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 to.do.was 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 for.me 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 up.to 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!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Weekend Was a Mixed Bag

This weekend was a mixed bag.  There were good parts, and bad parts. The good included Chrissy doing another Friday at the Track (this time in the Rabbit) and doing really well.  The low included almost getting rear ended by another instructor (while I had a student in the car to show him part of the line), almost getting hit in the door by another instructor (because he thought it was open passing) and other activities by instructors that are unacceptable.

First, HPDE (Even in Advanced/Instructor run groups with pass anywhere with a point) is not a race.  You aren't winning trophies, almost pushing a car off the track in the braking zone while a debris flag is showing in that corner so you should be on the lookout for the debris is not acceptable.  In fact, I knew where the debris was (coming out of the turn) so I didn't give him the point there either but he jutted over to pass me and then had to swerve back behind me to avoid the debris. Another advanced students described that person as a maniac. There were repeated cases of advanced students AND instructors giving point-bys and not letting off the gas. I'm sorry, but I caught your M3 in the corners with my Rabbit, not the straight, but when you point me by in the straight you have to give me a little help and lift.  The instructor who almost rear-ended me never said a word to me, but did apologize when asked about it by the pit marshal.  The person who dive-bombed me and another car in 1 doing a double pass sans-point-by (because he thought it was open passing) apologized and said he realized as soon as he did it that those weren't the rules of that group. If the group had open passing, that would be ok....but still a dick move because he didn't get up next to me until my turn in point.  Again, not a race.  Lots of instructors take their students out during the instructor group so they can explain things.  We are supposed to set good examples of how to do things properly and safely.  Neither of these cases were either.

Second...Instructors who leave before their students.  Don't solo your student so you can leave.  If you do, you are an asshole who shouldn't be instructing.  If you absolutely have to leave, make sure another instructor is covering.  Even if the person is ready for solo, someone should always be on stand-by if the change their mind or have any concerns or problems.  Now, if you had let your student go solo at the end of day 1 and check rode with them at the start of day 2...missing the fourth run may be ok....but leaving after their third run and just soloing them right there (and not even getting them the sticker before you leave) that is a dick move. It is so prevalent that last weekend when I told a student I was soloing him for the last run of the day he said "yeah sure, I will let you pack up and leave."  My response was, "I'm not leaving, I really want you to run solo the last session.  I will be standing on pit road with my helmet in hand your entire session in case you decide we want me to come out with you or have some question."  The fact that the student assumed I was soloing him so I could leave shows there is a problem.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On the Brink? Not exactly.


Ken WAS a great instructor.  Ken HAD training. Ken had years of experience under his belt. The article implies that lack of instructor training and formal process is part of the problem.  I can assure you that was not the case in this event.  I knew Ken.  I was on track in another student's car at the time of the incident unaware of how serious the incident was. The student the was driving had apparently been a model student earlier in the day as well.  The greatest influence to that accident IMO was the environment around that event, but I won't touch on that here.
I went through instructor training with BSR.  I have been told they are one of the better programs to go through as they actually have you practice exercises such as steering the car from the passenger seat (for entire laps around all three tracks at summit point).  They have instructors mimic student behaviors so you can learn to expect them and counter them.  I have been told by other instructors who have been doing this much longer than I that the only two groups they hold at the same or higher level for instructor training are Audi Club and BMW Club.  That being said, there is no replacement for experience either and there will always be "wet behind the ears" instructors (myself included).  At events where I choose my students, I choose based on my comfort, knowledge and experience, not because "Oh man, it will be a  blast to ride in an R8!"  At events where the organizers pair me up, they all know me fairly well now, so pair me with appropriate cars/students. Sometimes I end up in high horsepower cars like the Supercharged 2014 Chevrolet SS at Pocono (600+hp), but the student an I had a long discussion about what can happen if they try flooring it in the middle of a turn, etc, and what would happen if they didn't follow my instruction (pack it up and go home)

Do I do it for the free/cheap track time?  Yes. But I also do it because I genuinely enjoy instructing and paying it forward.  There are few things as rewarding during an HPDE event as watching your student have that "Ah-ha!" moment where they finally understand something you have been explaining to them.  Also, what other instructor fatalities have their been?  I know of the maiming incident at Summit Point last year, but that is it.  I have never heard of an instructor fatality before and none of my peers could recall one either.  
Hooked on Driving, WDCR SCCA and Audi Club NA have the opportunity for students to see the track at a low-speed, low-risk environment with intro laps before the students ever go out on track at speed.  I think EVERY group should have this.  Every group I work with has classroom time that is actually pretty informative, but a good thing might be a quick one-lap video deconstructing the track in the morning for a second in addition to the "going over the rules".
I have watched an event organizer send someone home w/ refund before they even got on the track because they had a bad feeling about that student/car combination.  I have seen instructors not make "the cut" and not be invited to instruct at all or back to instruct later.  There needs to be more of this, not less.  And we need to instill in our students that yes, this is dangerous.  We make it as safe as we can, but it is dangerous. And if you can't deal with that, other sports beckon.  In fact, there should be a place for different schools to know what students have been expelled from different groups, and why.

