Life After the Instructor: Novice to Intermediate

Life After the Instructor: Novice to Intermediate

You’ve run a few track days. Each one of them was a blast and now your HOOKED on high performance driving.

Your learning curve was probably steeper than you originally anticipated. After all, you were introduced to many new high performance driving concepts- some of which you didn’t know existed! 

Humbled, you credit your instructor for being such a large part of your early success.

You can’t thank them enough! You’ve been steadily improving along the way with their help and are eager to make this whole track day thing a regular part of your life.

One day, your instructor promotes you to the Intermediate run group. 

How cool! You are well on your way to success with your track driving and clearly are progressing in the right fashion. Your instructor shakes your hand, says goodbye and wishes you the best on your HPDE endeavors.

WHAT!? No more instructor…!? 

The question then becomes, how does the performance driver gauge their progress without the presence of an instructor in the right seat? How can they tell whether they’re headed down the right road with their driving?  Hint: It’s not lap time! 

And this is why.  

Illustrated below is what I typically see with most clients. They will tend to get better and faster at a proportional rate, up to a point. At a certain point (likely due in part to a false sense of confidence) they start driving over their head unknowingly. They are getting “faster” but not “better.”

As one gets faster – they do not *necessarily* get better. When one gets faster at a quicker rate than they get better- the tire wall is their future.

The Intermediate run group newbie needs a plan. 

They need to know how to safely progress and practice their skills as a performance driver, while at the same time minimizing risk to themselves, others and the car. 

Listen, everyone wants to go faster. And it’s something you should strive for. 

But it’s imperative to acknowledge that being faster should ONLY be a result of better technique, not from “sending it” into the turns with no real, structured plan.

Remembering The Basics

By now, your instructor has hopefully been cuing you on two fundamental things throughout your Novice run group experience thus far.

  1. Line – Where you place the car at what point in the corner. The “arc” you take through the turn.
  2. Eyes – Where you look. And when you look there.

 

These are two essential fundamentals that are critical to get right. And you may have this dialed in pretty well by now, especially if your instructor has promoted you up into Intermediate.

If you do everything else wrong, but these two things right, you still stand a good chance of staying safe, being pretty quick and enjoying yourself out on the race track.

If you’d like to know more about the specifics of these concepts, please read my two other articles- one on LINE and the other on EYES. Both articles cover a more in-depth analysis of what I consider to be the proper technique for executing these essential fundamentals.

How much is the driver relying on the instructor’s cues?

What happens when your instructor exits the car? Will your driving performance suffer some, none, a little or hardly at all? This is a very important question.

The performance driver must take the responsibility of really learning the “WHY” when the instructor is having them do what they are, not just simply follow their instruction.

If they fail to do this, they will likely be spinning their wheels (pun intended) for the rest of their track driving career.

And when they try and get better on their own, they can be digging themselves a deeper hole, further ingraining bad habits.

Practice only makes habit. Well executed practice is what actually makes perfect.

The student must make a conscious effort to identify, for example, WHERE to hit to the brakes and WHEN to turn by way of references. “Brake at the 4 board, turn at the pavement change,” for example.

The student that only follows instructions, reacting to “turn now” or “brake now” might indeed have had a great line all session, but that does NOT mean that it’s going to stick.

Personally, when I consider a novice to be promoted, I make sure to first ride with them for a full session without giving any coaching.

If they can demonstrate consistent driving from when I’m talking to them versus not, they are much more likely to receive the promotion because clearly, they are learning on their own and grasping what’s being taught.

And if they were reliant on my cues, their driving will change significantly for the worse once I stop talking. And this would be a red flag for promotion.

The time has come. Your first instructor-less session.

Whether you feel ready or not, the time has come to take the plunge and head out onto the track for your first instructor-less session. You might be nervous, afraid or concerned. Within reason, this is a perfectly normal experience to have during this time.

Time to get to work. 

What are some of the main things to focus on? What are some good tips to get started? How can the performance driver ensure they are headed in the right direction when teaching themselves?

I’ve put together an 8-step guide on how to tackle just that.

  1. Start with a good seating position.

    1. Please read my detailed article covering how to find the perfect seating position.
    2. In a nutshell – your high-performance driving position is likely a little closer to the controls than you’re used to with your street driving. You’re going to want a good bend in both knees with the brake and clutch fully depressed. With both pedals pushed all the way down, your butt also should not rise out of the seat, but rather stay firmly planted. 
  2. Practice proper “eye work.”

    1. Please read my article on eye work.
    2. Generally speaking, you need an “eye lead time” that is well ahead of the car. You want to use reference points (or reference zones) as discussed in my article. Here’s a simple trick I use: At all times – advance your focal point, but think about your peripheral. 
  3. Turn a little bit late for all the corners.

    1. Please read my article on line theory. When learning a new track, or your first time without an instructor, it’s generally safer to turn a little too late for a corner when compared with turning a little too early. This will ensure you have enough road at the exit and makes it less likely that you run out of real estate when tracking out of the corner.
  4. Any time the steering wheel is turned, you must be slow and smooth with your pedal control.

    1. Please read my article on Friction Circles. In short, think of the available grip your car has as similar to a budget. You have 100% grip, and you must budget grip for either slowing, turning or accelerating, or some combination of both! If you are accelerating at 70%, you better not ask for more than 30% steering. Anytime lateral (side) force is occuring, longitudinal must be compromised in order to obey 100% total grip. This means, any time steering is dialed in, an abrupt pedal adjustment can make the car go where you don’t want it!

Want to see steps 5-8? Download them for free below!

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STEPS 5 – 8 ON SURVIVING YOUR FIRST INSTRUCTOR-LESS SESSION

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Conclusion

Hopefully this guide serves you well and gets you started on the right path for the rest of your solo career. It’s my belief that if you spend time not only practicing these concepts, but being consciously aware of them while driving out on track you will set yourself up for success. 

If you liked this article, be sure to check out my full collection – all free on my website!