Coaching report

Corvettes

Last week I did a coaching event with Hooked on Driving at Thunderhill. It was a special “Hooked on Corvettes” day. I arrived right before the coaching meeting and therefore got the last pick of cars. To my delight it was a 1980s C4. If there’s a choice of vintage and modern, I generally go for vintage. I would have picked this car had I been the first to choose.

The student was a first-timer. We started out on the figure 8 drill and he was the only one who really got the drill. He spun a couple times, which is good, because I wanted him to spin so he knew what going over the limit felt like. At one point he commented “I feel like I’m driving a lot faster than the others”. My reply was “you are”.

On our first on-track session, I got to drive it for 2 laps. I had to lean on the throttle to get it started. It’s been decades since I’ve had to do that. The gauge cluster and cockpit in general looked like it was inspired by Star Wars. I absolutely loved it. Then we switched and he took over the driving duties. I encouraged him a little too much and he ended up spinning in T3. Well, that’s not so bad. I did that my first track day. Sadly, that meant he lost some confidence in the second session and he ended up giving a shit-ton of point-bys. I was pretty pleased by his track awareness. By the middle of the 3rd session his confidence was back and from there until the end of the 4th session we were one of the fastest cars in the novice group.

Michael, if you’re reading this, great job and awesome car.

Dangerous roll bars

One of the coaches showed up in a Miata with an unusual roll bar. I didn’t recognize the pattern so I took a closer look.

There is no way this passes any kind of safety scrutiny. These are the things I noticed but I’ll bet there are more issues.

  • The bar is welded to the package tray, not the frame.
  • The angle of the back stays are way too steep.
  • The bottom of the diagonal bar attaches to the back stay rather than the main hoop.

I asked him about it and he had this to say in his defense. “Have you seen Miata roll bars? Half of them are below the driver’s head”. This is largely true. Lots of roll bars don’t pass the broomstick test. He also said “it’s not a track car, I just put the roll bar in so I could drive it on track”. He further elaborated that he “just drives it around at 6/10ths”. So why are there Toyo RRs on there?

An interesting conversation

The driver in this video was required to do a check-out ride with a PCA instructor because he missed seeing a red flag in his previous session. The video in question was posted earlier this week but has been taken down. After 1 lap, they come into the pits and have a conversation about his driving. At which point the instructor gives him a complete dressing down, telling him he’s driving way over his head. Video has been removed, sadly.

I think if you miss a red flag, you’re lucky if you get to drive again that day. But the instructor was way out line both with what he said and his attitude. If you want to kick someone out for missing a red flag, that’s completely valid, but telling a driver he’s “hacky” is over the top. The driving was 7/10ths not 10/10ths. It’s weird that the instructor had his HANS on, but maybe he didn’t have a chance to remove it between getting out of his car and doing the check-out ride.

The video was discussed at length on the HPDE Instructors Facebook group. There were lots of different opinions but the most common sentiments were that the driver was actually driving 7/10ths and that the instructor was out of line. It’s completely understandable to kick a driver out for missing a red flag. But telling the driver he’s driving with his dick is not only bad manners, it’s totally incorrect. It seems the instructor had a particular narrative planned before even getting in the car and didn’t want to stray from that. He didn’t appear to be observing anything the student did and gave no feedback.

One of the things that irks me most is the way the instructor talked down to the driver. Is the instructor actually better? The driver in question was the 2018 SCCA ITA champion. What accomplishments does the instructor have? I looked him up in Race Hero and he doesn’t appear there. So he hasn’t raced with PCA, SCCA, NASA, etc. in recent history.

You know how I’d like to see this resolved? Trial by combat. Let’s let lap time sort this out. To make it fair, they shouldn’t be driving their usual cars. I’ll offer up my Toyota Yaris for this. Anyone want to bet who wins?

Taking responsibility

Jim McClelland of the Golden Gate PCA took the high ground (see text below). While I think this is an admirable stance, it doesn’t change the facts that a PCA instructor chose to behave like a total ass.

