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Should driving instructors be allowed to coach from the passenger's side of a race car?

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marina's picture
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April 13, 2015
Should driving instructors be allowed to coach from the passenger's side of a race car?

In the wake of operations manager and professional driving instructor Gary Terry's tragic passing at Walt Disney World Speedway, it is important to acknowledge that these types of accidents happen far too often. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Tavon Watson, 24, failed to maneuver a Lamborghini Gallardo through one of the course's curves, and the vehicle's right side struck a guardrail. Gary Terry, 36, was pronounced dead at the scene. The Motorsport Safety Foundation was founded in honor of Sean Edwards, an exceptionally talented driver who was also killed while coaching someone from the passenger's seat. 

What does everyone think about this practice? What alternative coaching methods can we think of to prevent accidents like these? What sorts of precautions should be taken – limiting speed, mandating the use of a full harness and HANS, etc.?

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April 13, 2015

I think the instructors understand the risk of getting in a high performance vehicle, at times with people who don't have any racing experience. That being said, I don't know if there would be a better way of doing it. I did an HDPE yesterday with an instructor in the passenger seat in every session. Having the direct and instant feedback was fantastic. 

A potentially option would be to have in car cameras that live stream the what the driver is doing but that makes the instruction part of it much harder. Also makes it harder for the instructor to help spot yellow flags and issues on the track. 

In a situation like what are discussing I think removing the instructor from the passenger seat wouldn't really help matters. I think by mandating HANS devices and roll cages in these type of schools would help tremendously. 

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April 14, 2015

I know that not having instructors in the right seat will guarantee that no instructors will be killed in the right seat, just as you can guarantee you won't crash by not going onto the racetrack at all. 

However, something has to be done and some sort of precedence needs to be set as there have been too many right seat deaths and injuries that may have been preventable. 

For one, we need drive companies to realize our life is worth more than the amount they save on tires by altering the direction of a given circuit. We also need to have adequate safety measures at each circuit. 

As for right seat instructors, I agree they shouldn't necessarily go away. Speed limiting novices and those with right seaters would be a great start. If you're truly learning, you don't need to go 10/10. Having speed limited sessions for track days, HPDE events, etc. would also cut down on track congestion from the slower cars. 

A licensing system for instructors would go a long way as well. If we can ensure instructors are capable, their judgement may be given more worth. But when anybody can call themselves an instructor and jump in with you, it doesn't mean they can handle a situation when things go wrong or that they're even teaching proper technique. 

Accidents will continue to happen as long as you allow cars in tracks. But we can make them safer and reduce risk for those trying to help you go faster and learn our sport. 

For myself, it's making me want to right seat on tracks even less than before. I'm interested to see where this goes because this is way too dangerous at the moment.

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April 23, 2015

Keith, 

 

Great ideas especially the licensing system for instructors.  This is an area where we feel MSF can really make a difference, although the primary issue with this incident was that the driving group were runnignthe circuit in the wrong direction so the safety barriers in place were the actual hazzard. 

 

Thanks again, Scot 

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April 28, 2015

Unfortunately, this promoter did not learn anything from the recent tragedy and are already promoting running New Jersey backwards for motorcycles.  If you see the comments, even the fans are worried about barriers and armco.  Very frustrating...

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August 11, 2015

Hi Keith,

Long time no see.

Having instructed from most all aspects possible from the side of the track, riding along and now simulator coaching, there are so many things that could be improved on this front it will take a long time.

Instructor licensing is a great concept and there are a few things I can add to this.

1. Ferrari North America with Ferrari Challenge certifies any coaches through a few different metrics.  It is a great start.  All coaches are required to hold an IMSA driver's license to even go through the certification process.  However, just because you know how to drive doesn't make you a good coach or instructor.  They are two different worlds.

Some of the best coaches hardly had driving careers.

2. The Roos School and Dennis Macchio have had a program of training Porsche Club instructors for a few years now and  this is also a good start.  He is an incredible Old School resource owning a school, designing tracks and all kinds of other aspects of the sport.  How to ride along and instruct/coach is an entirely different world as you all know.  What if the driver can't hear you?  Does he understand your hand motions?  Does he actually listen to you?  How distracted do the drivers get when you speak?  You have to strike a certain level of fear into them before you even get in the car to manage their perception of what is going on.  If they don't listen to you, then you HAVE to get out of the car.  Most new drivers actually default to a type of fight or flight survival mode.

Read Deep Survival by Lawerence Gonzales.

Just because the seat is there, doesn't mean someone should be in it.

3. There used to be 4 main schools to go to in the USA at least.  Skip Barber, Roos, Bondurant and Jim Russell.  They are all SCCA Certified and can approve licensing for amateur drivers.  Now there are lots of small schools popping up that are HPDE focused and frankly, it is becoming the blind leading the blind.

