As a racing instructor over the years I have mentored and instructed many student drivers. Some started out in their daily drivers, some in well prepped race cars and even a few let rental cars learn along with them. They range from young to not-so-young, there are guys and gals but all of them have the desire to learn to go faster in a controlled fashion. There are those occasional times when some pro-drivers will come to race in what we deem “our” tracks not unlike a dog who has his favorite fire-hydrant. Quality drivers can figure out most tracks on their own but getting some local knowledge doesn’t hurt anything either and pros will take any advantage they can. I liken it to when I go to some far away place on a fishing trip and even though I have fished all my life I know it will save me lots of wasted time when I hire a local guide to show me what works best and what doesn’t.
Quite a few of these newbie students continue with their racing education as they move up thru the ranks from the slower groups to the faster ones and learning more about “the line” car handling and control, where and how to brake, where and how to pass and so on. It’s very rewarding to see a student when “the light comes on” and believe me, you can actually tell when a student actually learns to “Let’er Go.” Unfortunately it’s rather obvious when they “think” they have things in control but do not. But that’s why us licensed instructors are here and like my son says, “To catch them when they are falling.”
There comes a time when some students have earned their racing license are finally ready to get that orange X on their car indicating their rookie status and join the ranks during their rookie probation period. If they can race door to door without incident they will eventually be removed from rookie statues without being sent back to the driving school groups.
Way back when I was at the stage where I was ready to take a written test to get my provisional racing license and afterwards we would have a download session with the licensing instructor who would then go out in traffic in some unknown car and observe us. Our job was to be able to drive and pass in one of the fastest group and prove that we were capable of being there. Like any other newbie I was a little nervous about the test and the down load and being observed on the track at speed with veteran drivers. I asked a friend for any last minute advise he had to offer. He simply said, “After you take your written test ask lots of questions during the download, then just drive at 80 percent so you won’t have any problems.” There was about 6 of us all attempting to get our license that day so after the written test we all began asking questions of the instructor. Thinking I would really impress the instructor with my mature rationale I was just about to say something about how I was going to be smart and drive at 80 percent when some guy from Southern California said, “I just want to get my license so I’m only going to drive at 80 percent.” All of a sudden it was clear the licensing instructor got extremely agitated as he slammed his hand on the table and said, “Now listen Buster and let me make this VERY clear. If I think for one second any of you are driving anything less than one hundred and ten percent I will kick your butt out of here in a heart beat. It’s extremely important that you understand why. When I put my name on your licence in reality what I am doing is guaranteeing everyone else in every single organization that you are qualified to be out there and that you have what it takes to drive at speed with them. I am guaranteeing that you will not make some mistake that could cost one of them their car or even their life. I am guaranteeing them you are ready and that you belong there. So if you can’t drive at one hundred and ten percent you had better leave right now.” In retrospect both my son and I also share the same reasoning and we go on to explain to our students there is nothing wrong with staying a little longer in each group. When I showed up on the track that day the dude from So-Cal didn’t show up and out of 6 guys I was the only one that passed the driver’s test.
One of the things I enjoy most about racing is watching a driver that I was involved with during their school days as they make a reputation for themselves and learn to work their way up thru a pack and each week find themselves closer to the front of the pack. Even then the teaching continues and again I find myself in their car doing ride-along’s to help hone the “small things” in a effort to shave off tenths of a second at a time. Eventually I love to ask one favorite question of them and wait for the response as I watch the wheels turning in their head. “Is it easier to drive while in the lead or coming from behind?” Funny because what I have learned is there are so many variations of answers and while coming from behind is really fun many who are just beginning to find themselves at the front of the pack feel a great pressure and driving in one’s rear-view mirror can only make you slow. There is a great scene in the original movie, “Cannonball” where the driver rips the rear-view mirror off his Ferrari before the race and says, “We won’t be needing this.”
Tiger Woods went to school here at Stanford and it is a pleasure watching him as he continues to do what he does so well…. win. Even if you don’t watch golf there is lots to learn by watching pros like Tiger. Regardless of what sport some things about a champion never change. They find a way to get better every time they perform whether it be in practice or competition. And it looks good for him today since Tiger has never lost a major when leading after 36 holes. He has never lost any tournament anywhere in the world when leading by more than one shot going into the final round. Tiger says, “I’ve always enjoyed being out in front,” He honestly believes he is going to win no matter what the odds. It is this same confidence that comes with lots of seat time in a car that gets drivers to the front of the pack and believe me, once you are confident with being out front it gets damn hard for anyone to catch you and even if they do passing is a whole different story. When any student of mine answers my question with “I love being out front.” I know my job is done.