After much review of all available information and “in-house” discussions regarding what transpired respective to Joe’s red flag infraction at GGR’s DE event on Saturday, I have come to the conclusion that I, as track chair, am solely and completely responsible for placing our instructor in a situation with Joe that was doomed to be have an unsuccessful outcome.

I did not do my job.

The following facts were not confirmed by me to properly prep our instructor prior to delegating the post-red-flag communication with Joe.

1. There is no reason we cannot, as event staff, request and obtain information from the corner workers describing in detail the infractions observed. Had we verified the actual number of observable red flags passed, the context of the instructor’s discussion would have been commensurate with that accurate information.
(When we hear “three red flags,” that gets our full attention. A dozen or so years ago, a 964 driver missed a red flag and subsequently impacted the rear of a 951 at 50+ mph, sending everything up in flames. That’s our reference point when it comes to red flags.)

2. Every registered driver’s driving experience is available on MotorsportReg. There is no impediment to my reviewing that information prior to the event, or having that information on hand at the event to refer to. Had I informed our instructor of Joe’s extensive driving experience prior to the instructor meeting with and riding with Joe, he would not have assumed Joe to be more toward the “beginner” end of the driving experience spectrum, and would have assessed his driving much differently, and the subsequent conversation in the paddock would have had a more productive outcome.

There are other aspects of our level of preparation for addressing incidents such as the red flag violation on Saturday, as well as overall control and execution of our events. While it is unfortunate that it sometimes takes a conflict to produce a wake up call, a solution and/or a better way forward, please be confident that we are constantly seeking to improve, even when we think events go well.

A few of GGR’s attributes I am entrusted with as track chair are our reputation for safe events, fun events, as well as excellent instruction. I will state that I did not provide my best effort needed respective to our instructor’s interaction with Joe. As a result, Joe understandably felt that he was not being treated fairly, the instructor is understandably upset at how my failure to properly prep him now shows him in a negative light all over the internet, and GGR does not want to lose him as an instructor, nor Joe as a customer.

GGR is certainly taking this as a very important learning experience – with me in a front row desk.

But wait, there’s more

Brad Kellet, President of the Golden Gate Region PCA, took action.

“After investigating the situation and gathering all the facts, including discussions with all involved parties, GGR has removed the instructor in question as CDI for future events and has revoked his certification as a PCA instructor. We take situations like this seriously and took swift action, but wanted to make sure we had all the facts before making any conclusions. We’ve learned a great deal from this situation and we will continue to think deeply about it, and will use our learnings to make our events and instruction even better moving forward.”

At one point, my thought was “I’m not going to do track days with PCA because I’m not into parade laps”. My thought now is “I’m not going to coach with them either”. There’s too much cover-your-ass going on.

17 thoughts on “Coaching report

  1. That rollbar gives me shivers. The only part of my build that I hired out was my cage and I am happy I didn’t fudge it. The weld on the diagonal would likely fail. I actually agree with that Miata driver that many convertibles would be unsafe in a roll – which is why I chose a tin-top. I have doubts that the broomstick test is adequate. I fear A-pillar compression (heck, they mush down in many rollovers in tin-tops where A-pillars have more support).

    And Yes, I also noticed the HANS + 3 point. If I instructed I would get one of those Simpson Hybrid devices that work with any belt.

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    1. There are times when I think I ought to have a Simpson Hybrid for coaching. There are also times I think I should give up coaching altogether. It’s not all that safe!

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    2. I have a Miata as my low-powered track car (its a lot of fun). The height is a concern for sure – the broomstick test is /supposed/ to allow for the helmet to be below a straight line between the top of the bar and the top of the front shock towers, often written in a more useful “your helmet must be ___ below a line between the rollbar and the top of the windshield” as easier to measure. I’m currently about an inch below the bar. I’d prefer 2″, but this is about as good as I can get without either going custom bar, full cage, or a dropped floor.

