It takes considerable effort to win a NASA National Championship. To win two is rare. To win two in one event — one in Time Trial and one in Super Touring — is even rarer still.
Scott Adams accomplished just that at Daytona International Speedway this year, notching wins in Super Touring 4 in an Acura NSX and in Time Trial 4, where he won by just .108 seconds over second-place finisher David Farrar. It was that close.
Adams also raced the Acura Integra he’s had since college in Honda Challenge 2, but came up a bit short in that class. On top of all that, he was coaching drivers at the event, so his plate was plenty full at Daytona.
Adams’ background at the track began on a Honda RC51 motorcycle, but that didn’t jibe with his career as a professional tennis coach, so he switched to cars, racing in enduros and then in sprint racing with NASA around 2010.
Adams has been coaching/playing tennis for over 30 years. This includes playing Division 1 NCAA, along with coaching a player on the WTA tour that has since won 9 grand slam doubles titles, a gold medal in the Olympics, and has been ranked No. 1 in the world. Additionally, he has worked with thousands of juniors, developed hundreds of collegiate athletes and assisted getting them into their top choice schools, and even co-owned a boarding school. It is no surprise that when Scott got into motorsports in 2008 that he was a natural when it came to instructing/coaching. He admits that going to the track was initially just an escape from work, but now he coaches drivers as much, if not more, than he coaches tennis.
He’s currently building an Acura RSX for Honda Challenge competition, with help from Apex Auto Works, the same outfit that fabricated the roll cage in the aluminum-frame NSX.
We caught up with Adams and interviewed him by phone to find out a little bit more about his approaches to coaching and learn more about his wins at Daytona.
Q: How does a driver know he or she needs coaching?
A: For the same reason that every athlete needs a coach. It’s literally that simple. They all do. We all do. We all need one at every point in our driving life, whether beginner, intermediate, advanced, pro, etc. Everybody has a coach. Why would it be any different in driving a racecar?
During the beginning stages, we can get a whole lot more work done in a much shorter period of time, and it saves people lots and lots of money. In one weekend we can basically take an HPDE1 up to a solo approved level and then they’ve just got to go out there and practice what they have just been taught. You can make big strides in a much quicker timeframe because of the quality of work that you’re doing. Then it is all about practice, practice, practice. This is where time at the kart track or time on a simulator also play a pretty huge role.
Then at the high end, you need a coach to be able to maintain everything that you’ve already learned. It’s more about maintenance. It’s more about the mental side of racing and the accentuation of that preparation to make sure that you’re always driving at your best. In the beginning and intermediate it’s all about trying to get the best out of you, and then at the end it’s trying to make sure that you’re able to maintain that high, high level of driving.
Q: What’s your approach to coaching? How do you teach different drivers with different learning styles the same goal?
A: First of all, the easy one is to ask them. Most people know themselves best and understand what learning styles work for them. Most have been through grade school, college, different jobs/careers with different bosses and different people showing them how they’re supposed to do things, so it’s literally as simple as asking them, “What do you want to work on? How do you learn the best?” Even then, when you hear what they have to say, you still throw the kitchen sink at them and then you see what sticks.
If you’re in the car right-seat coaching, you’re verbalizing things. You’re trying to stay ahead of them as they’re driving so that they have plenty of time to process, but you’re also giving hand signals in the car at the same time, so that if somebody is a visual learner, they can see you with your hand signals because maybe they’re late in processing it verbally. If people process it verbally really well, then they see the hand signals at the same time it just reconfirms what they have heard and assures them that they are doing the correct thing.
Then there are other people certainly that need to feel it in the car and so you drive, they ride right seat, and they get to feel it, like an athlete who needs to feel that tennis ball or feel that basketball in their hands to understand it. Then there’s trying to combine all of those things, where you get into data, video, what you feel on track, etc. This is where we get into that advanced level, but you start tinkering with that in in the beginning, too. There’s no level where data isn’t useful as long as you don’t give them too much too soon. You keep it simple in the beginning and then you try and make it more detailed once they have the on-track experience to better understand it.
We use a lot of video in the beginning stages of development so one of the first suggestions I make to everyone, regardless of their learning style is a SmartyCam, where your video is also your data. A lot of what I do prior to ever getting to the track with my client is helping them understand how important data and video will be in their long-term development and making sure they are properly set up for success before we ever take a car on track.
Q: In your experience, what are some of the more common areas drivers need to improve?
