Today, there's no way of knowing if your driving instructor has the proper experience. The Motorsport Safety Foundation is changing that.
The state of trackday safety has long been important to Road & Track. Back in 2014, this issue came to national prominence when a driving instructor, Kenneth Novinger, died of injuries sustained in a crash at Summit Point Raceway. This tragic incident didn't start the conversation about trackday risks and instructor competence; that's been going on for a long time, across many different venues. But in the months that followed, many of those conversations began to converge.
The idea of trackday instructor certification has gained tremendous momentum since then. Many organizations conduct their own internal training; you can't become an instructor with the National Auto Sport Association, for example, without taking a class. But there's never been an industry-wide agreement on how instructors should be trained or evaluated. For a student who drives at events held by multiple sanctioning bodies, the difference in teaching styles and trackday rules can be frustrating, even dangerous. As an example, there are some organizations that mandate using your turn signal to tell the driver behind you that he is clear to pass—while others absolutely forbid the practice.
The safest and best way to do things would be to hand over the business of instructor training and certification to a reputable and established third party, the way that flight instructors are certified by the FAA. Until now, however, no acceptable third party has stepped up.
Yesterday, the Motorsport Safety Foundaton (MSF) introduced a comprehensive training program for trackday instructors. The MSF has already earned the credibility to speak to a broad variety of racing and trackday enthusiasts, and the foundation is using that credibility to spread the gospel of a sensible, standardized curriculum. Thanks to Ross Bentley, the well-respected author of the Speed Secrets series of driver training books, and the staff of the MSF, it will soon be possible for trackday students to request MSF-certified instructors. In doing so, they will be assured of a common set of instructions, standards, and capabilities.
"HPDE has never had a singular, industry-wide minimum standard, and critically needed an organization to help bring together best practices," the MSF announced today. "For this reason and in collaboration with a number of instructors, drivers and organizations from the industry, the Motorsport Safety Academy HPDE credential program was formed."
The program sets two goals: establishing national standards for the selection and training of high performance driving instructors, and creating minimum standards for the curriculum and operation of training programs for organizations running HPDE schools. Certification consists of six levels, starting with a Level 1 online training program, moving through hands-on training programs conducted by certified organizations. Level 2 certification would allow in-car instruction; Level 3 and above would certify for additional instruction skills with Level 6 instructors being approved to provide remote instruction using data logs and in-car video footage. Hard cards, helmet stickers, and listing in a national database of certified instructors would be provided by MotorsportReg.com, a registration system used at most HPDE events. Find out more about the certification system, including the grandfathering process for current instructors, over at the MSF's website.
This is more than just exciting news; it promises to help legitimize the trackday hobby in ways that we can't even begin to predict. Could this type of sanctioning lead to a day when your insurance agent doesn't sweat about your weekend performance driving activities—or even joins you at the track? With a standardized system encouraging high-quality, professionally-trained instructors, maybe that's not such an unlikely daydream.
For more information, visit the MSF's website. And if you're already participating in driver education, be sure to ask your chief instructor or a member of your sanctioning organization where they stand on certifying their driver coaches.
We'll be keeping you posted on this initiative as it develops. And personally, I plan to be among the first recipients of the highest-level certification I'm eligible for. It's an important and long-needed addition to the sport we love.