One other note - Competitive driving does not automatically an instructor make.  In fact, they can be the worst instructors, encouraging students to make racing-like moves while on the track during HPDE events, and put too much pressure on the car in front of them.  They also might push the student way beyond their comfort level or be too intense for the student.  Lastly, just because they can "do" doesn't mean they can "teach."  

Just a little side note - The instructor and student in the illustration would never even be allowed on track in any group I have run in as they are in that drawing.  The rules start with long pants and long sleeve shirts (the latter is sometimes waved, but I have never seen the pants requirement waived).  That would be the first sign of a problem to me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thanks for Forcing My Hand, Mike

Yeah, if you read Mike's post, I drove at Dub Deliverance 4.  It was my second track event stateside.  I had fun but I can't do Shenandoah in my sleep like I can Summit Main (yeah, when I was riding with Mike during his morning FATT session, I had my eyes closed and I know all of the turns and lines by heart because I've ridden along so many times on that course.

The first time I rode shotgun on Shenandoah, it felt like it was 100 degrees and with the twists and turns (22 of them), I was either going to lose my lunch or pass out.  In the spring, I was better able to stomach the course since it was a frigid day in March.  Yesterday, the weather was beyond perfect for a Spraugust day.  :-)

The biggest thing for me driving Shenandoah is that there's a very different view and understanding of the track from the left side of the car than the from the right.  Sure, growing up, we learn to mimic the actions of our parents driving, who are there as we attempt to gain our drivers licenses as teenagers.  The problem with mimicking someone as an adult is that there is a better understanding of what the car can do.  I don't drive the Rabbit often, but being shotgun so much, I do know the courses, in a sense; and I know what that car can do, because Mike does it.

What I'm getting at is that I was trying to use his lines.  His braking zones.  This is a bad idea for someone's first time driving the course.  I know that going into 20, he brakes probably 150 feet before he tracks in.  My skill level isn't to that point; yet that was the lead I was following.  I know going into the Karussel, he brakes at this darker spot on the pavement, about 100 feet going into the sloped turn.  Again, not appropriate when I wasn't quite hitting the line.  Like Mike, I carried up in my last run of the day and skid across the top of the concrete and asphalt on the car's belly pan (aluminum sub frame protection FTW), although it didn't result in a four-off like his.

In general, I had a great day.  I had good instructors.  And got to catch up with the usual faces of these kinds of events (like Dubs on the Boards, SCCA, NASA, FATT, H20i...) for VWs.  I know where I have problems following the line (aside from the Karussel and turn 20; I was hitting the others pretty spot on by the end of the day) and I know that I shouldn't be following Mike's lines and brake zones.

The event on the new Jefferson in early June was probably better for me.  I didn't have any experience on that track before.  Mike didn't have any experience on new Jefferson.  It was a blank slate.  Nothing to mimic.  After I got over my nerves going into the Jefferson event, I did great.  I probably would have done great, if not better, on Jefferson if the event venue didn't have to change for logistical reasons.  I knew I wasn't ready for Shenandoah because of its turns.  Yesterday was proof of that.

On September 12th, I go out on Summit Main for my last event of the year.  After yesterday, I know that the turn 1 braking zone for me is the 3.5 marker and not the almost 1 like Mike's.  I know that turn 4 is a PitA.  Hopefully, I'll do better in September.  We shall see.

Dub Deliverance and Friday at the Track

This was originally just going to be a status update, then I realized it was getting REALLY long and had some good information to share with a wider audience.

Exhausting weekend.  Friday I had students in two of the three run groups and during Dub Deliverance I was instructing in nine of the on-track sessions.  I will start with Dub Deliverance and then double back to Friday at the Track.

Dub Deliverance is a great event run by TrackDaze and sponsored by VWAPR and NGP Racing.  This is a great event for anyone who wants a cheap track day because thanks to the sponsorship it is only $55 for participants.  Such a good deal that I was originally going to enjoy my time as a participant, but they needed more instructors and I have this flaw that makes me volunteer to help.  Somewhat sorry I did because I was run ragged on Saturday.

First I was in-car instructing a VW Employee around track in a MkVII Golf TSI (1.8T engine) that had some R bits and pieces on it (most notably, brakes).  I really like the styling of the new golf, although if that car had been a manual it would have made it more suitable for the track (The auto won't let you stay in the power band as easily).  Adding the APR 1.8T software probably would have made that even better, although it is not officially released for the MkVII yet, but I don't think the MkVII Golf (as opposed to the GTI) is in dealership lots yet.  The traction control REALLY didn't like the carousel constantly clamping the brakes as we went around it.

