Being involved in the sport of motor racing for more than 35 years, gives one a perspective on the sport that just can’t be duplicated in a short period of time. Having been involved in so many activities within the sport, driver, track owner, manager and designer, team owner, instructor, driving coach and owner of a well known racing school, have provided me with a lifetime of experience and understanding of the sport.
During the last 3 ½ decades, I have seen so much change: driver safety has improved immensely. Driving gear, car design, track layouts and safety barriers have contributed greatly to reducing fatalities and injuries. Suspensions, tires, and gearbox technologies have made cars faster, easier to drive and as a result, more accessible to a larger portion of the population. A proliferation of entry-level car clubs, member driven race tracks and the immense growth of karting are helping to grow the number of “weekend warriors” at a rate not seen since the post WWII years.
But several things have remained as a constant within the sport. First, it continues to be an incredibly expensive activity to participate in. No one can afford to do it as much of it as they would like, and only a few can even partially satiate their appetite. Secondly, it remains an endeavor to which there is no defined, well established portal from which to enter. And third, almost everyone outside of the sport, due to their “interstate heroics” thinks they will be “naturals” on a race track.
It is the combination of these last three realities that makes us long time “racing people” shutter.
“Drive a wreck” race clubs, membership driven race tracks, and dare I say, some racing schools have, in an effort to meet their economic realities, lowered the performance driving education bar to such an extent, that tracks are now often filled with untrained and unsafe drivers. Even worse, they don’t know it. Our sport has evolved into “if you’ve got the money come play. Age, attitude, knowledge, skill, and etiquette are irrelevant.”
Drivers now “solo” on race tracks, often in cars that are beyond their skill levels, after no more than a ½ hour safety class, and some van drive arounds. One can hardly blame them; they are new, and don’t know any better. But the organizers do! Where has the respect for the sport gone?
Which brings me to the purpose of writing this long diatribe, “Do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
In addition to my racing school, I do about 40 days of coaching a year. These clients are, in theory, advanced drivers, who are lacking for a few speed secrets and some “tweaking” of technique. In about 1 out of 4 cases my speed secret advice is “go take a professional driving school.” I learned during my career, and in fact, most of us that have been around for a while know, that there is no skipping class when it comes to this sport. Bertil Roos, the founder of our school, and a European trained driver, once said “In America, it takes more schooling to get a license to cut hair, than it does to drive a racecar.”
Simply said, a proper level of training in this sport will make the track a safer place for not only the trained driver, but for all others sharing the track. And, you know what, you will be much, much better at it. Technique, vehicle dynamics, race craft, race strategy, psychology, line theory, and all of the other “good stuff” just cannot be learned properly “on the fly.” Improvements in technology, safety gear and track access are not going to offset poor training, a large ego and budget. We at the Bertil Roos Racing School would love to see a drop in the number of students that come to us and say “I wrecked my car, and figured I better come here and learn it the right way.”
So the message is simple, “Do it right, or don’t do it at all.”