Instructors Teach To Their Own Level
Published: December 2, 2013; updated: May 12, 2014
I have enough experience instructing that I feel comfortable making the assertion in this article's title: instructors only teach to their own level, not beyond it.
This, of course, makes perfect sense. How can someone teach what they don't know?
The issue is that sometimes students do not realize how much (or little) instructors know.
Instructors will virtually always teach, at most, up to their own aggression level. I imagine this statement can be false, but my imagination does not permit me to construct an example. As far as I can see, if an instructor teaches something they must at least visualize, imagine or reason about that thing, which requires them to at least mentally accept the required aggression level. For safety reasons I will not teach anything that goes beyond my own driving ability; in other words, if I cannot drive the way I teach, I would not teach that. I am yet to encounter an instructor who would.
If you want to learn how to slide the car you need an instructor who does that themselves. Instructors who don't, even if they understand the theory behind it, will often not allow it due to fear for their life.
Similar situation applies to very high horsepower cars - instructors who drive Corvettes are more likely to be agreeable to high straightaway speeds than instructors who drive Miatas.
Is an instructor going to be able to teach trailbraking if they have never trailbraked in their life? Probably not. Imagine being taught to drive a manual transmission car by someone who cannot drive one themselves. There are plenty of instructors who come up through HPDE ranks but do not have any competition experience who never learned some of the advanced driving techniques.
It is common for HPDE programs nowadays to express the sentiment that "a great driver is not necessarily a great instructor". While this is true, the more advanced a student is, the better driver their instructor needs to be to be useful.
An instructor is most knowledgeable, comfortable and aggressive in a car similar to the one(s) they drive, or have driven, extensively. For many instructors this is a single type of car. Very few non-instructor drivers have significant experience with more than two types of cars.
"Type" of car can refer to engine placement (front/mid/rear), driving wheels (front/rear/all), suspension (soft-street/stiff-race), and tires (street/R compound/slicks). Take someone who has been driving street Mustangs for their track day "career" and put them into a race-prepared Civic and they will need quite some time to figure out the car, during which not much instruction will be happening. Again, novice drivers are typically slow enough that car specifics do not make much of a difference, but even at intermediate level this stops being the case.
Nowadays HPDE instructors mostly learn "other" car types by instructing students in them, that is, they learn on the job. This typically takes years. That said, traction sensing and aggression - in that order! - is often more important than experience when it comes to lap time.
Similar situation as with car knowledge.
An instructor who has never driven the given track can typically learn the school line within a couple of laps. As instructors are typically on track before novice drivers, by the time the instructor has to instruct their novice student the instructor has enough laps to be useful. However, even instructors need several sessions to find a fast line and become consistent at speed on a new track, and their usefulness to intermediate/advanced drivers looking for more expert help is limited during the learning period.
Some organizations require their instructors to have at least one day of solo driving at the track they are to instruct at for this reason.
If you are an intermediate or advanced driver and you want to go faster, you should seek out an instructor who:
- Has your aggression level or higher;
- Drives a car similar to yours or has a significant number of years of experience instructing;
- Has a significant number of days driving at the track you are driving.
The caveat here is learning cars and tracks is typically much easier than increasing one's aggression level. If you are willing and able to work with an instructor over several sessions, picking an aggressive instructor can be more productive over picking someone who is familiar with your car and the track. If you are comfortable with this, allowing your instructor to drive your car will accelerate their learning process, with the bonus that said instructor will be familiar not just with your type of car, but with your particular car making them that much more relevant.