Part 2: Do’s and Don’ts of DEs (Mind Games)

Posted: April 8, 2011 in Racing

Part 2 of Taking the Plunge is from an Instructor’s point of view and expectations we normally have of our Novice students.  I frequently get asked these questions so this post should help sum up some important concepts.

Note: Sorry for the long delay in getting this one out (I’ve been having to prepare for racing season and getting in some last minute vacation trips).

Things Students Should Not Do/Have:

  • Big Ego / Bad Attitude

To me this is the most critical element – attitude.  When you sign up to do a DE – the first thing you need to do is check the ego at the door.  If you don’t – it affects everything that happens from then on leading you to a poor experience and a bad reputation.  An ego only puts distance between you and your instructor.  We are here for you to help you as much as we can.  Don’t be the “Flat Out” jerk thinking you need to be promoted to the advanced group after your first session.  The development of your skills needs to be in line with the maturation of the individual.

I’ve almost always have had wonderful students, however I’ve had a couple people I’ve mentored or instructed at a DE where the student had an attitude.  I’ve sat down with a mentee once where he confidently described how fast his car was after modifying it significantly and how much faster he was when he’d race people in powerful cars on the streets.  When I mention that it means nothing, I got a blank stare as if I insulted him.  In reality all they were doing was needlessly endangering the lives of others.

There is nothing wrong with having confidence and a “small” ego (ego and racecar are often interchangeable).  However, all drivers to become better must be humble and willing to accept instruction from their more experienced peers.

  • Modifyitis – the need to constantly modify your car for no good reason.

There are good modifications you can do to your car in preparation for a DE, then there are bad ones.  Good things include:  getting a mechanic to go over your car to make sure it is in good operating condition and fixing any issues; flushing brake fluid with a good DOT 4 or DOT 5 (synthetic) fluid; getting new / better tires that can take the abuse of the track (some street tires or worn down ones may wear out just in a couple of sessions); replacing brake pads if low or getting a slightly better compound so that they will not overheat as easily or delaminate (squishy brakes reduces a students confidence – and not all brakes are equal as stock brakes on a WRX (lots of fade) versus a Boxster (great brakes).

I had two DE students show up to the track and have a catastrophic mechanical failure that put them out for the rest of the weekend (usinlike g simple hardware store grade bolts on their turbocharger housing or swapping out cams the night before the event “get more power” and not time their engine correctly – both leaving early and out the DE weekend payments (non refundable).

“leave the car alone…wrench the nut behind the wheel” – unknown quote.

Things Students Should Do:

  • Respect Your Limits

Driving fast can lead to dire consequences and just a slight loss of focus at the wrong time can lead to you writing off your car or making that embarrassing call to the insurance company.  Please note most insurance policies now state that track driving is not covered by your standard insurance policy – however, there are track day insurance policies available.  Learning to drive a car fast is done in incremental steps not giant leaps and  bounds.  By learning incrementally you learn at a consistent, yet safe pace.  As you get better those increments get smaller, and smaller until going just a 10th of a second faster a lap is a big deal.

  • Educate Yourself

When I go to the track I have the mindset that I’m a sponge – there to learn or absorb information.  This is a great attitude to have when you are going to the track for the first time.  If you’ve never driven the track – there are 100’s of videos out on various sites you can watch to get a feel of what the track looks like.  There are also a lot of good books to read such as   Good books to read such as Dave Gran’s “Go Ahead – Take the Wheel” or even track specific material such as Edwin Reeser’s “Race Track Attack Guide”.  There are also a lot of online writeups such as (which also has many great writeups on beginner track days).

  • Safety

I always ask this – how much is your life worth?  I see many, many people spend most of their money on increasing the performance of their cars to a point where it is no longer a well balanced vehicle making it more difficult to drive (part of the modifyitis).  They then skimp on the parts that will save your life like a good helmet or making sure your tires / brakes / suspension can handle the changes to the car.  Unfortunately with this lesson – when you really need it – it’s too late.

  • Be Courteous

Be a good sport – regardless of the vehicle you drive from a Mazda3 to a Z06 Carbon Corvette.  Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to give point bys…even multiple point bys in a single passing area.  In fact if you do this you’ll have more fun overall because you’ll have substantially less people behind you therefore allowing you to focus on what is ahead and progress.  Tactics you can use include slow down substantially in a long straight to allow multiple cars to go by, simply pull into the pits, and what I consider to be a smart idea is adjust the side view mirror for the instructor so they can also see the traffic behind you.  In fact this latter idea should be par the course for most instructors as I normally let the student know when to deal with traffic and how – at least until they are completely comfortable.

  • Stay in Shape

I hear often that people think b/c you are driving the car does all the work, thus making racing or high performance driving easy.  That maybe true if you are on a grocery run but when you are doing 100mph.  Racing isn’t about how in shape your body is but how in shape your mind is.  It is one of the most focus oriented sports known to man where a fraction of a second lapse in concentration can lead to dire results to the equipment and the driver / passenger.  I’ve had students who get out of the car after 20 mins drenched in sweat, breathing as hard as if they ran several miles.  Studies have shown that racecar drivers heart-rates are typically reach 160 bpm for a sustained time from 20 minutes (short race to just DE driving) to up to 3 hours (marathon) depending on their level of professionalism / endurance.  To keep your mind in shape – your body must follow and eating right and doing proper exercise such as cardio will go a long way.  Because once the body is tired, so is the mind.


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