Thursday, July 28, 2016

"The Line" & DE Instruction

First off, long-time, no-post.  I have been busy writing DIY articles for, fixing cars, breaking cars, fixing cars, breaking cars, etc...  I haven't been in the mood to write personal blog posts recently, but a conversation that happened today really struck a cord with me.

We ended up having an interesting debate about "The Line" in a discussion group.  First off, none of this is being attributed to specific people nor exactly quoted, I am going to speak in generalities.

I was trying to help a first-time instructor who was going to be on the specific track for the first time as well.  I also knew his student was going to be a "never-never" (No days on that track, and no experience at all).  With that in mind, I shared another instructors write-up of the track but pointed out two places where I disagreed with "The Line."  This started the very long debate.

A racer will tell you that the line is the path you took to get through that corner without crashing, hopefully faster than anyone else.  Well, that's all fine and dandy, because in DE not crashing is important as well, but for someone who is already overwhelmed by the track event, you need a repeatable, safe, consistent line so they can get use to all of the other inputs going on. This also gives you one other important tool as an instructor.  A target.  People like achieving targets, reaching goals and getting praise.  If you give them a line, a line that is safe where they won't kill you if they are 1-2 inches off, you are also giving yourself something to praise them on when they get it right, without as much fear of death or injury.

Sure, some drivers will want to know the "Race line" (or if it's raining, the "wet line" which is really where ever you have grip) and actually for a beginner, they won't know the difference anyway.  As the student progresses, "the line" will change.  It will change for how their car is set up.  It will change for how much speed they can carry now.  It will change for the weather, conditions of the car that day, and every other subtle nuance that comes in to play.

There is another disagreement that came up. That an instructor themselves that drives "slow" should not be an instructor.  What does "slow" mean?  It was kind of a "You know it when you see it" discussion.  That instructor might be slow because they don't want to take risks with their car.  They might be slow because they are knocking the rust off themselves.  They may be slow because their physical ability has deteriorated but not their mental acuity.  Or, they might be slow because they are just out there to tool around and have some fun, not go 11/10ths and be buying new tires each weekend.  That doesn't mean they aren't suited to be an instructor.  And just because a driver is fast doesn't mean they will be a good instructor.  Maybe they are "fast" but crash 10% of the time, or 5%.  Maybe they are fast, but can't explain it.  Maybe they are fast, but can't process thoughts fast enough to instruct.  Driving, you are thinking about your next turn or two, the traffic around you, and checking your guages.  Instructing you are thinking about all of that, plus what happened in the last turn to correct it next time, and praising your student appropriately, and possibly managing traffic for your student, and putting all of this into words that the student can understand and react to appropriately without killing you both.

Also, if you want someone to "coach" you and shave time off your lap times, then that is a different situation than a normal DE Instructor/Coach.  Instructors/coaches for low-level DE drivers (Beginner->Intermediate) aren't there to shave seconds off your lap.  They are there to give you the basic skills to be able to safely learn and fend for yourself.  They may be able to give you pointers here and there based on their experience, but that isn't their "job" at that point.  If you are an advanced student and want to improve your times, get ready to cough up money for more than just track time, or HOPE you can convince someone who is a good instructor/coach and is a friend of yours to hop in your right seat and give you pointers.  There are many instructors out there that can also coach you to faster lap times, but in the beginner to early intermediate ranks, that is not what they are there for.  If you believe otherwise, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Especially given the high-profile incidents in recent years that have resulted in the injury or death of fellow instructors.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sponsor's Corner - Chadderton Services

Like I said, my blog has been fairly quiet.  What content I had been writing had been for my primary sponsor.  That said, I need to give a shout out to one of my other sponsors who recently came on board, Chadderton Services in Easton, MD.  In fact, he is so new to the sponsorship gig, he hasn't had a chance to get his logo printed out to put on the side of my car.  Since I can't market for him on track yet, this is the best I can do right now.

At New Jersey Motorsports Park, my clutch failed.  At first we thought it was just a slave cylinder that failed, but that wasn't a job I had the time to tackle, so I had to take it to a mechanic I could trust.  Fortunately, I had met a mechanic who used to race, and had gotten back into the HPDE scene!  This meant I had a mechanic who understood the importance of things being done right and surviving the rigors of on-track abuse.

When I dropped it off at his shop, I told him that we suspected a slave cylinder, but while he was in there, I was going to have him do the master cylinder, clutch pedal and clutch pedal bushings.  The next day, I got a text with a photo of a chunk of metal that was rattling around in my bell housing!  Well, crap, this isn't good.  He dropped the transmission and this is what he found:


That clutch was less than a year old, but the flywheel had not been replaced at the same time.  The wobble in the flywheel caused the clutch rivets to shear off and the clutch can see. So I ordered up a single mass flywheel and clutch to replace that old dual-mass setup.  Then came another surprise, the pivot pin, that I had ordered a replacement for LAST YEAR and gave to the shop installing that last clutch....was still the original plastic one.  So, I ordered another one of those.

