One of the most important lessons I ever learned, which helped me as a racer, I learned years prior, but it had absolutely nothing to do with automobiles.
As a boy who grew up on a ranch in the country, I loved fishing and hunting, a love affair that has lasted a lifetime. Later on when I took up skeet and trap, I found the skill required to perform well was much more demanding. I knew early on that my goal was to become a world-class marksman and nothing else would suffice. During those first days at the gun club, I was impressed seeing others shooting what seemed like “most” of the targets, so when they would offer advice I was quick to listen. I felt as if I had won the lottery when the local club champion spent some time with me, and my scores improved. I began feeling pretty cocky about how good I was when I began seeing my name in all the shooting publications.
My life changed immeasurably when a friend introduced me to Olympic skeet shooting. The difference between American skeet and Olympic skeet shooting could be considered akin to racing a Volkswagen versus an F1 car. No comparison at all. The skill level required for that transformation was night and day, so my learning curve started all over again, with me no longer seeing my name in any publications.
Then I found myself under the tutelage of a record-holding Olympic marksman. During one of our first meetings he asked me, “Who taught you how to shoot?” I explained how I had learned from “some of the best club champions.” He became silent for what seemed like an eternity until finally he spit it out: “Do you realize how difficult it is to teach an old dog new tricks? From what I can see, you have so many bad habits, I’m not even sure you can ever become a really good shot, let alone world class.”
What he taught me was that even though I had become as good as the local club champions, it had only made my drive to be world class less likely. Eventually, through determination and countless hours of instruction and practice, I went on to make numerous national teams and set several Olympic skeet and world championship records, some of which stand to this day.
That whole experience taught me how important it is to get the very best coaching you can get early on. Newcomers should learn not to be impressed with a mediocre performance, which brings me to my point.
One of the main reasons NASA is such a great place to learn to drive is because so many of our instructors are more than just average drivers. Most of NASA’s instructors have raced for years in competitive series, many of whom have gone on to be crowned national champions. Some have gone on to professional racing. So when novices get instruction from a NASA instructor, they are getting the benefit of hundreds of hours of seat time.
The bottom line is that many bad habits learned on the street can be transformed into smooth and confident car control in a considerably shorter time span. The good news is, getting started with NASA can save time and expense, and make the whole learning experience a lot more enjoyable. So bring a friend out to a NASA event and get them started the right way by learning from some of the best.