After that session I got a break (Because I wasn't back in time to hop in a Blue group car anyway) but then come green, I was in a MkV R32.  First ever time on track for that guy (and it turns out he was three spots down from us in the paddock).  Even though there weren't assigned instructors, I worked with him in ever run he did that day because I prefer the consistency.  (He skipped one session to let his friend use the car since his friend couldn't get his car ready for the track)  In the second and third blue group sessions I went out with Nate from NGP and helped him with the line on a couple parts of the course. I also instructed one of the cars in the second VW Employee session (Same driver, this time a MkVII GTI).

The MkVII GTI had nice power and was a manual.  The only problem with that car was it had completely stock GTI brakes and the driver who took it out the first session REALLY worked them so they started to fade about half way through the session and we had to pull it in.  The same problem happened with my green students R32, his brakes were still stock and his last run of the day he had to pull off early due to fade.  The very last session of the day for green/blue combined I ended up riding with a different student (despite REALLY wanting a break and wanting to start packing up) but he was a more passive driver (who still needed constant direction around the track, but at least he wasn't trying to drive into the hairpins 20 mph too fast or anything.  After that I was so wiped out I skipped my last track session and just loaded up the car.

Chrissy was also driving the car through the day in blue group but I will let her summarize her experience if she so chooses.  I also took the car out in two yellow sessions to get myself some extra track time, unfortunately, one had a bad start.  My brakes are sometimes a little inconsistent when cold, but they seemed to have enough heat in them from the other turns I went into leading up to the carousel.  Unfortunately, they weren't quite warm enough and I ended up hitting the carousel a little fast.  The car bounced a bit, slid up the hill, my skid plate scraped along the rim and I was shot out into the grass headed straight towards the tire wall. (see video below)  Fortunately I was still slow enough, especially with the added friction from scraping against the concrete, to avoid the wall.  And that was the second time that weekend I was four off (I was only driving one of the two times though, more on that later).



Now for Friday at the Track.  In Group 1A I picked a student in a MkV GTI who I had met at a previous Friday at the Track.  He was a great student who took instruction well and improved through the day.  He still needs to work on his threshold braking and cleaning up his line a bit in the back section.  For Group 1B I ended up working with three different students.  An E46 325i, a supercharged BRZ and for a very brief period, an Evo MR.  The Evo was a check-ride.  Another instructor had given him straight fives for two sessions straight and I was checking him to move him up to group 2i for the next event.  I told him I was just going to observe and only intervene if needed.  He didn't break hard enough for turn 10 on main.  At that point there isn't anything you can do because if you brake going into the turn you end up on the inside wall.  As we were starting to head out in to the graven, I just started yelling "Straight straight straight" so we didn't catch the front wheels and either roll the car or dart towards the inner wall.  The car started to slow in the gravel but one of the ruts in the sand jerked the wheel a bit so we started wiggling across track.  Once we were in the inner grass he gained just enough traction to gradually steer it away from the wall and we missed the tires at pit exit by about 2 feet.

So, we pulled into the pits, talked about it and talked to the pit control and headed back out planning on taking it slower.  He went a couple more laps, but had to pull it in after feeling a vibration and just parked it for the rest of the event.  He was actually much more shaken by it than I was (I was eerily calm during the whole thing).  His line also was sloppy when I was in the car with him so I think maybe nerves got to him knowing it was a check-ride.  So, I didn't put him forward.  So...that was my Friday and Saturday, how was yours?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Track track and more track

I have had a busy year so far.  So busy that I keep losing count of the number of days I have had on track.  I have met some great people and been building up my instructing resume at the same time.  To think, just last year I was a student and now the roles have reversed.  I had expressed my interest in instructing last year and BSR invited me to their instructor clinic this past winter.  From there, things have almost become a blur.

I started going to the Friday at the Track events, and emailed the TrackDaze guys to get started with them.  Then during one of the Friday at the Track events, they said the SCCA event the following couple of days needed additional instructors so I volunteered.  All of that happened before my first event instructing with Track Daze and while originally they had planned on putting me through their own mini instructor clinic but instead they had to just put me to work due to a shortage of instructors that event.  I then decided to show up for their VIR event as well even though I originally intended to skip it.

After that I was put in touch with the head instructor of another organization (Hooked on Driving) that was looking for more instructors for their VIR event.  So I made the long trek back down to VIR to audition for a recurring gig instructing for them.  That event went well and so at that point I had four organizations under my belt that I was already instructing for.  Another SCCA, Friday at the Track, HoD and Track Daze event later and I was pretty content with my schedule.