If you have done any professional or even club racing, you learn that there are a lot more dangers out there on the track than what you see if you are just an HPDE instructor or driver.  I personally refuse to right in the right seat anymore simply because the safety of street driving and specifically all of the driver aids, has created an assumption that all is well.  Paddle shifting alone in cars has eliminated the largest bottleneck for amateur drivers going fast on a track.

If you remember back to when you did the school, the shifting was the hardest part and still to this day, is one of the best restrictors to speed in a school.

Video systems have become a huge help though it certainly is after the fact.

One of the things that a lot of Challenge coaches are using now are intercom systems rather than radios because it is a direct line, open mic so you know that the driver hears you the whole time.  Of course, the danger still remains that if you continuously tell them to hit the brakes, and then you don't, they might not brake!

My one tip specifically for you is to not get in the right seat if you don't feel comfortable.  It's your life and they need to know that.  One of the things I would always say to a driver I just met and was riding along is, "If I am going to die in a car on a race track, I better be the one that is driving.  Let's take it slow and get home to our families."  

Love this foundation and can't wait to get involved more.

Andrew

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August 21, 2015

Andrew what are your thoughts on restricting speeds for HPDE drivers? Maybe one speed with instructors in the car and unlimited when out?  Always restricted?

 

what in your opinion are the most important specific items to "certify" instructors on?

 

Here is a repost of a great article:

http://www.motorsport-safety.org/media/news/compelling-case-speed-limits-track-days

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June 3, 2015

I see careful thought in this thread, and that encourages ideas for next actions.

A first step, ahead of action, needs to be gathering facts and and simple analysis.  This thread has enough to start work: this Lamborghini Gallardo crash was not a "race car" incident but a pay-for-the-drive "experience" with a person who likely never touched that kind of vehicle previous to this date.  The course was being used incorrectly "running the circuit in the wrong direction so the safety barriers in place were the actual hazzard."  Let's step from just these facts.

Instructor qualifications and an accredidation process to find the good ones is a worthy undertaking.  We need to weed out those who do/cannot help drivers learn the skills needed to pilot a car like the Lamborghini Gallardo or a Ford Fiesta.  And even more we need encouragement to qualified instructors that what they are doing is appreciated and should continue to be fun.  There are many challenges in this, because Driver Skills events, HPDE weekends, Autocross, Teen Clinics, and Winter Skills are not "racing."  Many of the terms ("language") and learned skills are important and similar, but they are not the same as racecraft.

There are serious "facility" problems that must find understanding and correction.  If there were issues with direction given from the right seat in this Florida crash, we will never know.  For sure there was inexperience and driver error, but it appears that the actual death was not from either of these points.  The death happened because the passenger side got speared by the facility's safety barrier!  That is utterly unacceptable.

The 2014 crash at Summit Point where the car wrapped around a tree on the passenger side killing the "instructor" is another prominent example people use to discuss this broad subject where everything about the event, the instructor, the driver, the car could be properly questioned, but the actual death would not have happened if the facility was safe and being used correctly.

Does this mean there should be a national "inventory" of motorsports venues and "accredidation" for them as well?  I think so.  What is too-often said "The facility doesn't do anything nor listen to the complaints of a specific club or for-profit organization because they know someone else will take the date, so there is no incentive to listen."

An organization with a strong member base may be able to leverage action from these sitautions.

An then there is a public shaming concept or some other set of targeted/focused actions to make it difficult for unsafe practices to continue.  I was honestly shocked to read the note just above that "this promoter did not learn anything from the recent tragedy and are already promoting running New Jersey backwards for motorcycles."  How can they even get insurance?

I wonder what would happen if a letter appeared from a prominent national organization...

So we need attention to Drivers, Instructors, Facilities, Equipment, Training, Vehicles, Communications,..., all elements in this scene.

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June 5, 2015

Fantastic response.  I agree with absolutely everything you say.  It needs to always be divided into the many parties that can have influence over the safety of drivers and instructors.  1) Tracks need to be to the latest safety standards in some way or another if they want to host events.  Otherwise, they should just be a "testing facility" that is only rented to private teams.  We are not talking about having expensive safer barriers everywhere.  Tires are cheap and effective.  Have strict rules of operations, never run the circuit backwards and remove any possible hazards from the equation. 2) Instructors need to have their strict rules as well.  Speed limits, minimum harness and hans, full classroom session of concepts and best practices before ever entering the track.  Once the student is ready, let them loose on their own and review video of them at speed.  An instructor accreditation school is in the works that will certify instructors to teach students to drive on race tracks.  3) Insurance companies need to have higher standards and an understanding of what is really giong on.  They need to demand a minimum level of safety barriers, fire equipment, medical staff and equipment, extrication tools, etc for track rentals aimed at groups and novices.  

