Q: “One subject that I have not seen or maybe just missed is cones (markers) and their use as a teaching tool. My feeling is that they should only be used as a marker in reconnaissance laps and then pulled. Here is how and why I have come to that conclusion. If a driver is supposed to be looking ahead, checking his surroundings, seeing where he wants to go then why are we putting something on the ground as a distraction. I’ve had students turn in better and drive better on the second day of events when the cones were removed. I’ve had some students remark that they are a distraction to them. It’s very easy to say don’t concentrate on the large bright orange object, the one that is sitting on the ground where you should not even be looking, but it is a lot harder to actually do it. I try to relate to people that if they were driving on the street, they would never be looking in that direction so don’t change that part of your driving. If you come off the thruway at any exit speed you don’t look down to see where you are on the ramp. So here is what I’m doing to try and correct this fault because after years of driving and instructing I realize that I am often guilty of “point-to-point“ driving myself. I have been experimenting by putting blue painter’s tape on the windshield. One line where I don’t want to be looking below and a parallel line that I don’t want to be looking above. Elevation changes, of course, will be an exception. I find myself looking through a narrower window and my eyes are not traveling down but instead looking ahead for other markers that are within my field of vision rather than on the ground. What do you think?”
A: I agree with you about the cones. Yes, they’re okay for a short period of time to get the basic understanding of where the track goes and how to drive the line, but after that, they should be removed. Of course, every driver takes a different amount of time to get that basic understanding (which is partly dependent on how much knowledge they show up with), so it’s hard to have a set time for how long they should be used. I’ve instructed some students that are good with no cones, some with cones for 2 or 3 laps, and then some that found them helpful for a couple of sessions, but after that they should all go away. The challenge for some HPDE organizations is that the ideal situation would require cones having to be set up and taken down multiple times throughout the day if they have multiple levels/groups. But still, I agree with you that they are waaaaaay overused.
Another problem I’ve seen many times is relatively-inexperienced drivers doing everything they can to avoid hitting a cone at the track-out point, and in doing so, they put so much steering angle in that they spin the car. It’s a natural response to not want to hit something, and the consequences can be dangerous.
I’ve used tape on the windshield a number of times, and it definitely helps with a lot of drivers. The only downside is that it seems to limit the amount of scanning and movement of a driver’s vision more than it should. It kind of creates a small window that some drivers won’t look beyond. So, it’s mostly a very good approach, with that one downside. I spent over two years researching how the best drivers use their vision, and created a whole training program just around that, and the scanning and changing focal points is critical — and sometimes this vision movement could go beyond the taped window. Still, if a driver spent even a couple of on-track sessions with the tape, they’d get the idea of how far ahead this scanning and changing of focal points should be, and I think it would create good habits.