There was then a call for help for a teen driver education event (Tire Rack Street Survival).  If you have a teen driver, send them through the program!  It was a long but rewarding day.  Audi Club North America Potomac-Chesapeake Chapter was running that specific event and they said they were also in need of more instructors for their next event coming up.  Again, I am a sucker so I volunteered for that as well.  That event was half of a day of exercises like was offered during the teen driver education event, and then half a day of a normal track event.  Had a blast, met some more great people, and even got a nifty hat out of the deal that says Instructor on the side (Thank you Criswell Audi).

So, now my schedule for the rest of the year is pretty well set and I hope to have the BMW on track by the August 24th event and if not, by the SCCA event in September.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My New/Future Track Car - Looking for sponsors to help me out with this new project

While Klopfer has served me well, it is time for an upgrade to my track vehicle.  What does that mean?  That means a new toy.  What new toy?  A 1995 BMW E36 325i 5 speed sedan.  SEDAN?  Yeah....there aren't many coupes on the market that are in anything resembling good condition.  Now for my shameless plug for promotion/support.

1995 E36 325i 5 speed

Obviously a 19 year old car that didn't belong to someone who tracked the car is going to need some work to get it track ready (and MD Inspection ready...currently on temp tags), but I have plans for what I want to do.  I am hoping to find a sponsor to help me get this car buttoned all up and ready for the track this season (rather than waiting till next year).  I really want to get some track days under my belt in this car this year so I could possibly do some time trials next year (Current inclination is to participate with SCCA).  This is also an important thing for any company that might want to help me with the car because you can get involved early...who knows..maybe I will end up being good at time trial.

Right now I am looking for parts credits or at least discounts to help me get this car together and in exchange I am offering to carry your company name on my car (in a size reasonable for the discounts/credits I am receiving), photos of the car on track, videos from my events of laps around the track and product reviews.  I won't be able to get the car squared away before this weekends SCCA event nor next week's Friday at the Track, but since I am an instructor, I end up at a lot of track events.  I still have several events left this year including Hooked on Driving at Pocono, NASA at Daytona, Track Daze at VIR, one more SCCA at Summit Point, and several more Friday at the Track events, so the car will have lots of exposure. (Considering a couple other events as well).

1995 E36 325i 5 speed
So, what do I need to do to the car?  First round is suspension, brakes, brake flush, alignment, and tires.  I did the cup kit install and full brake upgrade on my rabbit, so I can tackle the labor on those just hoping to find some help in the parts department (and maybe tire department).  Want to help out and throw your name on my car but don't sell car parts?  Well, make me an offer, I don't mind straight up cash infusions either (besides parts, I also have gas on track and to/from truck in the beast in the background so that gives me a bit more flexibility).  I have reached out to two companies and am waiting to hear back.  One of them I have ordered a lot of parts from in the past and will probably making a significant percentage of my new parts purchases from them unless I develop a partnership with a different company.

Current upgrades I am considering.

  • Either EBC Yellow or Hawk race pads (I use EBC Yellow on the Rabbit and have loved them)
  • H&R Sport Cup Kit (cheaper than a decent coilover and again, proven very solid from my Rabbit)
  • Will start stripping out the interior and eventually put in some real seats and at least a roll bar
  • Currently plan on leaving the engine stock to leave future Spec E36 competition open as an option.


You can email me at mike at mikecrutchfield dot com if you are interested in helping out with the car.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Getting on Track - Your guide to Starting HPDE Part 2

If you haven't done so, please read Part 1 of this post first.

You will usually have to take your car through a quick tech-inspection before you sign-in  (or sometimes after, varies by group) where they do a final simple check and verify your tech form is filled out.  You will then start the day with some time in the classroom talking about the rules of the track, flags, passing and the line.  Your first time out on the track (and usually your first five or more events) you will have an instructor in the car with you.  Different groups run instructor assignments differently.  Some pre-assign them before the event and may even get you in touch before the event.  Others just have introduction at the beginning of the day, and even others just have instructors hop in the car with you on grid.  Some of the groups also tend to have the instructors drive two laps in your car to show you the line (but don't worry, they won't be going that fast).  Then you are off on the track.

Rule 1 on the track - LISTEN TO YOUR INSTRUCTOR
Rule 2 on the track - LISTEN TO YOUR INSTRUCTOR
Rule 3 on the track - Stay safe
Rule 4 on the track - Have fun
Rule 5 on the track - Learn as much as you can

Why do I emphasize the listen to the instructor?  They know what they are doing and they are there to make sure you can adhere to rules 3-5 above.  When you first start going, your instructor will be mostly instructing you about the line on the track.  Don't get frustrated if he tells you to drive a bit slower, as the day progresses you will have plenty of time to drive faster.  You may also find your instructor actually pushing you to drive a bit faster or brake later than you are doing.  It all really depends on the student.  Most people, their first time on the track, will drive the same way they do on a back windy road.  (Although some will drive like total maniacs and that makes the instructors job much harder/scarier).

