits to unlearn as well, and may have less ego getting in the way of admitting that someone else knows more about this than she does.

What to do with the student who is conviced that he knows more than the instructor?

One thing that sometimes helps, is telling the student that while your technique may not be the fastest way for the car that the student is driving that day, one day they will likely be in a situation where by having your techniques in their "mental toolbox", they'll be able to pull them out and go faster. Also point out that when you are learning a new technique, things will usually be worse before they get better. Ask them to give your techniques a try for the day. If they don't work, they don't have to use them ever again, but they may just find the situation where it's actually handy to apex on the berm rather than drive down the middle of the track.

Sometimes taking them for a ride at speed can help. Remember that you aren't trying to scare the student, or show off per se, but if they realize that you can actually get around the track faster in your stock honda civic than they can in their camaro, you might actually know something.

Sometimes, the chemistry just doesn't work between you. In which case it is best to try to trade them with another instructor who may work better.

Sometimes this student is just a hazard. They won't believe that they are doing anything wrong (though vidoes of them missing the apex by a car width may help) and continue to drive over their head. In this case, it may be best to ask the student to leave, even if you have to give them a full refund.

The student who is clue-immune.

Every so often you get a student that just doesn't "get it". They may not understand english. They may have preconceptions. They may just be slow at picking up new physical skills. For these students, you have to ask the question "are they a hazard"? If not, it's often best to just let them be, and maybe they will eventually get it.

How to teach physics without using numbers

For a lot of people it is a lot easier to learn what to do, if they understand why they should do it. For performance driving, the "why" is basically physics. Unless your student is an engineer, there's a good chance that if you describe the physics using physics terms and formulas, their eyes will just glaze over. Describe the effects qualitatively rather than quantatively. Use small words, that may not be quite so technically accurate, but which are easier for non-technical people to understand.

What props to get or use.

Fast line vs. school (safe) line.

I prefer to teach a line that has the apexes later than I would use in a race. I'd rather have a student, when they start pushing their car, have a little bit of leeway in their line. If they try for a late apex and apex earlier than they want, they end up on the racing line. If they try for the racing apex and apex earlier than they want, they end up on the tire wall.

Exercises off the track:

Before going out on track, have students mime a fast turndown. They may feel like idiots standing around the paddock pretending that they are going from straight to turned, then slowly letting the wheel out, but it helps them get it into muscle memory.

If you can set up a couple of cones for them to drive through in an empty stretch of paddock, then move them closer, the students can learn the actual width of their car.

benefits of teaching:
  free track time
  learning to critique driving
  recognizing your own mistakes
  giving back to community
  helps organize your own thoughts about driving

teaching is not about the teacher, it is about the student

Larry Colen

Copyright (C) 2003 Larry Colen
Most recently modified by lrc at Wed Jul 02 14:58:34 PDT 2003