Adventures in Instructing

It’s Monday. My voice is hoarse, my neck and upper body are a bit sore, I can still taste gritty notes of Buttonwillow dust, and I’m sporting a dandy farmer tan. That’s probably a common tale after a weekend of instructing at a NASA event.

I sold my Spec Miata at the end of last season, but I already had a later model 2006 MX-5 — hooray for power steering! — that I picked up from CoPart and planned to develop into a track car for Time Trial or racing. I also swapped in a 2.5-liter MZR engine. It has been a lot of fun developing the car incrementally between events.

I figured while I was competing in Time Trial that I would help out the SoCal Region by working as an instructor, something I was always curious about doing, having come up through the NASA HPDE system. If you think about the structure of NASA, you know its instructors play a critical role in growing our own crop of drivers and future competitors.

Instructors are necessary to get HPDE1 drivers off to a good start, to teach them the fundamentals, to have as much fun as possible in a safe and controlled environment. We never know who it will be, but some of those HPDE drivers will move up the HPDE ladder, then attend competition school and move on to racing and Time Trial. I’ve often said it because it’s certainly been true for me: Drivers will remember their first instructor for the rest of their lives. I still see mine at every SoCal event.

Instructors are also what make the NASA GR Experience viable. I am sure you know by now, new owners of any of Toyota’s three GR cars — GR Supra, GR86 and GR Corolla — get a one-year NASA membership and one complimentary day of HPDE, all courtesy of Toyota. I’ve instructed in a Corolla and an 86, and for something straight out of a showroom, they are remarkable cars on track. Better, in fact, than my MX-5 was in stock form.

I know some NASA drivers who become alarmed at the prospect of riding shotgun with a newbie, and I can understand that, especially if one shows up in something like a Z06 or a GT500. So far, I have nothing frightening to report, but I have not set foot in anything with psycho power, either. The students I have had have done what we always hope for: have fun, safely, and improve each session they go out.

I have gotten to where I am biting my lip when I get in with an HPDE3 or higher student in a car with sticky tires. Even if it’s a Spec Miata with a passenger seat, HPDE3 and HPDE4 is where cornering speeds are increasing and where trust in the car and driver becomes essential. It’s more difficult to come by, but no less essential.

A perk is that instructing also gives you an opportunity to see the track from a different perspective at a slower pace. You see things you can use while you’re bombing around on your TT laps, and maybe even learn something from your student or through the pedagogical process. It’s a challenging exercise putting guidance into words for actions that might have become rote to you, and the longer you have been driving the more difficult that can be.

Another perk is NASA’s new Instructor Benefits program, which rewards instructors for the number of days they have taught. Rewards are issued by Hawk Performance, VP Racing and Summit Racing when you have logged three, five and seven days of instruction. I’ve already used Summit Bucks to buy new parts for my car.

Running in TT and instructing makes for a busy weekend, but it’s been rewarding for me to watch the students’ progress. If I’m being honest, the Instructor Benefits are a big plus, and so are the contingency prizes from podium finishes in TT that can be stacked with the Instructor Benefits. If you’re already in TT and you’ve thought about instructing, there’s no better time to take it on.

Image courtesy of Herb Lopez


  1. I really enjoyed this article and while reading it it brought back many great memories but more importantly so many lessons I learned and in turn passed on to students I instructed. One of the best lessons I learned was when my instructor said, “Let’s switch seats.” Then he took me for a ride in my car. I had no idea my car could possibly go THAT FAST! Yes, NASA’s method of instructors “giving back” is the very foundation of its success. By the way, my first HPDE class, I showed up with a brand new Viper GTS coupe. Fortunately my instructor that day was one of NASAs finest and his eyes lit up. All that said, mention of Buttonwillows famous dust cracked me up.

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