How to Train a Dragon

One of the subjects that has most interested me since my first days of involvement, and especially now as NASA’s director of mentoring, are the beginners and the broad spectrum of attitudes they bring to the track when first getting started. Many times I have found myself sitting in on various levels of HPDE download sessions listening to the various thoughts of what each of them feels about his or her first day. For the most part they are excited and eager to learn and, even better, is the fact that NASA’s HPDE instructors are equally as excited and willing to teach.

NASA is far from my first rodeo, and based on my personal race history, I have found NASA’s instructors not only willing to teach, but equally as important, they have qualifications that exceed most of the teaching staff found in other groups and organizations offering track time and instruction.

Years ago while studying at Stanford University, I knew Dr. Norman Shumway, who was the first doctor to successfully perform a heart transplant in the United States. He once told me that the basic way doctors get an education is, “Watch one, do one, teach one.” History tells us that back in the day, heart surgery was not well tested, let alone very successful. Today it’s not at all uncommon to hear of someone who had open heart surgery just a few weeks ago and is now enjoying life in the fast lane again.

I have come to realize that NASA has discovered the same method of success as Dr. Shumway. Watch one, do one, teach one. The entire NASA system not only works, but it also works with great success. Many HPDE students continue learning and enjoying what they do, much like a fraternity of medical students, until they find themselves operating on a race track and, yes, eventually finding themselves teaching a newer generation of students. No pun intended, but you might say NASA’s students are the heart of what we all know and love as one of the greatest grassroots sports in America.

It is well known that many of the finest drivers in motorsports today got their beginnings in kart racing. The main reason many of these drivers have excelled is simply because they were exposed to good equipment and brilliant coaching before they learned many bad habits. A young student who is eager to learn will achieve good driving skills and habits much faster than some know-it-all, better known as a “dragon,” who has been street racing without proper coaching. Good instructors have heard it countless times, “Well, that’s not the way I do it.” Good students never argue. They listen, they do as they are told and they learn. I have said it many times. First-time drivers and the women make some of the best students. They never doubt, they never hesitate and they do as they are instructed. The end result is a faster, safer and more confident driver and, in my mind, NASA is without a doubt the best place to “watch one, do one, teach one.” See you at the track.

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