By on May 11, 2018

Tony Horton, the creator and lead trainer for the P90X series, has a frequent saying about not letting your ego get in the way of your success. Don’t use 25-pound dumbbells for an exercise when you really need to use 15s, etc. It can be tough, especially at the beginning (when you’re not terribly strong yet), and you’re using weights that look more like they belong in a Richard Simmons workout than a P90X workout, but it’s the only way to build up enough strength and get the results you want.

About five weeks ago, I realized that I was terribly out of shape. Well, that’s not really true. I had known that I was out of shape for much longer than that, but I hadn’t actually done anything about it. With the traveling for business and the parenting and the soccer coaching and the socializing, I had taken my concerns about my physical fitness and placed them in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”

So it wasn’t until five weeks ago that I decided to take action and throw the old P90X3 discs back in the Blu-ray player and get my ass moving. Good news is that I’m down double digits in weight, my resting heart rate is down about 11 beats a minute, and I’m on the path back to being physically fit again. This is, of course, completely uninteresting to you, but there’s a point coming up here in a second.

I drove my loaner Lotus Evora 400 down to Atlanta Motorsports Park for an SCCA “Track Night in America” this week, and I’ll have a full write-up of whether or not it’s a good idea to drive 700 miles in one day for a track session next week, as well as the rest of my impressions of the car. However, today I want to talk about what I saw in the Intermediate session. It wasn’t good.

There can be no denying the success of the Track Night program, especially when it comes to expanding the SCCA’s membership and participation. For $150, you can get three 20-minute sessions at some of the world’s best tracks, and over 7,000 people are doing just that every year. You can read my previous reviews of the program here and here. I’m a huge fan of what the SCCA is doing with their experiential programs, including the upcoming Time Trials Nationals program.

In order to keep the number of cars on track somewhat manageable, the drivers are broken into three groups — Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced. While drivers are required to put their prior driving experience on their application form, it’s more or less a self-selection. Having attended a few of these events now, I can say, without hesitation, that the most dangerous drivers are the ones who select “Intermediate.”

Novices are aware that they’re novices, and they tend to drive very slowly and safely. Advanced drivers have at least a few events under their belts and understand that there’s nothing to be won at a track day except a hefty damage bill. Intermediate drivers? Hoo boy.

The vast majority of them picked “Intermediate” for one reason and one reason only — ego. In reality, they’re novices, but they don’t want to admit it. They’ve typically got too much horsepower and not enough skill. They have low eyes and twitchy hands, and they treat the brakes and accelerator like on/off switches. They focus directly on the car ahead of them, and they only measure the success of their session by how many cars they passed versus how many cars passed them. They scream at drivers ahead of them for not giving point-bys, while completely ignoring the car that’s filling up their mirrors behind them.

In the Intermediate sessions, I watched a guy with an Italian exotic refuse to give point-bys to Civics and Miatas who were on his bumper, ignore a black flag for four laps, and then put two wheels off track several times. I believe he was asked to leave before his third and final session. I watched a guy straight line his car for over 200 feet through a sandtrap and into a tire wall for no apparent reason that I could see — it looked like he either had a heart attack or just forgot that his car had brakes.

It doesn’t have to be like this, guys.

Just because you have a fast car, that doesn’t mean you’re a fast driver, okay? I give mad respect to those guys who bring fast cars to Track Night but realize that they aren’t fast drivers — not yet, anyway. I watched a driver with a Challenger 392 line up for the Novice class, and smartly bring his car back in when his brakes started to fade. I saw a guy with an immaculate S2000 AP1 give point-bys to several lower-powered cars who had more track experience and skill than he did. That’s worthy of respect.

I had my own ego check on track that night. I lined the Evora up directly in front of this beautiful Camaro SS for my third session, and I didn’t figure I’d have too much trouble keeping him behind me. On my second lap, I tired of driving 10/10 just to keep him in my rearview, and gave him the point-by out of Turn 6. Impressed with both the car’s performance and the skill of the driver, I went over after the session to talk to him and found out that his Camaro was previously a GM Performance SEMA show car, and it had all the go-fast bits from an ZL1 and the suspension of a Z28. His car was faster and he was a better driver than I was. There’s no shame in that. Get your ego out of the way.

I know that proper track instruction is expensive, and not everybody has the luxury of getting free coaching from IndyCar and Blancpain GT drivers (Hi Tristan and Alex!), but I promise you that everybody will be safer and have more fun if you save up the cash you spent on those dope rims and put it toward some actual driving instruction instead. If you can’t afford a professional driving school, then force the SCCA to kick you out of the Novice group on your fifth or seventh or tenth Track Night.