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      1. On my Miata, the roll cage was designed to fit under a soft or hard top. So it’s not very high. The aluminum race seat is bolted to the floor and inclined quite a bit. These two changes make it possible for a 6’3″ person to drive with their helmet below the bar. I’m only 5’10” so I clear easily. Short people have trouble seeing over the dash and require a billow.

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      2. I have the hard dog hardtop bar, and there’s actually space under the hardtop for it to be a bit taller IMO. I’ve considered getting it replaced, but really the next step should be a full cage (which sadly should mean a trailer, since I drive it to/from tracks). Its a pity that nobody makes a decent front-only version, going up inside the windshield frame and mounting down at two points like an opposite of the rear bar – that would allow street use (no side bar to bash into) but would also raise the rollover point to a much safer one. Of course, I’m no engineer and I’m sure that’s a stupid idea…

        Maybe I should just do a cage and take the added safety on-track over the very small additional risk of a head hit on the highway to/from track days.

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      3. Full cage is a big commitment. If you put the dash bar in, which you should, it can become difficult to reassemble the dash. Also climbing over the door bars isn’t fun if you have to do it a lot. A back half cage with a harness bar for your HANS is pretty unobtrusive and safe.

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  2. Attaching the diagonals to the rear brace bars is pretty standard for Miata roll bars, presumably because putting them in the main hoop makes the car undrivable by anyone over about 5’8″. Both the Bethania/Hard Dog and BBFW bars do it this way.

    It sure looks like the bar is welded to the thin sheet metal of the package shelf — that’s hard to believe.

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  3. As far as the PCA guy goes, he did seem a little “abrupt” in his driving to me too, especially for a check ride, although that doesn’t excuse the instructor. I do wonder how much smoother he’d be if he paddle shifted for himself? Especially once someone’s cleared for solo, it seems odd to see him relying on the automatic.

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    1. If you watch his other videos, he’s a pretty good driver. He’s driving well below his limit. Maybe that’s why he’s letting the car shift for him? His driving was apparently too fast for the instructor though. He should have driven 5/10ths instead of 7.

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      1. I watched that video a few times to try and understand what went on and while I agree the instructor was out of line, I don’t agree with the narrative that the driver was at 7/10ths. Yes, he had dialed it down compared to his solo laps, and was driving well, but he was making some small corrections and sliding the tires a little in places. We may be debating semantics here, but I would put that at 8/10ths, and maybe even slightly above once he got to the west side.

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  4. Head clearance in my 86 with race seat bolted to floor for 6′ with helmet is around 4 inches. Biggest issue is lack of current race series, but for HPDE an 86 is great (and very similar to Miata and S2k in handling and performance).

    Miata Cup rollbar seems to provide adequate rollover protection but it is bulky. Doubt it would allow use of a roof. And it sits right next to the SIDE of my head.

    I recognize grassroots events aren’t ever going to have pro level safety equipment, but imho most mods should be safety mods, and safety should be a higher priority in chosing a track car.

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  5. Completely different topic. I’ve been bugging my old lemon’s friends about a C4 as a Lemon’s car. What’s your opinion? I think – power’s easy to get, lots of suspension setup information, big tires, good brakes, etc. etc. what’s not to love?

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    1. If you asked me last year what I thought of a C4 Lemons car, I would have said it wasn’t very Lemony. But the 80s version of the C4 had only 250 hp in a 3200 lb package, and while that power:weight is better than most A class cars, it doesn’t have the handling of a Miata or 3-series. Driving one was pretty fun, and I kept wanting to see what it would do if really pushed. I think it would make a fun car to theme as well.

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  6. When and where was Brad Kellett’s message posted? I have been following the saga the week that the video was released, saw Jim’s message, and then didn’t check back for a couple days, only to find the video deleted.

    P.S. I am also happy to offer my Fiesta for the duel; GGR is already familiar with its capabilities ;-)

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