Three Key Factors In Making HPDE Events Safer for Everyone
By Ross Bentley
August 10, 2014
While I think and hope there are few exceptions out there, the majority of instructors are in it for the right reason: they genuinely want to help people become better drivers and they want to give back to the community. There are two ways to look at the risk of instructing: you can take the position that you're along for the ride (the driver is "controlling" the situation) or that the instructor is in "control" of the situation. "Control" is in quotes because you can never truly control a driver, but you can significantly influence and change the behavior and actions of a driver with your words, tone, and sometimes actions.
While most instructors want to make sure every student has a great experience, remember that you are putting your life on the line to help someone become a better driver. Don't hesitate to be firm and even unpleasant if that's what it takes to get the desired response out of your student. If you need to pull a driver in for a talk, end their session, or remove them from an event to protect yourself and the other drivers on track, that is the right decision to make.
Also, I'd recommend not giving students much latitude until you really know and trust their skill level and ability to focus (this level of trust can only be established after many on-track sessions). I've seen too many situations where instructors saw tell-tale signs of a dangerous situation, but waited to actually do something significant about it because they thought they could eventually correct the situation with minor adjustments over time.
If you haven't already, at some point in time, you will attend an HPDE or race event where you don't feel safe. Sometimes it's the other drivers, sometimes it's the corner workers, and sometimes it's the event structure/event organizers that cause you to feel unsafe. If you're uncomfortable about the safety of an event, you should either address it with the event organizers or leave the event. When it's your well-being and car on the line, you shouldn't just accept an increased level of risk.
I strongly believe that most clubs and organizers will try to address any potential safety issue that is brought to their attention. If you notice that the corner worker in T5 is asleep, let the organizers know. If you see that the driver of car #124 is driving well past his or her skill level, let the organizers know. Or, if you don't think the organizers have the rules/structure in place to put on a safe event, share your concerns with them. Unless you are truly willing to accept a higher level of risk, you should make a point to try and address your safety concerns with the organizer and give them an opportunity to respond.
Some of the tracks that drivers enjoy the most are the ones with the greatest consequences for getting it wrong. Many enthusiasts love certain corners at tracks that have a "pucker" factor, and that is typically achieved because of a greater risk: high speeds, little runoff, blind corners, etc. As a driver, the best way to manage risk in these situations is to adjust your driving to the hazard. If the hazard is at the exit of the turn, manage your entry to give yourself more of a margin for error at the exit. If the hazard is a challenging turn where a minor mistake can send you off the track, make a mental plan of how you'll manage an off. In most situations, letting the car go off-track with minimal lateral load is the safest way.
In motorsports (and in life in general), I strongly believe in giving people an opportunity to salvage your business by fixing and issue. If you've always (or even recently), been concerned about an addressable safety issue at a track, let them know about it. If enthusiasts speak up about their concerns, most facilities will make an effort to address a known safety issue.
Participating and/or racing in track events is incredibly fun, but it comes with certain risks. If you give those risks consideration, planning, and action, you can significantly change and reduce the risk to yourself and other participants. Don't just accept the status quo. And never be afraid to speak up about safety issues.