Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Remember: HPDE is not Racing

I will admit to getting so tired of correcting people when they call it racing that half the time I don't bother anymore.  I correct my students, and sometimes people just checking out the events, but it is the people that I shouldn't have to remind that worry me. Namely, instructors.

A couple of years ago I changed some things around because I had some very bad experiences in an open passing environment.  I thought this was just me being a wimp. I even ran into problems during an event that didn't have open passing.  I have since come to realize that it wasn't the open passing that was my concern, but rather the other instructors who used the HPDE sessions as full on race practice OR did not really have the head about them to make good decisions in an open passing environment. They were in the open passing group just because they were instructors, not because they had proven themselves as capable of playing well with others.

Contrast that with some other open passing experience I have had that I have actually loved since those events. The big difference? Instructors, by default, are in a point-by passing group and only drivers and coaches individually approved by the Chief Instructor are allowed to run in the open passing group. I have never had a close call with another driver those open passing groups, but at many other events I have had problems because instructors were just using it as a practice session for a race.

You aren't going to go home with a trophy or prize money from an HPDE event. Lots of people are in street cars, and if an incident does occur because you are trying to HPDE champion, not only could you hurt another person (or yourself) but you can hurt the sport.  At the very least, you will damage the reputation of the club you are working with.  

This is especially the case for instructors. You must conduct yourself above reproach if you are to keep credibility with your student. If you are out in a lower run group, driving overly aggressive, you are more likely to force a student to have an incident because you scare them.  Many instructors love to do this because they feel like Gods among men, even in slower cars.  They hound them through the corners well in advance of passing zones, following much closer than any other beginner student would. When you do get past them, if you are driving "flat out" they might also start chasing you even though it is well beyond their ability.  You need to be invisible out there and blend to the appropriate group.

I don't even care if the person in front of you is your long time race buddy and you can go side-by-side at 300mph through turn 1 at Summit Point while sipping tea during a race. You can't do that in the lower run groups. It is unprofessional and unsafe (even if the two of you don't crash), no matter how good you are.  Set the proper example.

This type of scenario has played out multiple times while I am in the car with a student. We are in beginner or intermediate and an instructor comes up on them, starts poking their nose to the inside in non-passing zones, and actually makes the student become fearful for their safety and start driving unpredictably. 

So, remember that HPDE isn't a race. Dial it back, keep everyone safe, and don't tarnish the name of our sport or the clubs you are acting as ambassadors of.  I am not saying drive slow, just keep it under control and allow a margin of error.  If you find yourself saying "Hey! Watch this!" on track with your student in the car, you are probably part of the problem ;)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Student Advancement in HPDE

I am helping mentor a new cadre of instructors from our little group, and after sharing some thoughts with one of them about student advancement, I want to flesh that out a bit more and share it with a wider audience.  This pretty much sums up my criteria for advancing students between run groups, and out of self preservation (eg - my own safety on track) I hope many other coaches feel the same way.

To advance a student between run groups I must feel they are:

  • Safe
  • Aware
  • Consistent
  • Smooth*

There is an * on smooth because as you advance from intermediate to advance there can be deliberate non-smoothness to get more performance out of the car, but beginner->instructed intermediate-> solo intermediate, smooth is a criteria.

Beginner -> Instructed Intermediate*

Note: This option does not exist with Hooked on Driving, so students must meet this criteria and the below criteria to advance.
  • Awareness of all flag stations
  • Ability to give point-bys without explicit instruction (however the occasional reminder is still ok, but if they consistently cause people to wait for point-bys that is a non-starter)
  • Awareness to not put the car "where it doesn't belong" in terms of taking a point by, such as waiving off point-bys they are not comfortable with.  
  • Starting to show awareness of their own mistakes.
  • Proper inputs
    • No sudden inputs mid-corner (Including throttle, braking, jerk of wheel)
    • Smooth steering and pedal application
  • Might not be perfect o the line, but knows it and is properly setting up on the correct side of the track for corners, etc..
  • Not over driving (This will be repeated at every level)
  • Not overly aggressive towards other drivers, best to get this out of them early before something goes wrong in a higher run group

Instructed Intermediate -> Solo Intermediate

All of the above plus:
  • Starts to predict how other cars in front of them are going to behave
    • Example: Backs off when they get an un-easy feeling about a car
  • Sets them selves up for passing zones either to take or give a pass
  • Provides self-correcting commentary on their own mistakes
    • "Turned in to early"
    • "Entered that a little hot"
    • "Could have let one more car by there"
  • Ability to turn consistent laps, and manage traffic without the instructor saying a single word (VERY important, you want them to get used to silence BEFORE they move up)
  • Again, not over-driving
  • Again, not overly aggressive (THIS IS NOT A RACE)

Solo Intermediate -> Advanced

This only comes into play for check rides, because they don't normally have an instructor in the car at this point.  You will have limited time to make these assessments.  They have already made it to solo, so now you are deciding if they can run "with the big boys"
  • Can handle off-line corners (for example, from late point-bys)
  • They are planning well in advance for when cars will catch them and when they will catch cars for best passing
  • Some non-smoothness is allowed here on inputs if it is WITH PURPOSE. (Eg - To rotate the car coming out of a corner, you will especially see this with FWD cars and suddenly throttle lift oversteer to get the car to come around for the corner)
  • Again, not over-driving
  • Again, not overly aggressive (THIS IS NOT A RACE)
Now, you will notice I didn't really use the word "Safe" in there, but that is because all of those things add up to safety.   So, now that there is criteria, now comes the check-rides.

Check Rides

If permitted by the club, check-rides should always be done in the group that the student will be advancing to.  There is a level of information overload that can happen when advancing groups because they might have been the big fish in beginner and are now the slowest driver in intermediate.  Make sure they can handle the speed, possibly extra passing zones, and more experienced drivers catching them where no one caught them before.  But in order for their to be a check-ride, especially from an instructed group to a non-instructed group, there needs to be traffic.  One of our instructor candidates wanted to advance someone back at NJMP Thunderbolt to have a check-ride in the next run-group up, but in my opinion, there just wasn't enough traffic for a valid evaluation.  The reverse is also somewhat true.  A run group that is on the verge of capacity also isn't good for a first-time advancement either.  You need a run group of a moderate to ALMOST large size for a solid check-ride.  To far in either direction could actually be detrimental to the student's learning, comfort and enjoyment which will ultimately impact the safety as they get over-taxed. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"The Line" & DE Instruction

First off, long-time, no-post.  I have been busy writing DIY articles for eEuroparts.com, 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 to...well...you 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, eEuroparts.com 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 - eEuroparts.com.  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 it....as 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)