Tuesday, March 09, 2010


I've been doing the driving thing for five years this March. It's taken over my life, in a way. I'm thinking of houses that have more garage space, my dining room as a partly assembled race seat and two cases of oil in it. The guest bedroom has a racing game setup with a seat and a steering wheel. It's only natural to think about taking the next step and teaching others about what it is to go fast in a car.

I've been getting some nibbles in this direction. Some of the groups I drive with are asking me. The benefits are pretty good: You get no-cost track weekends. You generally have two students, so you ride two sessions then get to drive one. You carry lots of passengers, since it's easier to show folks the line than to tell them.

Then there's the hidden benefit of teaching: As the instructor, you learn a good bit.

However, in motorsports, there's a huge downside: More track time, with novice drivers, can lead to injury and death. It's brutally simple numbers. The odds are that if you ride with learners, you will get into more situations that are out of control. Moreover, the person controlling the car will not know how to react in the moment, and thus will compound the problem. Lastly, most learner cars do not have race-level safety gear. Even when they do, it's sometimes not enough.

I want to give something back to the sport. I would like to be able to teach my younger relatives how to drive when they get old enough. It would be cool to find that prodigy who sets the track on fire. I just don't know if it's worth the risk.

This week, it was reported that at a Porsche event at CMP (Carolina Motorsports Park), an instructor and a student in a fully race prepped Porsche ran through spilled coolant and slid off track. The student driver walked away. The instructor was killed instantly when a tree branch penetrated the cockpit. Not sure on the details, since I have that third hand, but that's pretty bad.

If that's the way it happened, I've been there. I hit coolant (dropped from the car in front of me) in a big left sweeper when I was fully committed to the turn. Me and the blue car left the track at 95 or so, spinning. I got everything back under control after a couple of rotations and drove back to the track, but there was not one thing I could have done to avoid that spill. It was simply bad luck.

I think I'll take some rides with some of the instructors I know. I don't know if I have the endurance to ride eight sessions a day and drive three of my own. I'll take some rides and find out if I can ride four (with instructors) and drive mine without getting wiped out. Then, I'll decide if I like the odds.