And when you’ve earned the right to call yourself “Intermediate” or “Advanced,” then I’ll look forward to having you as my on-track teammate. Until then, however, your ego is endangering yourself and everybody around you.

[Images: Mark “Bark M.” Baruth/TTAC]

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21 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Your Ego Is Getting in the Way of Becoming a Better and Safer Driver...”

  • avatar

    Very informative. I will put my ego away now and ask “Where can I go in Michigan to participate in these events. This sounds like a real good time.

    • 0 avatar

      Gingerman Raceway near South Haven on the west side of the state hosts Track Nights. I am not sure if there is anything near Detroit.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve been to a few of these at Gingerman. They are always well run and the track has the added benefit of being very safe, with wide open space and almost no walls. Easily worth the couple hour drive for me.

        • 0 avatar

          I will add to the accolades for Gingerman. I’ve done a couple of HPDEs there. Lots of run off room, good pavement.

          Plus, the nearby town of South Haven is one of my favorite places on earth.

  • avatar

    Pretty much why I stopped attending Porsche DE events.

  • avatar

    Pro tip I learned the really hard way about a week ago…. no matter what group you are in, if a crash would hurt your pockets, get the G-D track insurance. ~10 minutes on the Hagerty website would have saved me a 5 figure sum.

    Or, you could just go karting and save yourself the potential danger of triple digit speed impacts. Good driving, with the main metric being low accident rates, is basically foolproof in the context of traffic and modern cars.

    • 0 avatar

      This. Go Karts have 150% of the fun, 1% of the cost, and 0% of the risk. There is a reason why good handling cars are described as “handling like a go kart”

  • avatar

    I’m not sure if you got to drive in the Novice group too, but I did a Track Night at PittRace last year and signed up for the novice group (as I’ve only done 3 PCA HPDEs). They do a brief session at the beginning of the night for the novice group, a couple lead-follow laps with one of the instructors, but if you’re not up front then you basically lose the real line.

    I saw drivers who had clearly never been on track before, to people who thought they were rockstars passing outside of the passing zones, without point-bys, under yellow flag conditions. The instructors that you meet with in huddle sessions after each driving session unfortunately have no teeth, short of black flagging a driver and kicking them out.

    It’s a cheap way to get track time, but I was so scared of how unpredictable the other novices were that I probably won’t go back.

  • avatar

    What’s a point by?

    • 0 avatar

      In the Novice (and sometimes Intermediate) group a “point by” is required for passing. The driver ahead must acknowledge that the car behind is faster and point their hand in the direction in which the pass should happen. IE: pass me on the right, or pass me on the left. It like using turn signal but MUCH better on track. This allows for the safest possible pass since both parties are completely aware of the situation.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

  • avatar

    Intermediate is always a mixed bag. As it tends to be a catch all. You’ve got drivers who have been on track before so they no longer believe they are novices plus you have guys who are very good but not fast enough to be in advanced. Since I am an instructor at HPDE events I get put into the Advanced group automatically. Personally I am not a fan of it because that group tends to have really fast cars and very aggressive drivers. And of course not all of them really belong there either.

    Thus I’ve always thought there should be TWO immediate groups broken out by lap times. This way you’ll still have the same idiots but they will all be going about the same speed. My problem is regardless of skill level you have cars that are so insanely fast that even the most ham fisted driver can whip them around the course in record time. This results in some scary high closing speeds… and that makes things unsafe. I’ve had those 911 GT3 go by me like I’m staying still on the fastest part of the course. By the time you check your mirrors they are gone, I don’t even get a chance to give them a friendly point by!

    For example I was instructing a guy in a Camaro ZL1 a few weeks back. Thankfully his ego was in check, in fact a little too much. He had zero confidence and was honestly scared of the car, not that I can’t blame him, its a BEAST. So basically the problem was he couldn’t drive and thus was holding up everyone in the turns but then blasting by almost all cars on the straights. This is pretty standard behavior in the Novice class, but I’ve encountered the same people in the Intermediate and sometimes Advanced group. When your new Corvette is being passed by my 15 year old 350Z you are clearly in the wrong group and need to drop down a peg (ego check! for sure).