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August 23, 2015

There's some great discussion here about a very important topic. Safety within HPDE and track day events is not a simple, one-size-fits-all solution. As others have mentioned, instructor selection, training and quality control is a factor, as is how the events are operated. Facility safety is also part of it. Management of speed, and the use of safety equipment by drivers is a topic that many are talking about right now (deservedly so), especially with how fast production street cars are now. Most importantly, the culture of the event organizer is perhaps the biggest factor in how safe it is.

As for right-seat instructing, even that is not a simple solution. For new and relatively new drivers, it's almost a "must" - as others have talked about, the immediate feedback and supervision is critical (this is an area where managing speeds should be considered). But, currently, practically all schools/events use a "on-off" approach to right-seat instructing - students progress to a point where they are signed off to solo, and the instruction is turned off. Instead, especially with the use of technology (radio, data, video, smartphone apps), corner observation, and mentoring/coaching, we could use a transition approach. So, instead of there being a right-seat instructor with a student, and then not, there could be a "weaning off" of the in-car instruction, replacing it with other types of training. Of course, instructors would require training in how to use technology, as well as how to coach from outside the car, but that's why we need to put a national program in place for instructors training and accreditation.

Right-seat instructing in racing is way over-used. It's used because there are so many "coaches" who only know how to tell a driver what to do. The problem is that the driver only learns how to follow the instructor's commands, but doesn't really learn how to drive fast. There are race series where the norm is for a coach to drive the car, set a data lap for comparison, and then ride with the driver and tell him/her what to do. Is that how Mario Andretti learned to be such a great race driver? No way! It's a crutch - it's a short-term, quick fix. Yes, it works, but only to a certain level (which does, far too often, create "job security" for the so-called coach). If the coach helped their driver learn from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in, the driver would learn more, and it would be longer lasting.

Is there a time and place for right-seat instructing? Yes. But it shouldn't be a crutch, nor should it be the "on" phase of a "on-off" approach to training. It shouldn't be the only method of instruction. And when someone is in the right-seat, speeds should be managed, tracks must be used properly, and/or safety equipment must be in place. And again, instructors must be selected and trained properly.

Finally, I'd like to say that our sport is not broken. Given the number of drivers participating, and the number or miles driven at high speeds, we're relatively safe. Having said that, how we approach safety should be the same way we approach our driving: there's always more. No matter how fast one drives, there's always room for improvement. The same approach should be taken with how events and facilities are operated, and how instructors are selected, trained, and how they operate.

I've heard a few people say something along the lines of, "Hey, track driving and racing is dangerous. That's a risk we take everytime we go on the track. And stuff happens - people will die every now and then." I understand that thinking. But when I ask those people if one person dying each year is okay, they usually reply with "yes." Then when I ask, "If that one person was your brother, spouse, or best friend, would that be okay?" their feelings change. It's easy to say "stuff happens" when it's not personal. So think about it.

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As an HPDE instructor, one thing that I feel is not stressed enough, if at all, at the morning meeting is, "If you don't feel comfortable ask your student to slow down!". I mean short of them driving like a manic.

If as an instructor, you are not feeling comfortable, 9 out of 10 times there is a very substantial reason looming, (might not even have to do with speed). You may not even be able to pin point why you are feeling that way, but you sixth sense knows. "Trust your gut" as Mr. Bentley says.

There is an old saying in aviation, "What makes a good, (commercial) pilot?", Answer: The one that will turn the plane around (usually at the risk of putting their job on the line) Yea, it's no fun when you ask your student to slow down, but last time I checked the fun part comes after the safe bit and it's soo true cause there is nothing like that feeling when both you and your driver have developed a mutual trust and they are really getting it. Pretty sure I am having as much fun as the driver at that point.

Definitely agree with Mr Converse above, what do you get out of 10/10ths with an instructor? Where is the room for instructor input if the driver is already using 10/10ths of their brain? It's a mental sport right??? I personally don't see it proper for anyone to drive 10/10ths with someone else in the car, except maybe for the rally drivers with their navigators, maybe.

Would really like to know if rally drivers feel they are instinctively playing it safer with the navigator in the car, cause they look like they run at 11/10ths? (Is this it's own topic?)

Would any rally drivers or navigators like to comment of this?

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March 21, 2016

Can't teach someone who is going over their ability...

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June 25, 2016

At a Road Atlanta HPDE event I was ask to instruct a (pre-solo) student that had a fully race prepped Z06 (not most instructors favorite scenario to begin with, but that's what we do) The thing is the right seat was missing the submarine belt of the harness, while the driver's side had the full 5-point harness. So I expressed my concern and it was deemed that I should still go out with the student.

MY QUESTION IS: At what point do we draw the line when the installed right seat safety equipment is inferior to that of the student we are instructing??

 

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March 21, 2016

Well if you are willing to ride a street car with a regular seat belt, I would argue you can ride a race prepped vehicle with aditional safety.  However, if the driver has better safety gear than the passenger, I would demand a 70% pace to even out the risk.

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