After chipping away at trying to become a better and faster driver over the last nine years, I’ve arrived at the inevitable conclusion that the climb isn’t linear. There are advances and setbacks in performance, gains and losses of confidence, highs and lows — or maybe that’s just been my experience.
A few years ago, when we had a really good outdoor kart track nearby with schools and arrive-and-drive karts, the fastest time one of the arrive-and-drive Sodi karts could be driven around the course was a known factor. I still remember the time: 35 seconds.
Back when the track was still open, I could go over there and get in some laps as often as I had the time. I kept a helmet in my trunk. It closed a few years ago when the owner retired — and I’m still bitter about it. At the time, I could get close to and even hit that 35-second mark on a good day. Karting is an excellent learning tool, a way to stay sharp and to prepare for a race weekend. Last week in Speed News, we published a great feature on learning on karts and sims.
I learned to drive in karts and cars, so training on sims is difficult for me. There’s no sensation in the inner ear, no g forces and no seat-of-the-pants feedback. When I’m driving a sim, it always looks and feels too slow. Inevitably, I get bored, discouraged and write off sims as ineffective. I know better. I know if I stuck with it that it would come to me eventually. I know it works for other people. I know it can build better vision and muscle memory. I know, I know, I know.
That brings me to reading and coaching, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned there. We try to publish as many features on driver instruction as we can to help NASA members on their climb to become better drivers. NASA also partners with Blayze.io, which offers online coaching services, and I’ve used the service in the last couple of years with good results. The coaches are first rate and I always learn new things.
I was nosing around the Blayze site, looking at, of all things, some of the stories on coaching young soccer athletes, which is another sport for which Blayze has online coaches. A couple of things leaped out at me.
The first is that one study showed that one-on-one tutoring helped students improve by two standard deviations. The second is the importance of trying to find time to train by yourself. I guess that’s where karting, sims and practice days before a race weekend come in, and it’s the same theory behind assigning homework — to reinforce what a student has learned in class. I don’t know how many standard deviations of improvement karts and sims offer, but my guess is no one has measured either in any serious way.
Unlike a group-instruction dynamic, like say comp school or HPDE downloads, one-on-one coaching focuses the instruction on the student, and the student can focus solely on the instruction. The potential for distraction in a group learning dynamic is greater, which can dilute the messages and ideas being expressed. That might be why I never felt like I was any better a driver after competition school, and I went to two of them!
Now that I’m thinking about it, there was one other thing in that soccer piece that stuck with me, and that was the misconception that athletes, or in our case, drivers, only need a private coach when something is wrong with our performance. That’s not true, and it’s something Scott Adams echoed in our “Timeout With” piece with him back in October 2021. Here’s what he said, and it dovetailed nicely with the soccer piece I read on Blayze.
“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.,” Adams said. “Everybody has a coach. Why would it be any different in driving a racecar?
“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,” he continued. “In the beginning and intermediate levels, 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.”
As an amateur racer, husband and father with more on my plate than would allow for a full-throated effort to drive my car as fast as it can be driven, I might never reach the peak, but I’ll never stop trying. The resources are available to all of us.