Once you have finished your first session, your instructor will have a little debrief with you, talk about what you did well, and what you will work on during the next session.  Then you should go, take a break, go to the classroom if you need to, and make sure to hydrate.  This cycle will repeat all day long.

Make sure to be mindful of your car through the day.  If you brakes start to feel funny, say something to your instructor.  Don't be afraid to give up some track time if your car isn't up to the task.  It is better to miss a session then to wreck a car.  You may still be able to go on track but just not drive as hard.

The Danger

I want to touch on the danger aspect before I give you the links to the different organizations to take a look at.  One week ago today I lost a colleague and friend when a student lost control of their car and crashed.  We may never know exactly what happened in the accident, but it goes to show that bad things can happen.  Remember that the instructors are getting in the passenger seat with someone they have never met and have no idea how they drive.   If it weren't for us, you wouldn't be able to get on the track, so please help keep us safe as we work to keep you safe.

Lastly, where can you register to get on track?

Summit Point Friday at the Track - Only runs on the tracks at Summit Point Motorsports Park in WV.  An added bonus of their program is the time you get on the skidpad learning how to handle front and rear skids (over- and under-steer).  A great program to start with especially if that track is close and where you plan on going.  I instruct with FATT and have been doing events with them for a couple of years.
Track Daze - Track Daze runs at VIR, Summit Point and New Jersey Motorsports Park.  Many of their events are on weekends and are almost exclusively two day events (where you have the option of registering for only one of the days).  I instruct with Track Daze and have participated in their events at all three venues.  I am instructing next weekend at NJMP.
Hooked On Driving - They have chapters across the country that run in different regions on a lot of tracks.  If you sign up with them, make sure you let them know I sent you.  I instruct with Hooked on Driving but have only done a single event with them thus far at VIR (with one coming up at NJMP next Friday)
NASA (National Auto Sport Association) - They also have chapters across the country.  A NASA membership is required to participate in one of their events.  You are looking for the HPDE events.  Currently I don't instruct with NASA, but have done events at Summit Point, and Pocono Raceway.
SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) - Another group with chapters across the country.  An SCCA membership is required to participate in their events.  The events you are looking for are called PDX (Performance Driving Experience).  The Washington DC Region runs 3 PDX events a year at Summit Point.   I have done exactly one event at Summit Point with SCCA as an instructor.

Check with whatever track is closest to you to see if they have their own on-track experiences.  NJMP and Pittsburgh International Raceway both have their own programs for example.  Some tracks, to participate in the events they run, you have to be a member of their automotive country clubs, which gets pricey, which is why you check for other groups that run there.  BMW Car Club of America, Audi Club, Porche Club, many of those organizations run their own programs and are usually welcoming of other makes/models of cars.

You may run into the same instructor at events run by different organizations.  As I said above, I have worked with FATT, Track Daze, Hooked on Driving and SCCA, and all of those just this year!  Get out there, stay safe, have fun, and get addicted!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Getting on Track - Your Guide to Starting HPDE Part 1

More and more frequently, people are asking me how they get on track, where should they start, what should they do?  Well, I have decided to compile my advice into a simple to reference blog post that I can also update in the future if I need to.  First a few warnings.  
  1. Driving on track is expensive.
  2. Driving on track is addictive.
  3. Driving on track is not without danger - I will get back to this at the end of the post.
You don't need to have a high-horsepower car to have fun on the track.  My track car is a 2007 VW Rabbit that MAY be pushing close to 170hp at the crank.  I get passed by a lot of other people, but there are times when I actually keep up with and pass much faster cars due to my skill and or stupidity...err...comfort throwing my car into a corner at high speed.  There are a few things you will need to do to car and plan for these before you register so you aren't caught off guard by the tech inspection requirements.  Other items will need to be checked besides these, but these are the most common problem areas.
  1. Fresh Brake Fluid - Preferably high-temperature DOT-4 or DOT-5.1 fluid (BUT NOT DOT-5).  I used Motul DOT-4 RBF-600 at first and now use Motul DOT-5.1.
    Why fresh brake fluid?  Over time, brake fluid absorbs moister and this lowers the boiling point of the brake fluid.  Also, any time you boil you brake fluid, you again lower the boiling point.  If this happens on the track, you might find yourself going into a sharp turn at the end of the straight without the ability to brake.  
  2. ALMOST fresh brake pads
    You don't want your brake pads to be BRAND new...they need a bit of time for break-in.  It is best that you put on fresh pads and follow a proper brake bedding procedure, but installing them at least 1-2 weeks before the event and just using them as normal will help mate them to the surface of the rotors better.
  3. Sufficient tread on your tires
    There is always the chance of rain, so you need good tires.  Most groups will check your tread depth and not allow you on track with insufficient tread.
  4. Check your other fluids
    Oil, transmission, coolant.  Change whatever fluids are necessary.
  5. Check your suspension, wheel bearings, and all other critical linkages
If you can't take care of the above, find a shop you trust to do it, but in that case you will need to register first so you can have them fill out the tech form (rather than you filling it out yourself).  

