Friday, April 6, 2012

Just Say NO to Being "THAT GUY" (…on track)

Driving in an unfamiliar environment can be disconcerting. From navigating the neighborhood with too many kids on bikes to piloting through an insane traffic pattern, people tend to get flummoxed and do stupid things. These aren't particularly novel scenarios, we've all been there, but you don't want to honk at every kid on a bike thinking they're about to dart out and you don't want to float through traffic from lane to lane wondering where your exit is only to realize it's 5 miles away.

What I'm trying to say is this: ultimately, your goal as a driver – or even as a human (I digress) -- is to avoid being "that guy". An admirable goal, indeed, and a one that should also carry over to your early days on track!

Before I got wrapped up in life-change things like moving to a new city and starting a new job, I hypothesized that people with a fleeting interest in doing High Performance Driving Events (HPDEs) would benefit from a quasi-lecture on how to avoid being "that guy" at the track. There are a lot of varieties to watch out for -- some are even gender-specific and I should devote an entire post to that subject in the future -- but most are so set in their ways that a lecture wouldn't change a thing. They're insistent that access to a full accouterment of air tools is necessary to maintain their stock 911 and they're convinced nitrogen-filled tires are a must. Whatever. Encounter these folks and I advise you smile and nod (no offense).

Instead of trying to change hardened habits of seasoned veterans, I want to speak to the newbies through an open letter:

Dear Newbies,

As fresh blood to the wonderful world of performance driving, you are very impressionable. This is a good thing as it'll enable you to acquire skills you never knew you had. You'll grasp the concepts of car control, learn to find lines through corners, and gain confidence with every tick of your odometer while on track. You'll surprise yourself with how quickly you'll become comfortable driving at very high speeds with very little room for error.
Beware! This impressionability can be a hazard! Aside from the obvious bad habits you can pick up on track -- not looking ahead, lifting when you get scared, not heal-toeing -- you may unwittingly and unknowingly acquire some royally annoying idiosyncrasies. (Note, this is a highfalutin way of saying you can pick up habits that make you "that guy".)
Here's a (non-exhaustive) list of things you should watch out for to reduce the eye-rolling of nearby veterans:
1.  If it's your first time on track, you don't need track pads or racing compound tires. You have not acquired the skill that would allow you to go fast enough to require track pads or r-compounds. If you find yourself dealing with brake fade issues during your first few days on track, it's almost certainly because you're braking too light too soon and building unnecessary temperature. Learn to do it right, then step up to the grabby pads! If you find yourself wanting more grip, settle down because you ain't there yet, Schumi.
2.  If your car has a full interior, you do not need fireproof anything. Obviously exceptions include helmets and gloves but wearing a full race suit surrounded by leather everything isn't cool. However, the guy pictured below should be wearing fireproof everything...
3.  Covering your car with blue painters tape or glorified cling wrap is only permissible for vehicles that are actively for sale or, if not, have a current Kelly Blue Book value  greater than $75,000. (Yes, this number is arbitrary.) The Corvette pictured is not looking good...
4.  References to any skill acquired while driving on the street is unacceptable even if that road by your home really is super-duper twisty. Exceptions include heel-toe practice entering off-ramps or if you commute via the Nurburgring. 
5. Discussions about the slow car in front of you for the entire session should be limited to lamentation of your own inability to get close enough to make them aware of your intent to pass and/or execute on said pass. Passing is the responsibility of the overtaking car, remember?
6.  Most importantly, you do not belong in a higher run group... skip the bloviating, please. Remember, speed (or your ability to catch cars) is not directly proportional to skill. If that were the case, the advanced run groups would consist only of Corvette Z06's, Nissan GT-R's and Porsche GT2's and GT3's.
Take this advice under consideration and the seasoned track-going folks will spend less time rolling their eyes at you and more time helping you learn more. If you're going to take one thing to the track, it should be an open mind. If you're going to leave one thing at home, it should be an ego. This goes for novices and veterans alike, but the seasoned drivers have amassed enough friends and experience to allow them to blame an occasional bonehead ego-driven moment on adrenaline.