Tracking Out

 

“Hey there!” I said cheerfully as I approached black Cayman S. The white group driver was already strapped into his car and looked a little confused about why I was approaching him, helmet in hand, and asking how his day was going.

Once in a while, right smack dab in the middle of a perfectly good driver education event, we shake things up a bit and do something called a “white blitz.” For the uninitiated following along at home, white group drivers are our first “solo” run group, meaning that they are not assigned instructors at events. Once in a while, though, we like to do a check up. Instructors randomly get into white run group students’ cars, usually without warning, as they prepare to pit out for a run group. Sneaky? Maybe. But the element of surprise is sometimes fun. Sometimes.

 

I noticed as I was climbing into the passenger side that there was a word written on the roof of the car over the passenger door. “Mojo,” it said simply.

The driver could tell that I read his roof. As I fastened my harnesses, he calmly asked, “Do you know what ‘Mojo’ means?”

Hmmm. Mr. Mojo Risin may be an anagram of Jim Morrison, but as for just plain old, garden-variety mojo, well, I was stumped.

“It means ‘hidden power.” he announced with a knowing grin.

“I’m going to die,” I thought as we roared on to pit road.

Thankfully, it turned out that mojo man was a good driver- very good, in fact, with impressive pace and excellent track awareness. There were no nail marks in his arm rests or remnants of my lunch on his dashboard as we arrived back at the garages – a veritable success by any measure. I thanked him for the ride (and for my well being) as I exited the Cayman S.

As inconvenienced as the white group students may feel during a white blitz, I think you would be hard pressed to find a single driver that does not find it in some way beneficial to their learning curve. White group, after all, can be a real paradox of a place to find yourself in. Before you are promoted from blue group, white is kind of an ultimate goal – a run group where you are a solo driver for the entire event. There is no more having to look for instructors on pit road, snaking sweaty ear pieces into your helmets, or having someone speaking in your head as you enter a turn (if you still have voices, I hear they make medication for that). The cost of driving uninstructed is slightly less than in our instructed groups as well, an added bonus. Utopia, right? Once promoted to white, though, most people’s thoughts quickly turn to, “Now how do I get out of here and into black.” And therein lies the big problem… if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Or more appropriately, if a white group driver is driving beautifully, will anyone notice it? Remember, the right seat is now empty. What’s more, there is no co-pilot there to tell you that you are early apexing, or that you are about to blow a checkered flag. The learning and the teaching is now squarely on the student’s shoulders.

The good news is that we do monitor driving progress, and from several perspectives. For one, our registrar keeps track of where everyone is placed on an event-to-event basis, also taking into account track experience that is entered into our online registration service, Motorsportreg. So, if you have done ten days with Riesentoter Region PCA and it is entered into Motorsportreg (either because you registered for those events through MSR, or because you entered them manually into your experience section of your profile), we take that into account. We also collect feedback from instructors and chiefs at our events, and not only about the cars that they happen to be assigned to. Remember that white group usually shares its track time with the blue group, which means that every other car out there has an instructor in the right seat. Finally, the students themselves provide feedback on the perhaps the most effective level – the basis of their driving. Was an event, well, uneventful for them, or were there visits to the chiefs in pit lane?

Remember, too, that the rate of progress has a time component that should be considered. If you were to do fifty events in a single season, would it provide the same level of benefit as ten events in five seasons? Well, obviously in terms of pure driving time, it mathematically would work out that way. You could probably argue, as well, that a close concentration of dates works in the driver’s favor, with less information forgotten in-between. A good learning pace, from my view, is one where a driver cannot only take in what goes on while “on track,” but everything else that happens at an event. There are track walks, advanced driver seminars, and hours of great discussions (usually over a favorite beverage) with fellow drivers and instructors are invaluable to the learning curve. Take the time to smell the roses, or the burning Hoosiers, if you will. Pull up a chair and watch your fellow drivers on track. Get rides with instructors whenever possible, from the perspective of both the left and right seats. Think of learning performance driving as a marathon, or a vacation, and less of a race. Truth is, no matter what group you happen to be running in, including the guys sitting in the right seats with red wristbands, we are all students of driving. There is never a time that I work with a student where I do not pick up something from that student that helps my own driving.

As the track chair this season, I have not had the time to instruct on a regular basis. While I do miss the experience, overseeing the events really has given me a heightened sense of just how much our instructors mean to our events. A lot of their experiences is in plain sight of all involved – the running from one car to another with communicator wires dangling from their helmets, the run group schedules folded like origami with highlighted times and notes scribbled on them, and the look of utter exhaustion on their faces at the end of a hot day. There is a lot of stuff that these guys and gals do behind the scenes, though, that make our events better. When one instructor has to leave an event early, another always jumps in, no questions or favors asked. When we need a student check-out ride, someone always steps up. Mechanical question on a student’s car that needs a second opinion? You can bet an instructor will jump in and take a ride to venture an opinion. Some of these guys are mechanics in their real lives, to boot. They have been known to drop everything, missing their own run time in doing so, to perform an emergency repair on a complete stranger’s car. As the season winds down, make sure you congratulate and thank these folks for doing what they do so well for all of us.

And while you are in the spirit, go find a mirror and thank yourself, too. I try to say this at the drivers meeting at the start of every event – we cannot hold these events without you – all of you – coming to them. Everyone in the whole program, from the chief instructors all the way through to our newest green group student, is vital to our driver education program’s success. Your collective enthusiasm and love for the sport is a big part of what draws new faces into the picture, too.

So with only one event left on the calendar, a three day extravaganza at the famed Virginia International Raceway on the first weekend in November, we have one more chance to check the tires and brakes, strap on a helmet, and get out and do what we love to do for three more days before the winter sets in. Maybe we’ll have another winter like the last one where I was breaking out my shorts in February, but I am not going to hold my breath on that one. A bunch of folks from NNJR will inevitably be headed down south like snowbirds for Winterfest at Sebring, and perhaps some other warm weather opportunities. As for me, I plan to clean up the car after VIR and give it a well-earned rest for a few months, until the mania of the 2013 season approaches. Five months between November in Virginia and April in Connecticut may seem like an eternity now, but the roller coaster gets going in spring, it’s a long ride. Stay tuned as we plan for a great 2013 track season!