Next, figure out WHERE you want to go to the track?  Is VIR in your back yard? If so, I hate you!  Try not to pick a track that is too insane for your first track event (If you are near Summit Point, Shenandoah is not the track to start with, start with Main for example).  Most people are a bit overwhelmed their first time on the track.  Once you have figured out where, then start looking for groups that run there that also fit your schedule.  If you are going to make a regular habit of this, plan to run at least your first few events with the same group.  This will give you some consistency and help you in your attempts to advance. (I will list some groups down below)  Based on what group you are going to run with, you may have to show up with your own helmet, whereas others can provide rentals.

Once you are registered, your car is ready and the track day approaches keep the following things in mind.  When you get to the track you will need to empty all of your stuff out of the car, so plan to have a tarp or containers or have a bunch of stuff lying on the ground.  I have never known there to be a theft problem at a normal HPDE style event.  In fact, most people would give you the shirt off their back if it meant you could get your car back on track for your next section.  You will want to have plenty of sleep the night before.  Show up with a willingness to learn and plenty of energy...you will be exhausted by the end of the day.  Remember the only "trophy" you can "win" is your car leaving in the same shape it arrived in at the beginning of the event.

So, that is part 1 and this blog post is getting long, so I am going to break this up, and post part 2 tomorrow.  Stay tuned!


Friday, May 23, 2014

My Dream Car List

Chrissy made her Dream Car post, so this is mine.  I wrote this up a couple of weeks after Chrissy's and never posted it.  Ooops.  I am going to do my alphabetically by brand to help keep it organized and let me not forget things.

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish - what's not to love?  They shoved a V12 under the hood of an amazing looking car.  I want! In silver of course.

Audi R8 V10 - AWD, a V10, and it catches fire less than other super cars...all win! Also in silver.

Buick Grand National GNX - Any color you want, as long as it's black!

BMW
  • E30 M3 because it was the first.  In white.
  • E46 M3 Love the styling - In black
  • E92 M3 - I have driven the E92 on the autobahn....that V8 sounded amazing.  In blue
  • E88 135i - Yeah that car was fun
Cadillac CTS-V - First generation in silver

Chevrolet
  • 1969 Chevy Camaro SS - Blue with white detailing stripes on the side
  • 2013 Camaro ZL1 done up in the Bumble Bee color scheme (yellow with black stripes)
  • C7 Z06 Blue or Yellow.
  • SS sedan - unlike what Chrissy said, it will be a consumer car (the police cruiser is called the Caprice)  Not sure on color till I see it in person.
  • 1980's Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupe - Black w/ red detailing
Dodge -
  • 1969 Dodge Charger R/T in General Lee orange (could do without the flag)
  • 2014 Challenger RT Shaker - Plum Crazy Purple
Ford
  • 1969 Shelby GT500 (aka Eleanor) - Silver
  • GT40 - Black
  • 2015 Mustang GT350 (Based on leaked info about the performance models to be available)
Lamborghini Aventador - Black or yellow

Lotus Elise - Yellow

Mistsubishi Lancer Evo X - Silver

Nissan
  • GTR - Silver
  • G34 Skyline GTR - Not available in US Legal to import starting in 2024 I think. Blue
  • 300ZX Twin Turbo - Silver
Porche - 997 911 GT3 RS - I LOVE the orange color this came in.

Subaru
  • 2002-2004 WRX STI - Blue
  • BRZ Blue
Volkswagen - MANY
  • Carmen Gia - Dark green maybe?
  • VR6 Corrado - Black
  • Mk4 Golf R32 - Blue
  • Mk6 Golf R - Black
  • 2008+ Sirocco w/ 2.0 FSI engine(Not sold in US) - Blue or Silver

I am sure I still forgot stuff, and left of some for a bit of brevity, but you get the point.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Last weekend was a long one...lots of on-track instructing

I was instructing at Friday at the Track on the 2nd and at the beginning of the day they asked if there was anyone willing to stay on for the rest of the weekend and instruct at the SCCA event that was Saturday and Sunday.  I didn't want to sign-on then, but I kept that in the back of my mind all day.  My morning run on the track with the other instructors went well (and Chrissy was happy to be able to ride along) and then it was time to start hopping in students cars.

