What a Difference Ten Months Makes
In March of 2009 I received a phone call from a young man named Andrew Novich. Andrew had just found out he had been chosen to participate in the Volkswagen TDI Cup and he wanted to learn more about driver coaching. Andrew had met Liam Kenney, a long time Speed Secrets driver, at the TDI Cup shootout at Infineon Raceway a few weeks previously and when Andrew asked Liam how he was able to do so well in the previous season he credited much of his success to Speed Secrets coaching.
At the time Andrew called we were organizing an Inner Speed Secrets seminar at BeaveRun raceway in Pennsylvania. We arranged to have Andrew attend the seminar and do two days on track in a Mazda 6 - putting to use what he learned the previous day in the seminar. This young man took care of all of the logistics of getting to Pittsburgh and arranging payment for the seminar. During this process we realized we were making all these arrangements and we had yet to speak to a parent. We actually wondered if this was a kid’s wishful thinking until we asked to speak to Andrew’s mother Kim. She told us about his maturity and how he took care of his own karting career and how she just shows up at races when he tells her to! With her approval in place, we finalized the arrangements and made plans to work with Andrew at BeaveRun.
The first day on track was not as smooth a day as we like to see. There was a lot of work to do and Andrew struggled in the brake zones with this car. We ran through the usual Speed Secrets exercises like sensory inputs, setting defined objectives and focused on specific things to improve his driving. Still, Andrew struggled in the brake zones and when he asked me to take the wheel and show him I realized what he was coping with. The ABS system on this car was difficult to deal with and that was hurting Andrew’s confidence on track.
After two days on track seeing some really good things in Andrew I knew that this young driver had what it takes to excel in this sport - and that he has. His mother came to me at the end of the two days and asked the question all parents ask after the first outing “is he ready to move up to cars, would we be wasting our money and most of all will he be safe if we put him in the TDI Cup”. These questions are usually hard to answer as a coach at this point, since testing won’t tell you how a driver is in traffic and what he will be like when the green flag waves. However in Andrew’s case, these questions weren’t as hard to answer. The maturity level Andrew displayed told me he would be smart in the car. I still didn’t know how he would handle the pressures of running in a race but I knew that he was smart and it wouldn’t take him long to catch on and deal with challenges as they arose.
In April, Andrew participated in his first TDI Cup race. Andrew had lots to learn but with his intelligence and maturity I knew he would continue improving. He finished his first TDI Cup race in 10th spot after starting 21st. This was a great result for Andrew and he was off to a good start.
The rest of the season was full of ups and downs as Andrew worked hard on adapting to the front wheel drive VW TDI diesels. Andrew finished the season in 17th in points with three top tens under his belt. It was not the storybook season everyone hopes for but it did give Andrew good insight into what he needed to work on for his future.
After the last race of the season Andrew made a huge commitment to his career and began testing in anything he could get his hands on. We knew that with more seat time, and careful coaching Andrew would build on what he had learned during the TDI Cup season. Andrew and I worked on the disciplines of driving where I felt he was hurting and it didn’t take long before he was turning competitive lap times. He did a number of track day events in an Acura RSX, Spec Miata and tested with APR Motorsports in their Continental Tire Challenge ST class VW Golf at Barber Motorsport Park. This aggressive schedule resulted in Andrew getting the opportunity to run the 25 hour race at Thunderhill.
At one point during the testing Andrew became frustrated with the pace of his progress and lack of instant results. We had a long talk and he finally realized that he wasn’t going to find that “silver bullet” - that one special Speed Secret that makes him instantly 2 seconds faster and that he had to take things into his own hands by working harder and smarter. He began to focus more on objectives rather than the results - making sure objectives were carried out in a productive manner. Most of all, he began to understand that it’s important to be patient in order to go faster.
The 25 hour race was a great learning experience. Andrew’s driving really turned the corner. In a long race like that you have four other drivers that are counting on you to bring the car back in one piece so they can drive their stint, so preservation is of utmost importance. Other than being contacted by another car on the straight, Andrew drove two flawless stints and for the longest time held the team’s fastest lap of the race – set during his night time stint - and really showed his maturity.
Away from the track, Andrew kept his nose to the grindstone with his school work, maintaining a 4.2-4.5 grade point average, all the while looking for something to do to get back on the track. While looking through a magazine he noticed an ad for a team out of Florida named Irish Mike that raced VW Jettas in the Grand Am ST class. He called me to ask my opinion and I told him he had nothing to lose by calling them to see if they were looking for drivers. From there, 2010 started on a great note.
We attended the January test days at Daytona under extremely cold conditions to do a one day test with this new team, Irish Mike. He was paired up with pro driver Randy Pobst who had been hired by the team for the season. By the end of the day, Andrew was turning lap times within half a second of Pobst. At the end of the day the team was very happy with Andrew’s performance and I was ecstatic with what he had done. What a feeling it must be to be 17 years old and driving at Daytona doing as well as he did!
There were two weeks between the test and the race at Daytona, which was run in conjunction with the Rolex 24 hour race. Just over a week before the Continental Tire Challenge race at Daytona Andrew and his mother were thrown a curve ball by the Grand Am lawyers. In their rule book a driver can only compete if they are 18 years old or have been completely emancipated. Getting the court work done in time to leave for Daytona for the first test day turned out to be a rather daunting task. As it turned out Andrew was granted emancipation at 10:30am Tuesday morning (boy, there were big smiles in that court room) and we were all on a flight by 10:00pm that night taking a redeye in order to get to Daytona in time for setup day and be on track Thursday morning.
Only after dealing with all the logistics of getting passes and hotels and having the proper radio equipment installed into his helmet along with the helmet ejector system did we get time to focus on the track, car and objectives for the next two days. It felt like “finally, the race is here - now for the easy stuff!”
I believe the amount of adversity that Andrew dealt with during the week and a half leading up to the event drove him to excel during the weekend and made him an even better driver. In typical Andrew style he came through with shining colors.
The car didn’t have the best setup on it, as we missed it a little and with it being a brand new car there were a few bugs to work out. Randy started the race after a great qualifying effort put us in the 4th spot but once the flag dropped it was obvious that it was going to be tough to hang onto that starting position. Randy drove the first half of the race and when a yellow came out about an hour and ten minutes into the two and half hour race, the team put on new tires, made a small shock change and Andrew got into the car for his first Grand Am race stint. I am not sure of the actual position we were in when Andrew got into the car but it was somewhere in the high teens to low twenties. Andrew put his head down and focused on adapting to what the car was giving him.
Andrew drove as incident free as you can in a Continental Tire race, running consistent lap times that were those of a seasoned professional. During a full course yellow he came on the radio to give a complete report on what the car was doing and then when the green fell again there was not a peep out of him other wanting to know about cars around him. Andrew set out focused with specific objectives and at the end of the race had accomplished all his objectives along with turning a lap time within half a second of Randy’s time. Andrew brought the car home with an 11th place finish - what an accomplishment!
When all the dust had settled and I was on the plane leaving Florida I got to thinking “Wow, look what this young man has accomplished in 10 short months!” and thought his story deserves to be told.
This sport is not an easy one - it can be more cruel than glamorous. What Andrew has accomplished in his first 10 months tells me that he has a great future ahead if he keeps up the hard work.
Andrew’s plans for this season are to compete in the VW Jetta TDI series, making a hard charge for the championship. He also plans to compete in as many other events in as many different cars as possible within the testing and racing rules established by the VW TDI Cup series. Makes you wonder what the next ten months will bring.