A: The most common, of course, is on the brakes. All top driving coaches talk about the brakes. However, in the beginning stages, in my opinion, technique is critical. It is important to form good habits from day one. I preach this same philosophy day in and day out on the tennis court. You cannot build a good athlete or driver unless they have solid framework. Proper seating position, how they’re holding the steering wheel (9-3), soft hands, left foot on the dead pedal, being confident with their shifts, driving the proper line, exit strategies, catching the car when it is loose, how to maximize the limit of the tire, etc. all play into the foundation that will lead to a better driver. Can you dribble, can you pass, can you shoot? OK, great.
Then once you get to the “game,” once you start driving the car harder, the technique has to stay there. Otherwise you can’t continue to go faster. You can’t continue to get closer to the people in front of you, you can’t execute clean passes. Your awareness cannot improve unless your technique stays solid, so again it always goes back to the technique.
Q: Do you find more improvements for drivers in their technique or their mindset?
A: Well, based on my previous answer, I will stick to my guns on technique. Everything builds from a solid foundation. Your mindset won’t matter if your technique is awful. My coaching philosophy varies a bit in comparison to some coaches. More often than not, the driving line is over emphasized. I tend to focus a lot more on technique and then how to maximize the tire. You can drive a pretty bad line, but if you’re driving the hell out of the tire, you’re going to be fast. I’m not saying the line’s not important, but if you drive the line perfectly and you drive it slowly, you’re slow, period. When you get to a more advanced level things like focus and mindset start to come into play, but again, without technique none of that matters.
Q: How should drivers approach a coaching session? What do they need to do to best prepare themselves?
A: The most important thing is that you’re coming in open minded and ready to work. If you’re going to spend good money on a coaching session, you better make it count.
I rarely coach any of my students at a new track. If I’m bringing a student to a new track, it’s somebody that has already been my customer. I’m not trying to create new techniques or new moves at a new track also. Now, I’ll do it, but that’s not the ideal scenario.
The ideal scenario for working with a new client is bring them to their favorite track, their home track, the track that they’re a member of, the place that they know like the back of their hand, and if you can make their technique better there, if you can make them faster there, then guess what? That’s going to correlate everywhere. Making sure that they don’t really have to learn a whole lot in regards to the track (line, corners, surface) you can really focus on them, how they’re driving the car, what they’re feeling with the tire. That’s probably the single most important thing that makes people fast, is their ability to feel the tire break loose, to feel the limit, under steer, over steer. That’s what improves lap times.
We can argue back and forth with a lot of different guys, but how you drive the tires is always going to make that guy fast. It’s super simple to tell them to be a little earlier at this apex, a little later at that apex, turn in just a little sooner, turn in a little later, but you can take a guy that drives the crap out of the tire and make him faster by cleaning him up a little bit. But trying to get a guy who drives the line well, to drive it harder, whew, that’s tough.
Q: It just seems like it’s practice and time to me, but how do they develop that feel for the front grip and develop the feel for rotation?
A: You nailed it. Practice and time. I’ll talk more here about the steps you can take to get that practice and feel. This is when rental go karts become a large part of my coaching. For $10-15 per session you can go out there and chuck those karts into a corner and figure out how to make it stick. It is a lot more cost effective than taking a high dollar car to the track and taking risks that are far more damaging. Another great training tool for understanding over steer, under steer, and car control is the simulator. At the same time I am preaching about data and video on day one, I am also pitching building a home simulator. I have built numerous rigs for customers of mine because it is such a valuable tool for so many things. Contrary to popular belief the simulator can be used for far more than “learning a new track”. If you can learn to catch a car on the sim, without g-force/feel, you’ll have no problem catching the car once you are on the track. I use the sim to train people on race craft, traffic management, setting up passes, trail braking, using all of the track and other more complex concepts that often happen in a racing environment. A simulator sounds like a lofty investment at first but in the long run it is far more cost effective to have me come to your house for a few hours a week versus paying track fees, managing wearables, and having to wait for the next available track day. This is the exactly the kind of practice people need in between every NASA event to stay sharp.
Q: Which do you think is more effective for driver improvement: video or data? Why?
A: I’ll cheat. The video with data overlay. SmartyCam is the answer. However, the key is that it is setup properly. So many AiM dashes and Solo DL’s are currently being used as glorified lap timers. Including the SmartyCam as nothing more than a video reference. To use these tools to their full potential they must be programmed correctly. What I mean by this is having the appropriate information being collected/displayed. My must have list includes throttle, brake, GPS speed, RPM, current lap time, best lap time, and when possible oil pressure, water temp, and voltage. When you are reviewing your video you may not be focusing on all of these things at once but it is hugely helpful to be able to pause a video, talk about any one of these different things depending on what is happening during that particular lap, and be able to see real data. The video takes people a long way, and why it is often the first “go to” but having both data and video together is certainly the most powerful.
