Q: “A friend of mine watched a video of me with an instructor in my car, and thought the instructor was a distraction to me as we talked about all sorts of things (corner workers, the weather, etc.). The instructor felt I drove better when my mind was somewhat off of the track since if I focused too hard, I tried too hard, and it seemed I would start overdriving the car. If I just let my intuition and instincts drive, I drove better. He advised me to just have fun driving after this. Another time I had an instructor asking me about things I had done to the car in previous times and complimenting the looks, style, performance, etc. while we were climbing uphill Esses at VIR. He apparently felt the same way. 

“I was wondering how you feel about an instructor doing this. What is your general feeling towards an instructor using this method? Was it appropriate? I suppose how appropriate it is may depend on the driver as well? I feel like I’m somehow strange or unorthodox since apparently I don’t mind this sort of thing while I’m driving, so I just wanted to know if you could give me an opinion. Is it ever appropriate as an instructor to talk to a student about anything but the here and now, in your opinion, or is that up to the instructor and student relationship to determine what’s best for them?”

A: For sure, there are times when “distracting” a driver from trying too hard can be a good thing, whether that is distracting yourself, or an instructor doing that. And you’re right, how much depends on the driver, so there is no one single approach that works for all drivers. For some, distracting them at all is a bad thing, so it’s got to be used appropriately.

Distracting a driver (and that term, “distracting” might not be the best one to use, but you get the idea) can help in two ways. First, as I said, it stops the driver from trying too hard. We all know that we never turn our best laps when we’re trying really hard. So, focusing on anything other than the lap time can help.

Second, some conversation can help a driver relax, and that’s when we usually drive at our best. It’s when we trust our mental programming to just drive.

But one has to have enough of the mental programming to be there to trust. For an inexperienced driver, an instructor really needs to be careful not to distract them too much. Again, some conversation can relax the driver, but too much distraction can lead to something bad happening due to brain overload (because the basics have not been programmed deep enough yet).

That leads me to how I approach a situation where I notice a driver trying too hard. If I think the driver just needs to relax, then a bit of random conversation can help. But if I see that he’s just overdriving, I distract him by having him focus on something other than lap times or speed. For example, I might ask him to be hyper-aware of his brake release, and even rate the smoothness of it on a scale of 1-10. That distracts him from trying too hard, but keeps him focused on the act of driving. Or, this is where I would use the Sensory Input Sessions that I recommend in my books (and elsewhere).