    I actually had a guy in a Viper point me by once. After our session I came into the pits to apologize for holding him up since I assumed he was letting me pass just to get a gap. However he admitted he wasn’t very good and wasn’t pushing that hard but was impressed that I caught him and thus wanted to follow me to see my line. So that was cool.

    Most people I’ve met at track days are pretty good at checking their ego at the door. If not they quickly get overwhelmed and realize they should shut up and listen to me so they can learn. I’ve posted this before but I still feel safer on track then I do on the highway simply because on track everyone is doing the same thing. I’ve seen some bonehead moves but its pretty rare. I once had a guy in a WRX get upset because I was holding him up – on the out lap! So he passed me… but just two turns later I saw him sideways off track. As they guy who runs our group said: seems he ran out of talent.

  • avatar
    Hamilton Guy

    I belong to a Toronto area club that rents Mosport’s Driver Development Track 3 times a season:

    We have novice, intermediate and groups and are quick to black flag anyone misbehaving. One or two warnings depending on the nature of the offense and your gone.

    Maintaining that level of discipline makes for a fun, safe day for everyone. My favourite attendee was a guy with very powerful AMG Mercedes. He was enrolled in intermediate and was quite good, but the real reason he was there was his daughter (in novice), just got her full licence and he said that if she was going drive the AMG, she had to learn how to handle it properly. Good for him and she was probably the best novice student that day.

  • avatar

    Loved the HHGttG reference. Thank you for that.

    Thank you for this article. In the era of “LookAtMeOnMySocialFeed”, this idea needs to take hold. Good one, sir.

  • avatar
    Mike C.

    I drove for several years in the Porsche Club driving school events and at that time they broke it into 5 levels starting with novice and up to instructor. Level 4 was when they allowed you to drive alone (I think 2 instructors had to sign off that you were ready). It seemed to work well and kept egos mostly in check. I was driving a plain vanilla 944 but would change to a set of sticky Yokohama A008Rs at the track. The sticky tires made such an incredible difference in the fun level. Not that I was an exceptional driver but several times I had guys with much more powerful cars (who pointed me by) would come over and ask “what have you got in there?” and I would point to the tires… They only lasted for 5-6 hours of track time though.

  • avatar

    I have to agree with Bark 100%. I used to be involved in running local motocross racing. I called the Intermediate class the “Crash Class”. They most often were the guys needing my paramedic skills. If nothing happened in the first moto it was guaranteed to happen in the 2nd when they were tired and trying to better their results.

    “Your Ego Is Getting in the Way of Becoming a Better and Safer Driver” also applies to driving on the street.

  • avatar

    Same in mountaineering. “Intermediate” is a dangerous stage, in an inherently dangerous activity. I found I was getting just good enough to want to try things that could get me into trouble, but I wasn’t yet good enough to get myself out of trouble. That’s a stage at which you really need formal instruction. You have to let someone teach you the easy way, because you won’t get a second chance to learn the hard way.

    Reaching a mountain peak becomes like a mental compulsion, and a real feeling of depression and self-disgust results if you have to turn back without summiting. It takes a lot of “push” to do certain things, like climbing a mountain–then it becomes hard to stop pushing.

    Happily, my friend and I have so far been good enough to recognize when we’re not good enough. It’s still a crushing blow to one’s pride, to abort a long-anticipated climb, when conditions are otherwise perfect. It hurt when we knew the only reason for failure was our own inadequacy. But that’s still better than getting injured or killed, or worst of all, getting somebody else injured or killed.

  • avatar

    Resting heart rate of 11 beats a minute? That’s definitely your ego talking. Dial that back to the “novice” 60-100.

  • avatar

    Interesting commentary. as others have noted, its not an SCCA thing but everywhere. The HP wars certainly have made it worse,says the guy who tracks a Miata :)

  • avatar

    I see plenty of people in advanced who are frankly all ego and probably should be in intermediate. But its a buisness and part of that buisness is graduating people up the classes.

    If mustangs are known for spining into crowds at cars and cofee then vette drivers are known for being in classes way above their skill levels.

    Ill question how anyone thinks they can learn to drive starting off in a 400+hp car.

    Some of the best learning you can do is trying to follow a great miata driver into bends. All you have to do is hang back elsewhere so you dont pass them and then try pace them into the apex.

    Maybe racing schools should be mandatory for anyone going past whats known as novice.

    i also think disobeying black flags not giving point bys etc shoud be grounds for being busted down a class or being dismissed from the days activities. Minimum lpatines by class is also a good idea But then its a business.

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