At UC Davis, I usually teach classes on genomics, bioinformatics, and programming. That’s where my expertise lies. But it turns out that one can teach almost anything in college. I find it funny that if you want to teach kids in elementary school you need degrees in teaching but nobody even cares at the college level. So I teach classes on writing and driving, topics I haven’t studied nearly as much.
Since this was the first time I taught a First Year Seminar on High Performance Driving, the course organization and content was a bit scatterbrained. It will get better in the future. On the last day of class, we went to Turn 2 Racing so the students could drive some high-end simulation rigs. That was good fun, as expected, but it also turned out to be surprisingly educational to me.
Left foot braking
With the exception of the few times I’ve been karting, I never brake with my left foot. It feels alien to me and I have absolutely no subtlety. It’s like an on/off switch. Unfortunately, some of the rigs are set up so that you have to brake on the left. While that might be okay in some cars, we had set up an NA Miata without assists, so there was no auto-blip. This meant that shifting could really upset the car if you did it at the wrong time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could adapt to both left-foot braking and no heel-toe. It took me about 2-3 laps to figure out how to blend the brake and throttle so that shifting didn’t upset the car. I didn’t analyze the individual movements and commit them to memory. I just let my body take over and it worked out okay. After 10 minutes I had set lap times less than a second off of what I do at home where I’m much more comfortable. That was a HUGE surprise.
Not everyone starts from zero
Another educational experience for me was watching the other students drive. The fastest student (high 1:03) had done a lot of Xbox-style driving but never on a sim. And yet his steering corrections and pedal work were pretty refined. Where did he get those skills? The next fastest student (low 1:04) had done a lot of real racing, but not sim racing. Some people don’t adapt well to the virtual world, but he did very well. Most of the other students were several seconds off pace. At the novice level, people can have very different abilities. I think that after a month of training, the rank order could be very different. Just like in math, music, or basketball, not every starts at the same level and not everyone learns at the same rate. And the order may change again several years down the line because some people have the motivation to keep learning after the shine wears off.
Overall, the students thought the class was fun and educational. But they wanted more simulation driving and more videos. What did they want less of? Math and physics. They say you lose half your audience with each equation. But I think it’s more about the pacing. There’s a time to talk about math, and it’s probably not the first thing.
If you want to pretend you joined our class for the day at Turn 2 Racing, load up Assetto Corsa and choose NA Miata and Brands Hatch Indy. Use all of the defaults including weather, tires (Street 90), camber, fuel, etc. Note that this is by no means the fastest way to drive the NA Miata. You get two 15 minute sessions.
- 1:06.X – you’re a good student
- 1:05.X – you beat the TA
- 1:04.X – you’re in the elite group at the top of the class
- 1:03.X – you’re teacher’s pet
- 1:02.7 – my left-foot braking time
- 1:01.9 – my right-foot braking time (at home)
I’m teaching the class again next quarter. I have some new ideas how to make it more fun and more educational, including a non-linear unschooling syllabus. More on that later.