The first car I hopped in was a BMW 750Li, which I would call strange except I have been in an A8 on the track as well before.  He was a first-timer, and I took him on two laps around the course with me driving to show him the line and poitn out the flag stands and other important items.  He took to the track pretty well, and that car stopped surprisingly well for something that big.  He was there with a group of friends and managed to pull a cleaner line than some of them.

DSC_6527.NEF

Once that session was done, it was looking like I wasn't going to get a second student but a couple of people were late pulling up to the grid and I managed to hop in a 2010 Camaro SS.  I must say, the Camaro is not a great car if you are tall and wearing a helmet.  It is very lacking in headroom.  The car was damn fast though and he was a second-time track driver.  He was still a bit timid because he didn't want to ding up his beautiful car and had to clean up his line some during the early runs in the morning.

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After lunch, the Instructors actually have a chance to take the students out which really helps show them some of what you are trying to explain.  Depending on the maturity and ability of the student there are different ways I drive my demo laps.  If they are mature and I think I can rely on them to keep themselves tame in the afternoon, I drive my normal pace, but if I am worried about them getting carried away, I will back off and drive more how I want them to drive.  Fortunately for me (and my students) they were both the kind I could show my regular speed driving rather than reduced.

First up was the BMW driver and I took that opportunity to talk about the two spots I was most concerned with his line, between 3 and 4 and 9 and 10.  He had a blast, and learned a good bit about the actual line to take around the track.  I pulled into the pits, swapped passengers, and took out the Camaro driver for a spin.  On the very first lap out of the pits, I managed to get a "Holy shit!" followed by nervous/joyous laughter as I entered the braking zone for Turn 1.

To understand why, you need to realize that both students were braking at ~ the 500 ft mark going into turn 1 (at roughly the same speed because they both would lift off the throttle and coast for a bit before braking).  I go from full throttle to braking at ~300 ft before the turn where my max speed is about 100-110mph.  Of note, the Camaro driver said "Your little VW is the best roller coaster I've ever been on".

The first session after the demo, both of my students still behaved, they both had a blast through the day and greatly improved.  The most important thing is they both left with their cars still shiny and fully intact.

Near the end of the day, I ran into another one of the instructors and mentioned to him that I was interested in instructing through the weekend, but couldn't remember who I had to talk to.  Well, turns out he is the membership chairman for SCCA Washington DC Region, so he took care of things. I had never done an SCCA event at all, so I had to sign up Friday night. Since I hadn't planned on staying on, we left the track car there, drove home and repacked to drive back Saturday morning.

Saturday, I ended up instructing a 19yr old in a Honda Accord. He was another first-time student, and at first I was a bit worried about his attitude but he showed himself to be very mature for his age and he picked up the line pretty well.  Just like Friday, he didn't REALLY understand what I was trying to teach him until I took him out in the afternoon, but he picked it up.  During his next to last session, he was overdriving a bit and I had to work on reeling him in, but before I even had a chance to talk to him for his last session, he had already made the decision to back off for his last session and work on his line.  That is where the maturity really showed through.  I will probably be seeing him on the track again at some point.

DSC_6737.NEF

Sunday, after a stay in a hotel, I was back at the track, this time instructing an intermediate student with about 10 prior track days in a Honda Prelude.  He was a two-day student but his instructor left after day one.  Overall he had a really good line through every section of the course except 5-9 (the skill session of the track). He had managed to clean up turn 4 with his instructor the day before though, so he was getting a lot smoother.  I still had trouble getting him to understand exactly what he should be doing in 5-9 until I took him out for a demo, but as soon as I did that, it just clicked and he got much faster through that section.  Once I was sure he wasn't going to try and go nuts out there and try to run the course like an instructor, I let him off for solo for the end of the day and he was good for the rest of the day.

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So, all-in-all, I spent about 4 hours on the track in my car, and 5 in student cars through the weekend.  I also spent a lot of time talking to other instructors and "networking" which might pay dividends in the near future.  Emailing back and forth with another one of the instructors who was there, I may be string instructing for yet ANOTHER group in the near future. (I am also working on instructing with Track Daze hopefully after next weekend).  So, I now have instructed for BSR/FATT, and SCCA, and am working on two other possible groups for instructing.  Yay free track-time!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Latest Happenings - Instructing, Driving, and almost spinning

I write this blog post from a computer with a broken left shift key, so if I miss some capitalization, it is because that is the shift key I always use, so I am having to retrain my muscle memory for this post.

