Q: “I am sure you get this question plenty of times a day, but I’d like to spark the conversation. I have been listening to your podcast and started reading your book to try to progress. I have only been to three track days so far, all of them were last year. Because of finances and trying to make my car safer this year (brakes and harnesses) I haven’t gone to an HPDE event yet this year, but will be at the Glen soon.
“Anyway, my question to you is, how do you progress while having three different instructors in three different events. Yes, they were all helpful in their own ways, one even guided me to your books, but it is hard to track progress without any basis. My only basis to know I am progressing is becoming able to drive my car comfortably at the limit of my tires. I don’t have any information gathering devices to know track times, but I have taken videos of my events. Any advice?
“Thank you for all the content. I will continue to enjoy and rave about your podcast and book to everyone.”
A: That’s a tricky question! Lap times are a very basic way of measuring progress, but at least they’re easy to read. Your gut feel about your sense of understanding is not as easy to measure, but may be a better metric. As you’ve probably figured out already, it’s one thing to turn a specific lap time, and another completely to do it with less effort.
I strongly recommend to drivers that they keep a notebook (on paper, which is even better than typing notes on a smartphone), and write down their thoughts after each session on track. Note how much effort you felt you were putting in, and what the lap time result was (if you’re able to get that; if you need to get it later from your video, leave a place to make note of it); what you learned (the more, the better); track and car conditions; what an instructor told you (so you don’t forget). I like to use a 1-10 rating system, too: “On a scale of 1-10, how smooth did I drive?”, “On a scale of 1-10, how was my overall understanding of what I was working on?”, “On a scale of 1-10, how close did I feel I drove to the limits of the car/tires?”, etc.
Oh, and write down any and all feedback you get from your instructors. It would be great if you only ever had one, because he/she could give you feedback on how you’re doing and the progress you’re making, but that doesn’t always happen – as you know. That’s why I encourage drivers to make notes and rate themselves. I think that by doing that, you’ll be more aware of your progress – and what you need to continue to work on.
Of course, if you have the opportunity to do so, do what it takes to go back to an instructor you had earlier and ask for an evaluation. Most will be pleased that you’ve asked for their input and feedback.
Having said that, there are benefits to having different instructors, as you’ll learn different things from them. Yes, early on it’s good to have a consistent baseline, and not have a lot of different inputs, but then it’s good to get perspectives from different instructors.
You mention not having any lap timing device, and that’s not a bad thing. Focus on your own performance, on the act of driving, and the result (lap time) will happen. But you do have video, and that’s a great way of checking progress after a day at the track. You can even use a stopwatch/smartphone timer to take your lap times while watching your video. Just pick a consistent spot on the video (start/finish line is usually visible) and start and stop your timer while replaying it.
I really believe that if you make a habit of self-evaluating, you’ll see progress – as well as have a better understanding of what you should be working on. Be aware that we often are our own self-critics, though. As you improve, you become more aware of what you need to improve, so you can actually think you’re not improving when you are. Give yourself a break and be easy on yourself! Be honest with yourself – it’s one time we don’t need worry about being humble!