Finally driving again, & second thoughts on instructing
So I took the car to Summit Point for a NASA Time Trials (and I instructed). What did I find out? That I am just slow. No reason. Just me! Well I could go into all of the reasons, but they are excuses. I need to man up!
So I decided to drive with another club on the Shenandoah circuit at Summit Point in order to get some more seat time. Again, I was instructing. My driving was fine. I could certainly go faster, but my tires are on their last legs. I am actually shocked they have not yet been corded. I drove only on day one because I was losing some water from one of the hard lines that goes to the heater core. That hard line connects to a stud where the header bolts to the head. On my car, we didn't bolt it in because the hose would touch the header... and that is bad. So I decided since it was either melt the hose, or spray water, it was time to garage the car and modify things.
BUT as mentioned, I was instructing too... and that was a whole other story...
This weekend may have spoiled the entire instructing experience for me.
I had a student in the beginner class (goes novice, beginner, intermediate, advanced). He claimed to have been to the track many times (20+), and that particular track almost half that. In my experience, those statements should be taken with a grain of salt. Some students are clear, concise and truthful, and some think that if they can pre-amp their skill set prior to entering the track, they will be signed off sooner than later. This student was the second one... amping up his skills.
I would classify this student as skilled but unaware. He had car control skills, but was unaware anything to do properly on the track. His skills were more of a survival instinct. Like turning into a skid, letting off the gas when you blow a turn in order to stay on the pavement... etc. The reason I know that he had these skills, is because blowing every turn on the track was all he was consistent at. Unfortunately even the way he blew the turns was inconsistent.
So what do you do when a student is that bad? I choose to go back to basics. I think the most basic thing to learn for HPDE is safety... and he did fine with safety... well, that is not entirely true, I had to force him to use his left hand for passing signals. When he started doing what I told him, and using his points properly, we moved onto the second most basic... the line. Lap after lap he just didn't get it. When he did a turn correct, it never happened in sequence with any of the other turns on track.
So by his second session on day one, I decided to ignore his line knowledge and we worked on one turn exclusively. On day 1, in 4 sessions... he never quite got that one turn correct, and it caused him to degrade the rest of his driving. For his last session of the day, I decided to just let him drive (I was still in the car). It was obvious he was not having fun, and neither was I.
That evening I thought about him a lot. Especially about how I could get through to him. The next day I told him that I would not allow him to over-drive the car any more. Inducing throttle oversteer in order to get his apex is not showing me he knows how to drive the line properly (and was causing him to have to make "save" maneuvers) and I didn't want to see that anymore. Next, I told him that my goal was to have him successfully drive the line in his 30 minute session 2x consecutively. Then I asked him what his goals for the day were, and that my goals really don't matter. He agreed, that he wanted to have fun, and he wanted to learn the line. Fantastic! We were on the same page! (or so I thought)
That first session, we went back to pure novice first time on track basics. (I call it "playing playstation with my words as the controller). "Turn, get to the right... full right, now transition to the middle, a little more, look for the apex, exit, throttle! break, turn..." you get it. And he did great.
So I changed it up little. I started telling him what was coming up as opposed to what to do right now. And he did great! (finally we were getting somewhere)
So we changed it up and I had him tell me what he was doing. Although he was telling me EVERYTHING "I am breaking, I am steering, I am throttling, I am turning, I am looking in my mirrors, I am breathing" he was still driving properly, which was nice.
So we changed it up again, and I asked him to tell me what he was GOING to do, instead of what he was doing. His line started to suffer a little, because it was more than he could handle (thinking too far ahead while he needed to do or was doing something else, so...
I changed it up again and this time I told him where to look and to forget about the rest of the driving. We were looking FAR ahead and his driving cleaned up instantly. That first session of the day was EXTREMELY rewarding! For both of us!
Excited, I got back in the car for the second session of the day and he had reverted back to before... only worse... FAR worse... So bad, that by mid session I just let him roll with it. It was time for this guy to just drive and have fun... without me in the car.
After session 2 on day 2 I explained to him that some people have a hobby that is a stress release for them. Some it is mountain biking, some it is driving, some it is surfing, you get it. And to come out here, and spend this kind of money and NOT have fun... well, that just sucks. I told him that he is not a danger to himself, or anyone on the track, but he is not driving properly and he is not driving the line. He is over driving the car. And he is not using the gas or brakes properly. So he can have the option to be solo'ed and have fun or he can have the option for me to instruct him some more (with the caveat that he needs to do what I say and show at least an attempt to learn) OR we can get him a new instructor. (I think I failed this guy by not FORCING him to do this sooner in the weekend, although I did mention/recommend it a bunch of times).
He opted for going solo and just having fun. But the story is not over yet.
Shortly after the decision to solo was made, he approached me with his friend and told me I needed to "tell his friend exactly what I told him, the way I told him". I responded with "WOW, that's a little awkward" and turned to his friend and said "what do you want to know" and his friend said that maybe hearing my line instruction he could help his friend understand what he needs to do... this guy was a beginner student too BTW... At that point I remembered instructing them both in the past. It was a horrible experience back then with this same student (his friend was a full on pleasure to instruct though. Truly a great student).