All told, between my other two sponsors, and Rogue Engineering, I lost track of how many parts I had direct shipped to Kerry, and he had to order some on his own.  Then Kerry and I agreed on a date that the car needed to be done (In time for this weekend's SCCA PDX/Club Trial event) and he was left to do his work.

It is not often you find a mechanic you can trust, so when you do, you are willing to travel to have them do the work.  In my case, it is about 1 hour from my house to Kerry's shop, but it is well worth the gas in piece of mind that the work will be done right.  So if you are anywhere near  Easton, MD and need a mechanic, give Chadderton Services a call!

Chadderton Services
6410 Landing Neck Rd
Easton, MD
(410) 829-1572

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Track History/Bucket List

So, I figured it was a good time to write a blog post with my current list of driven tracks, plus a bucket list of tracks I want to do.  Some of those I have driven stateside were only done in the Rabbit and I would like to go back and do them in the BMW.  I will put those in bold on the historic list.

Tracks I have driven

Nürburgring Nordchliefe 
Hockenheimring GP Track 
Summit Point Main
Extended Jefferson at Summit Point
Shenandoah at Summit Point
Thunderbolt at New Jersey Motorsports Park
Lightning at New Jersey Motorsports Park
Pocono "Triple infield"
Pocono North
Pocono Southeast
Pocono Full Trioval
Pitt Race North Course
Watkins Glen
VIR Grand
Roebling Road
Road Atlanta
Whiskey Hill Raceway at Palmer Motorsports Park

Bucket List

(Only listing US/Canda tracks because those are the only ones I have a decent chance of getting to)
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Sonoma Raceway
Daytona 24 hour course (Had to cancel my trip there)
Autobahn Country Club
Mid Ohio
Montecellio (Just because I can't ;))
Barber Motorsports Park
Circuit of the Americas
Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Infield circuit and full track)
Road America
Gilles Villeneuve Circuit
Lime Rock
Sebring International Raceway

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Blogs been quiet...for a reason

I have been writing blog content, just not here.  I have two articles posted on my sponsor's website -  I have 2 more I have to write now when I get a chance.  I will quickly say that after my first run at Club Trials with Washington DC Region SCCA, I am currently in 5th of 16 participants in points.  I also took two random VW fans who just happened to stop by the track today rides in the Rabbit.  They had never been on track before, the guy owned an 09 Rabbit that he wants to mod so he had been asking me questions about mine.  I offered him a ride, and he took me up on did his girlfriend.  I didn't get to talk to either of them after their rides, but they both had fun and Chrissy said the guy was grinning ear to ear and excited after he got out.  If you guys stumble upon this post, I am glad you had fun!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

BMW Off-season To-do List

I will be updating this list as I get things complete or add more items.
  • Transmission fluid Done 11/28
  • Differential Fluid Done 11/28
  • Coolant Done 12/15
  • Coolant overflow tank Done 12/15
  • Fan shroud Done 12/15
  • Remove the rest of the trim pieces in the rear Done 1/3
  • Brake lines - Have arrived, not installed yet Done 1/3
  • Power steering fluid Done along with the power steering lines
    • Looks like some potential leaks there, investigate the E36 "fixes" for this
  • Brake cooling
  • E36 Cooling Fan Delete Done 12/5
  • Rear sub-frame reinforcement - planned for April tentatively
  • Strut Tower Reinforcement
  • Coolant Level Sensor Replacement - Yep, this is bad, replace it Done 1/3
  • Whatever else comes up.....
Future Items
  • Cage
  • Racing Seats
  • Harnesses
  • Oil Pressure Gauge
  • Oil Temp Gauge
  • Use body filler to smooth out the sunroof delete/seal it
  • Cruise Control Removal...Might not happen
  • Traction control delete (Leaving it in for now for any events that Chrissy is going to use the car next year)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some of My Rules for HPDE Instruction After My First Season

Each instructor develops their own opinions about how instruction should be done and their own personal rules for how they do it.  Many of them are derived from those they associate with and then they may tweak them to make them their own.  Here are some of mine.

I don't take my students for rides until the afternoon

Why not?  That usually means they have about half of their on-track sessions under the belt.  This has usually meant I have had 2 sessions to observe them and work with the, understand their ability, their car and their faults.  This allows me to tailor my demo ride to show them the specific things I want them to work on.  If possible, run them in a run group only slightly above their run group but if the schedule (or group) does not allow that, run with them in the instructor group.  For example, if they are Novice and Intermediate doesn't work out in the schedule, don't take them out in Advanced, take them out with Instructors.  I have my reasons for this rule but some organizations make this rule moot by mixing advanced and instructors. And sometimes even the other instructors are still the problem.  See the last rule in this post below for more.

Now, if they are an intermediate driver who just needs/wants an instructor because it is a new track, I will take them out in the morning after their first session, and then at least ride with them their next session after that.  But if I think the student will need me in the passenger seat at least 3/4 of the day, I wait till after lunch.

