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.

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