So I took them into the classroom to discuss the line in front of the map. We talked basic car control such as acceleration and threshold braking (all skills usually obtained prior to getting out of the novice group. My examples were directed to the friend, asking him what he was doing in specific areas on the map and letting him know how his friend's actions were completely different. I explained my instruction and his friend agreed that I was clear... my student even agreed that I was clear. I then repeated that he was not a danger, and that I feel like he is thinking far too much and causing himself to have a bad time (his friend got excited and said he told him the exact same thing). I then told him to just go out and have fun and stop thinking.
He approached me after his first solo session. He seemed happy and wanted to tell me something. I was with another instructor. My student approached me and said "I figured it out, where your communication was breaking down" so it was all my fault... He went on talking about following a corvette into the braking zone. Never once talked about the skill he used to get where he was, only talked about going fast and passing the corvette. After the student walked away, my instructor friend said something was wrong with that guy. He was not all there, and looked tweaked out and could use some downers. My instructor friend was concerned that he only was only interested in passing and going fast with no mention of any skill.
Throughout the weekend, the guy was talking about having a lot on his mind from work, his wife, and other things in his very busy life. I think that his personal life was a whole lot for him to handle, and he should not have been driving. I also think he had a medical disorder, perhaps ADHD? I think all registration should require this information be told, and then passed on to the instructor.
My next event is MARRS 6 at Summit Point (If I can fix that little hose issue ) It will be my first RACE of the year!
A friend PM'ed me and I thought it was good advice... so I am sharing.
...First thing: You care. Otherwise you would not have posted your experience. That is a requirement of instructing on a non-professional level. If you don't care, your students are in jeopardy, as well as other students on track at the same time, your fellow instructors, and the club you represent.
2. It's okay to quit. If you don't want to instruct, take a hiatus. Best is to walk away for an undefined period of time. You'll either naturally be ready to come back as an instructor or you won't. And most importantly, either is fine.
3. Don't doubt yourself. Your student will sense it and either take advantage of you or hurt you. And ultimately, someone will suffer. If you can't shake your doubt, see 2. above.
4. You are not there to make friends. You are there to promote learning or--worse case--keep someone from doing damage. Sure, this should be done with a smile and friendly demeanor... but you are not there to make friends at the sake of anyone's safety, especially your own. Deep inside, I know you already know this--all good instructors that care, do. But perhaps, you need to pull this out of the sub-conscience and into the conscience state-of-mind.
5. Even in the passenger seat, you should always be in control. (My mentor says, "You ARE always in control" and while I believe that to be true for me, I understand it doesn't apply to all people, all the time.) With the exception of few mechanical failures, when bad things happen, there is always a sign--and most of the times, there are numerous signs. I've never seen or investigated a significant student incident where there wasn't a 'sign' in a previous lap or turn or session. I've read the compliments you've received on Bristishpseed.com... I pretty sure you know the signs. And once you see the sign, it's your responsibility to address it. Teach them, nudge them (mentally of course), pull them into the pits, bench them for the session... whatever is appropriate, you are in control and the chief instructor gave you the authority to exercise that control. Don't abuse it but more importantly, don't be afraid to use it.
6. Trust your gut. I don't think you are listening to your gut feeling. The student you described should have been reined in at the beginning of the day--he's lucky he didn't hurt anyone... especially during his solo laps. You recognized this yet, with reservation, allowed it to continue. Remember, you're not there to be his friend. There are times when a great instructor has a great student and yet the chemistry between them doesn't work. No biggie... when this has happened to me, I tell the student that I don't think I can help him effectively and let's try another instructor--they always respond well to that honesty. And if the next instructor succeeds, great! And if not, maybe the student shouldn't be there. It's rare that two quality instructors are both wrong. Going back to number 2., I've been involved with students that were asked to leave the event or even the club... it's not pleasant but ultimately, it's for the best of everyone else.
One of the most important aspects of my teaching career is that I no longer instruct with whoever is next on the calendar. I did that for a couple years and I sharpened my (instructional and driving) skills quickly but ultimately, I wanted to be surrounded by my friends (my wife says I'm too concerned about being liked--geeez, see 4. above). I now only instruct with one group... it's a big national club but I trust every instructor in my region. One of them even ended up being my best man when I got married many years ago. The point being is that I have a support group that cares about me first as a buddy, and second as an instructor. Hopefully you have this as well... if not, try to cultivate it in the club(s) you align yourself with. Or find a club more suited to you.
Walking away. Expecting to come back, I've done that a couple times... not because I thought I didn't want to instruct but because I was focused on my new bride or my new baby. My wife actually wanted me to do the things I love... but for a couple years, I would have rather been with my family then be at the track. I had always assumed that I wouldn't be 'allowed' to the track but in fact, it was because I didn't 'want' to go--this really threw me around mentally... this thing that was such a big part of my life was now insignificant to me... however when I decided to return, I came back and was as focused and energized and enthusiastic as ever! I do concede that I no longer travel outside of XXXXXX (I used to drive down to XXXXXX and fly to XXXXXX and infrequently, XXXXXX), but yet, I still stay in touch with my long distance Regional instructor buds, often never mentioning cars or racing. Trying to relate to your story, I've never walked away because of an accident or incident but I've considered it... and knowing the option to leave and to come back if I wanted to, was a huge mental "net" for me.