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.