Q: Let’s change gear a bit to track walks. How important do you think track walks are?
A: I think they’re huge. I don’t think we get to do them enough because a lot of the tracks don’t allow us to or because the time constraints just do not allow for it. In a perfect world, everybody would get to walk the track twice. A more in-depth walk before ever going on track and then a quicker overview after a full day of driving the circuit. Your perception of a track could change drastically after a full day of driving and there are a variety of different things I evaluate during each one. The initial walk I am looking for danger areas and passing zones. Where can I take chances, where do I need to play it safe due to lack of run off, walls, etc. If it is a track you have never been to you are also absorbing basics such as elevation, camber, and curbing. It sounds a little crazy, but the track walk after a day of driving is almost more important to me. You get to see things like ruts that might not have been there on the first day, and those ruts could be huge. They could be wheel killers, they could be alignment damagers, they could hook you back onto the track in front of people and then you get run into. You could start to see rocks getting kicked out of the dirt and then all of a sudden you’ve got windshields getting smashed. There is all kinds of damage to be had when you’re out on the track, and if you can manage some of that a little bit it is always a good thing.
Some of these tracks, especially on the West Coast, are super dusty and dirty and if somebody goes off the track and you see a big plume of dust, expect that corner to be a little bit more slippery than it would be the time before, and you can feel that during a track walk. You can feel that there’s a lot of grip near the apex and where you would normally drive the car, and then you kind of scootch your feet around near the exits, and all of a sudden you get that silty dust and you feel that there’s no grip over there. Long story short, track conditions can change a lot based on what happens during day one.
Q: What was the greatest single bit of driving advice you ever got?
A: Oh, man. You may not be able to publish this one. I was at Motorsport Ranch Cresson, during an HPDE event, and I had been already driving probably for three or four years and was instructing at least three or four, and it had never rained while I was at the racetrack. There have been pros that come out and test cars at MSR Cresson and they all say, “This is the slipperiest track I’ve ever seen when it’s wet.”
So I’m there, it rains for the first time, and I walk over to a fellow instructor and he’s like, “Hey, man. Just come out and follow me. It’s all good.” This guy’s won at least one Spec Miata championship in our region with NASA, and he’s like, “Yeah, just come out and follow me. It’s cool. No big deal.” He says this one phrase. He’s like, “You just need to drive where the s**t is.” That’s his quote. “You just need to drive where the s**t is. ” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “You know, when you’re driving and there’s a bunch of crap that just kicks up in the fender and it’s loud and it just feels like you’re just driving over gravel.” I’m like, “Really?” He’s like, “Yeah, just drive where the s**t is.” So now, when it rains, that is what I do. I am still crying laughing thinking about that day, but amazingly he was right. That is exactly where the grip is.
Q: Changing gears a bit, at Daytona you won TT4 by .108 seconds. What was it like taking a big win by such a slim margin?
A: You know, a few funny things helped everything come together during that Sunday morning session. For starters, I was joking around with David Farrar, the second-place guy, from the second I met him. I had been watching his videos, because I had never been to Daytona before and I was supposed to coach there a couple different times in the last few years for Trans Am, IMSA and MX-5 but wasn’t able to make it work. So just being on the property there was kind of cool. But I’d been watching some of his videos at other facilities and watching how good of a driver he was, trying to get the feel for my competitors and who I was going to be driving with.
David and my other competitors were great. What was not great was my tire situation. I had been on the same set of tires since our NASA Texas season opener in January. I called Track Day Tire before the event and they did not have what I needed for the NSX in stock. They were calling Hoosier trying to get tires. No tires. They went above and beyond and ended up finding tires for the car with a customer that they had already sold the tires to months prior, and that customer put those two tires in the mail and shipped them directly to Daytona for me to race.
I put those new tires on the car on Sunday morning, and went out and won the thing. The fact that Track Day Tire and that customer made it work for me was really cool. In addition to new tires, the other huge piece to the puzzle is all of the guys behind the scenes who have helped me get the car ready over the last several years. Charles Absher, Albert Talbott, Curt Raulen, David Dowling, Dave Levy, Jason Herrera (Stoopidfast Tuning), Chris Hagen (Inertia Lab), Richard Tomlin (Apex Auto Works).
Q: Had you ever raced at Daytona before? What was that like?
A: You know, it was definitely better than I expected. We’ve got a couple big ovals that we’ve driven on here locally, Texas World Speedway, which has since closed, and we’ve also raced Texas Motor Speedway. For me it was all about coming off of the banking at Turn 1 and the Bus Stop. Even though it took 2 minutes and whatever seconds to go around, you needed almost that much time to really prepare for those two high speed entries. It was a great track and a great event.