WTF: Motorsports Safety Foundation

The Motorsports Safety Foundation (MSF) is a new non-profit organization with several overarching safety goals and 4 current initiatives.

  1. The Adopt-a-Corner program provides an individual or business the opportunity to donate a safety barrier upgrade in exchange for a long-term branding contract at the track.
  2. The Race with Restraint program aims to make Frontal Head Restraints easily accessible to drivers at all levels by setting up low-cost daily rental kiosks at race tracks across the country.
  3. In an emergency, first responders SMS text message the PIN code on a racing driver’s ICE helmet sticker to the phone number listed. This unique code is used to identify the driver, provide important medical information, and notify their emergency contacts if needed.
  4. In collaboration with leaders in the High Performance Driver Education community, the Motorsport Safety Foundation has created standards for the selection, training and CERTIFICATION of high performance driving instructors.

It’s the last point the concerns me today. The Motorsport Safety Academy (MSA) offers a CERTIFIED HPDE instructor program in 5 levels.

  1. Online coursework that prepares you to become an in-car instructor.
  2. Hands-on instructor course that certifies you can coach other drivers from the passenger seat.
  3. Classroom instructor training.
  4. Remote instruction using data acquisition and video.
  5. Chief instructor and event manager.

I’m not a completely novice coach, but I thought it would be a good idea to take the Level 1 coursework. I think of myself as a perpetual student, and when it comes to driving and driving instruction, I feel I have a lot I need to learn. So I signed up for the MSA and after paying $50, I sat down to explore the course content.

The course features text, video, and practice tests. The pacing of the course is generally good, but there are a few places where the unit is too long for the number of practice questions. Generally there are about 3 questions, and it’s impossible to get them wrong before proceeding because it forces you to correct your answers. Most of the time I agreed 100% with the solutions, but there were a few that caused some head scratching. I’m sure some experienced coaches vehemently disagree with some points. That’s not to say that the course is incorrect in some areas, but that education is a very personal thing, and what’s wrong in some situations is right in others.

This reminds me a little of taking a driving exam while I was living in the UK. The USA and UK have some very different ideas about the right way to drive a car, and I don’t mean which side of the street you drive. For example, in the UK you’re supposed to shuffle steer at all times. In the USA, they advocate hand-over-hand for tight corners. Which one is right? In the UK, the side mirrors are pointed down and in while in the USA they are pointed up and out. In the UK, there is an emphasis on parking close to the curb, so the mirror is pointed down so you can see it. Also, bicycles and scooters might be very close to your sides, and the down and in mirror style helps you see them. In the USA, there’s a lot of highway driving, so the out and up mirror helps you see your blind spots when changing lanes. Which one is right?

The video parts are narrated by Ross Bentley of Speed Secrets fame. Appropriately, a lot of the content has nothing to do with driving but how to teach. The core of that is figuring out the best way to communicate with your student. But there’s also a lot of driving content. The course took me 3 sessions to finish. It was longer and more involved than I thought it would be. Overall, I think it’s pretty good. At the end of the course, there is a final exam, and you have to get a 90% or better to pass. The final exam was not so easy. Going in, I expected to get 100%, but I actually got 92%. There were some tricky questions and some that you could debate about for hours. I don’t expect anyone will get 100% because some of the testing material isn’t even in the course (study Ross’ HPDE instructor manifesto for more material). They do not provide an answer key. This is probably so people don’t cheat. But the cost is that you don’t know where your knowledge wasn’t up to snuff.

Let’s return to UK vs USA driving differences. In the UK, all of the exam questions are published in a book that you can buy. The book is pretty big and the question pool is huge. When you get to the test, there’s absolutely no surprise. Every question comes from a predetermined list. In the USA, you can find study guides but the actual exam questions are hidden. In the UK, you can pass by memorizing many exam questions. In the USA, you have to reason your way through something possibly unfamiliar. Which way is better? In this case, I actually have an opinion. I prefer the UK system. The reason is that the USA exams are so easy to pass that there’s literally no reasoning involved.

Back to the MSA exam… what happens if you fail the test? I have no idea. Maybe they don’t send you the Level 1 hard card? Well as it turns out, they didn’t send me mine even though I passed the test months ago. I sent an email asking about the card and about getting level 2 certification as I’m already an in-car coach. The silence remains deafening. Their forum has some apologetic verbiage acknowledging their lack of communication and fulfillment with promises of something by Fall 2017. They didn’t have any problem taking my money, however. That part works great.

Apparently, Hooked on Driving has endorsed MSF and vice-versa. What does that mean to me, as an HoD coach? Nothing so far. There has been zero information for HoD coaches about the MSF partnership from either side. So far it’s all just talk. Or rather a press release and no actual dialog. Somebody, do something. It’s starting to look like a scam.

A look at the MSF Facebook page shows that nearly every post is about a crash in Formula 1 or some other professional racing series. You would think that an organization that has a specific initiative to improve HPDE coaching would sometimes post about HPDE coaching. HPDE has nothing to do with crashing!

In all fairness, the MSF/MSA should have to pass an exam at the 90% level before taking $50. I guess they suck at non-profit safety foundation-ing. That’s okay, we all start our journey sucking. I look forward to their progress and also a safer and more uniform HPDE experience.

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