Wow! By the time this column is published, I will have finished my third season as Regional Director for the Great Lakes NASA Region. What a wonderful ride it has been trying to do my best to serve the drivers of our region with the best track event weekend experience possible. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed.
I purchased my first NASA membership in 2002 followed by comp school at Gingerman on June 24, 2003. Ever since, I have been a hugely competitive racer, who like many, forgot about my roots in HPDE. Fast forward to 2014, which was one of the leanest years in racing history, I found diminishing numbers of racers attending our events. I asked myself and others the question, “How do we bring in more racers to fill the grid?”
The answer quickly became apparent. NASA has a wonderful program, like no other organization, called HPDE. The answer lay in building a strong foundation for racing by starting at the ground level and improving our HPDE1 program. NASA regions are similar, but each has its own individual flavor. I realized our region’s HPDE program was nearly broken and needed a major overhaul. We knew this was going to take a great deal of time and effort, but I was committed to developing a program that would take about two years to bring to fruition.
With a team of pro racers, advanced NASA racers, high school and college educators, and business executives to help me, we set forth to enhance our HPDE program. We now have a cohesive curriculum that ties all of the HPDE levels together. We have clear objectives of what the student learns in the classroom followed by directly related written, teaching exercises and goals on the track by the in-car instructor. We now have written, clear expectations on what is required to graduate from one HPDE level to the next.
One of the most important aspects is driver awareness. Keeping safe by knowing who is around you, where and how close. This develops awareness and helps eliminate contact and conga lines. This also helps prepare the driver for moving up into advanced levels such as HPDE4 where we do side-by-side and passing drills to further enhance drivers’ awareness skills, and to prepare them for this experience while racing, if they choose that path.
To round out the terminus end of our HPDE program, we created a position of a liaison between HPDE and racing. This person describes to the HPDE3 and 4 students the process of obtaining a NASA competition license and observes drivers to be sure they are ready for competition school. Due to our improved and highly detailed education program, we get many new students who proclaim to have had the best education and never complain about too many classrooms or too much teaching.
Of course, I had no way of knowing everything that was coming my way when I first signed up for HPDE more than 14 years ago and competition school the following year. Being a Regional Director has been the adventure of a lifetime for me, and the HPDE program we developed is beginning to deliver on its promise.
During the 2016 season, we will have offered more competition schools and graduated many times more race drivers than in the past, and have provided a more rich and complex education for our HPDE students while providing the same goal for both groups. Where else, other than NASA, can a driver get an on track experience with this much depth? I think it is working!