4 wheels off w/ a student in car is the cardinal sin*

I have ONE exception to this, see below.  This rule has been imparted on me by other instructors, but I have one personal exception to this rule.  Students need to see us as perfect when we take them out for a demo ride so they will listen to us.  The only person exception to this (That doesn't come into play for me yet) is if you are teaching a very advanced student and advanced technique that has a possibility for failure, 4 wheels off might happen.  But in those cases, a crash is the cardinal sin and the possibility for failure should be discussed before hand, not a surprise.  Equipment failures that weren't from your own stupidity are also acceptable, but if you lose a wheel from loose lug nuts...well...your credibility with that student just got shot to hell. 

I say this doesn't come into play for me yet because I don't feel comfortable trying to teach student things that advanced and then having to hop back in the car with them.  At least not yet.  I want more experience under my own belt first.

With your student in the car, drive how you want them to drive

They will mimic your actions...or at least try to.  So be sure not to do anything that if they attempt to mimic you and screw up will place you in a tire wall or worse. Depending on the student it may be possible to drive a bit harder (There are students out there that actually appreciate the difference in experience) but keep in mind the previous rule.  You still won't be driving flat-out.

Even if your student isn't in the car, they (or other students) may be watching

Keep this in mind when you make passes, when you interact with other drivers on track.  Even in an open-passing session, there might be other students on track with instructors, or students spectating.  Do you really want them to think dive bombing three cars into the bitch on VIR Grand is a good idea when you have to get back in the car with them?  DEs aren't race schools or test/tune sessions. Sure, advanced drivers and instructors can make use of the events for some practice, but don't be driving in full-out race mode especially in traffic.  There are street cars out there.  There are passengers in some cars.  Behave.

This is just a subset of my rules.  I will write up more in another post when I feel so motivated.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Riding in Couches and Other On-Track Activities

First a brief step.further back. Last weekend I was with TrackDaze on Shenandoah at Summit Point Motorsports Park.  Since they know I have spent most of my tack time driving our Rabbit.they like to stick me in any Volkswagens. Thing is they didn't notice that one of the VWs they put me in was driven by my wife.   I had been previously told to never instruct my wife but her and I decided it would be a fun experience so we gave it a shot. It actually turned out really well and she got a check ride and sign off (by another instructor) to advance to the blue group with TrackDaze.

Following that I was at Watkins Glen Wednesday and Thursday. I had never driven The Glen and first thing I had learn the line myself. Thanks to some resources another instructor had plus doing some lead follow during the first.instructor session I knew enough to get my student around track safely and on the line.

For those two days my student was driving a 2010 Jaguar XK Sedan. Per usual I drove his car for the first two laps. We aren't allowed to flog the students car.around the track so I was driving fairly conservatively causing a bit of tire squeal as I went around but pushing the car hard. Well turns out that my definition of taking it easy was different than my student's comfort level when he was driving. Because the tires hard made a noise going around the track.  It was nice though because it was a nice comfortable heated seat trip around the track on two moderately cold days. My student improved a lot across the two days and most importantly stayed safe and had fun. Through those two days I also picked up a lot of speed myself as I became better aclimated to the track.  The Glen is an incredible track and if you ever have the chance I highly recommend you go there.  Wednesday night we were even out f like grilling, and drinking beer, bourbon and scotch as we unwound from the day and were.celebrating the end of another good.season of driving with Hooked On Driving Northeast Region.

From The Glen I headed south,  but not to my house. Summit Point was in.need of more instructors for the Friday at the Track the following day. After arranging a place to stay Thursday night we headed down there, crashed for a few hours and we were back at the track.

A Mustang and Mercedes C series parked next to us in the paddock.  The husband I. The Mustang had been to multiple events but his wife.had never driven on track. I immediatly grabbed her as a student for the 1A run group.  Had I not grabbed her as a student I would have grabbed the MkVI VW GTI that was there.  I ended up without a 1B student but had a 2i student in a Mazda Speed 3. The event ended up being in the rain so I was happy I.had switched to the (crappy) street tires on my BMW. The day was largely a car control clinic on track with limited traction most of the day with my group 1 student learning a bit about how the car feels when it slides and my group 2 student working on throttle control to deal with the lack of traction.

When I took my group 1 student out (who had already done a session on the skid pad) the backend of the BMW kept trying to come around and one time I had to make a correction 2 hole doing about 50mph. This somewhat surprised my student because she didn't realize that the same car control techniques they teach on the skid pad at 30mph work at highway speeds. While it wasn't my intention to do a skid pad session on track it was good car control practice and a good teaching moment for my student.

All said and done, in 7 days I spent 5 days on track on three different tracks across 3 FWD, 2 RWD and 1.AWD vehicle (including my RWD BMW track car). At least most of the students had a good.time and learned.some things about their car and its capailities.. With 8 days left on track this year I hope to end the year on a high note. Maybe even dragging a few more people out to the track!