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.