It has been a few months since I posted, but a lot has been going on. I am, in fact, now a full-fledged instructor at Summit Point Motorsports Park for their Friday at the Track program and have another event coming up on May 2nd instructing there.  My first time out as a solo-instructor was a great experience, but due to the number of instructors we had compared to the number of students, I only had 1 student that day.  I also gave him a very interesting drive during the afternoon instructor session where I almost spun the car in turn 4 thanks to some remaining wet spots on the track.
Almost crashing on Summit Point Main

My next mission track-wise is to try and get certified as an instructor with TrackDaze because I really enjoyed instructing AND you get free track time when you do. This weekend, I just went out to expand my list of tracks I have visited with an event at Pittsburgh International Race Complex (formerly BeaveRun).  It was a hike to get up there, but it was a fun smaller track.  I registered for group 2 right off the bat due to my experience on track, but I still had to start the day with an instructor.  Well, I was first to grid up but me and the guy behind me ended up without instructors.  After waiting ~10 minutes, they finally tracked down another instructor and I was able to get on the track.  They made up for my lost time by letting me go out in one of the Group 1 sessions later as well, but that was a painful experience due to the low speeds and drivers who were COMPLETELY lost on the race track.

After that first run, I was cleared by the instructor to go solo there and had a blast the rest of the day.  The Lotus in group 2 ALMOST lost it in front of me dropping 1 tire off in the mud before a turn but he managed to save it.  My fastest lap (but fractions of a second) was actually in the second group 2 session rather than the 3rd, but the times on my laps not affected by traffic were very consistent in he 1:17-1:18 range.  All in all, I am glad I went up there to try it and will probably go back at least once when they open the second track at the facility, but the drive means a hotel is required, and I have to go near Pittsburgh.  The track really could use a repave though as can be seen by how bumpy the footage gets, especially on the back stretch.
Lotus making a save

I also was looking for an event in Florida when we would be down there for Christmas and couldn't find one, but did see an event on the 24-hour course layout at Daytona International at the beginning of November with NASA....umm...yes, please! So I am registered for that, and will hopefully have the truck up and running again by then and can get my hands on a trailer.  So, my upcoming schedule includes a Friday at the Track and TrackDaze event at Summit Point in early and mid May, and from there, it is mostly just instructing at FATT on my schedule for the next couple of months.  I will try to post a bit more often as I progress through instructing more.

Oh, another note.  I am using Harry's Lap Timer as my data recording source with a Bluetooth OBD-II dongle and combining that with footage from my GoPros in DashWare to make videos with cool overlays like are in the below video.
Session 3 on Pitt Race North Circuit

Ok, really, last note.  you will notice that the Rabbit is now matte grey with black roof and center line of the hood.  I covered it in plasti-dip in my garage, and that was the result.  I need to do some rework on the plasti-dip though.
DSC_5630.NEF

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Social Contracts

This is the blog post I eluded to on Friday.
First off, apparently some people took my meaning of "bailed" a bit too loosely. If you were there, you weren't what triggered this...in fact, I owe some of you because magically my six beers and mozzarella salad were completely paid for by the end of the night. Granted it was due to confusion I'm sure, but still, I owe someone some beers.

This post is about social contracts and my expectations so those I interact with socially will understand why I react the way I do.  Frankly, social activities are still hard for me in many ways.  I am still more naturally an introvert but I am improving.  There are certain things that really get under my skin and can thus lead to me dropping people off of my list of people I tend to invite to things because those things get under my skin so much, so here is the breakdown of those things, in ranked order starting with the worst.  Obviously, these aren't hard and fast rules, as I understand emergencies come up.  I am posting this so people can better understand the footing they are on.

Negative Experiences

  • The eternal no-show - Never show up, even when you say you will
  • No-Show/No-Message - You reply yes, don't show up, and don't send word you can't make it.
  • No-show/Message day of - This only applies to events planned way in advance.
  • The "Maybe" no - Hard to prove, but annoying
  • No matter how many times I include you in a social gathering, you don't return the invite - Like I said, I am still naturally introverted, so organizing things is a drain on me.  If all that effort goes one way, I stop putting in the effort
  • Late arrivals with no indication of such - This is a personal pet peeve that has a long history of why it gets under my skin
  • The eternal no - Never reply yes....this is more my fault for not getting the message sooner


Odds are if you are in the no message/indication classes, I will send you a text/call.  I have had people get lost on their way, just lose track of time, or get stuck in traffic where I can occasionally offer alternate routes.

Neutral

  • No Reply to e-invites - People miss messages
  • Replying no probably about 50% of the time


Positive Experiences

  • Showing up and helping with setup/cleanup
  • Showing up and bringing beer/buying a round
  • Showing up for last minute invites (eg - "Happy hour now" type invites)
  • Showing up
  • Sending me invites to social events

There are some behaviors that I can learn to forgive.  I know of at least eternally late person.  He is also one of my best friends so he gets a pass there.  As I also said, I understand the emergencies come up, but please text/call/email/whatever.  You don't have to give me the reason, just say "something came up."  If you don't serially use that excuse, you get a pass there.