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.
I’m going to somewhat disagree respectfully with you Rachel and Ross. What we are talking about here is driving in hpdE, emphsasis on the E or Education part.
Yes as an advanced group driver I have found the cones distracting at times and I have killed the cones a few times if they were misplaced for my driving level.
However, We need to remember that the cones are not placed for the advanced group, but for the Novices that we hope will advance through the levels and become like us.
What we teach at the novice level is to guide them through the course, not necessarily the fastest way around but the safest way.
As they advance in their skills and progress through the system we can ( and should) expect that the student will look beyond the cones and hit the marks we teach on their own.
I’m not a fan of placing tape on my windshield either, I find it distracting.
I love doing hpde’s and I’ve found that that I love and enjoy the system and teaching driving skills to our friends.
The cones pull novice eyes down.
The cones are a crutch for lazy instructors and should be used for the shortest time practcal.
I’m not a huge fan of cones either and tend to ‘ignore’ them with my students if they are being used. Instead, before we go on track, I give them my ‘top three things to pay attention to while on track’, especially for brand new track students.
#1 Pay attention to the corner workers first because they are your only ability to see around corners. If someone is spun in the middle of the track and you come around a corner too fast because you missed a corner worker flag, bad things can happen. And, here’s an additional benefit: Most folks pay too much attention to the front of the car (keeping their vision low) when they first get to the track. So, instead of anticipating where the car is going to go, they try to react to where the car is… poorly. Because by the time you are reacting to where the car is, it is already past that point. Vision is one of the most important track skills, so what we are going to do is play a game where you let me know how early and often you can see each corner worker station (manned and unmanned because the corner workers can move around during a weekend). This is going to build in that look-ahead skill right from the start. So, if all you learn today is to see every corner worker station early and often, you win the DE!
#2 There will be a car in front of you and a car behind you. Our second most important thing to pay attention to is where those two cars are and how they are driving. The reason we pay so much attention to those cars is that there are people in them. And people can do unpredictable things. Our goal is to have smooth passing interaction with those cars. We’ll use car position and speed differential to communicate to those cars how we’d like the passing to work. Either which side we’d like to pass on or where we’d like to pass them. Realize that the car in front of you always controls which side you’re going to pass on, so you may communicate that you’d like to go by on the driver’s side only to have them point you by on the passenger’s side. That’s OK. We’ll just go around the other side. If you see the corner workers early and often, and you also add in smooth passing interaction with the other drivers, you win the DE twice!
#3 There is a most efficient way around a track called ‘the line’. We worry about the line third because vision and smooth passing are much more important than driving the right line. I then explain turn in, apex, track out, cheating an entrance, and pinching an exit and follow that up with; If you see corner workers early and often, and have smooth passing interaction with other drivers, and also drive the line, then you super win the DE! The cool thing about this sport is that there is still a ton of other things to learn like how and where you brake, how you get on the throttle, etc. but we can pay attention to those things a bit more once we’ve got the first three things down.
So, we never mentioned the cones at all before we go out on track, and if they do bring them up while we are on track, I’ll remind them that there are more important things to pay attention to, and also mention that the cone may or may not be in the right position because someone might have put it down in the wrong place and/or another driver may have hit the cone and moved it.
One other factor to bear in mind is the risk factor of the track. My home track is in a big grassy field, and drivers do just fine with no cones. But when I went to a facility with lots of concrete walls and very little runoff, the organizers had cones up for the entire weekend. That felt like a good idea to me.