Most of my beginner level posts have centered on my: “Just shut up and drive” mantra. Even if you have an affordable track car, track day entry fees are not small change at around $300 per day. Becoming an instructor is one way to not only get that track time for FREE (or extraordinarily cheap), but also have a rewarding experience sharing your skills with people new to track days.
What do instructors do? Instructors are assigned a student (or two) whom they ride with and coach throughout the day. In return the instructors are able to drive during their own sessions. Most clubs allow instructors to drive for free as payment for their work instructing their student(s). Is instructing for everyone? No. But it may be just right for you
If you don’t have the time (or ability) to earn track time with volunteering, instructing is the way to go. Even if you do get a good gig volunteering, if you wanted to try another club they often do not have very similar volunteer programs. As a certified instructor, it is much easier to move between groups. Many clubs reciprocate instructor certifications, though there are also many who do not, or do so on a case-by-case basis. Networking within your club’s instructor pool may be very helpful as someone “vouching” for you can go a long way.
How does one become an instructor? To be an instructor, you don’t need to have years of wheel to wheel racing experience, but you should typically have at least a few years of HPDE experience. You don’t necessarily need to be a very fast driver, but you do need to have an excellent understanding of car control, feel for “the limit”, and ability to communicate well in various situations. There are fantastic instructors who are not awesome drivers, and there are fantastic drivers who are terrible instructors. If you are interested in instructing it is a good idea to find the chief instructor (Or maybe a senior instructor in your club/region) and make your wish known to them. Even if you aren’t ready they can guide you with areas to focus, places to improve, etc, that can help you work towards being ready for an instructor clinic.
Instructing is great, it has treated me very well, but it is certainly NOT for everyone. You must be reliable and punctual. Your student’s track time depends on you being there. It is embarrassing how often I hear stories about missing or late instructors. When you are instructing your student must be your top priority… so you can’t get lost wrenching under your car for hours of the day. You will not have the same amount of time for decompressing and tinkering with your car. If your car breaks, you may miss one or two of your sessions while you jump in your student’s car. However, the extra seat time (Even in the passenger seat) is not only fun, but seeing the track more and more can improve your driving.
In my opinion, the most important skill an instructor can have is the ability to read a situation and adapt to it. No two students are the same, everyone reacts differently when placed in a HPDE environment. Some students need to be talked through every corner all day, others do best with minimal guidance. Some students stress out and need to be reminded to take deep breaths and stay focused while others will be so calm you will wonder if they’re listening to a word you say (Don’t worry, they are). Knowing how to best reach a person through a high-speed stressful environment will be more productive, fun, and safe.
When I say that I am an instructor, the first thing I always hear is “You’re crazy, I could never do that.” Admittedly, In the few years I have instructed, I have had plenty of mornings concerned about how my student would be. Would they be dangerous? Scary? Etc? Each and every time, those fears have turned out to be unfounded.
There seems to be 3 typical experiences while instructing
60% of days are awesome. You and your student get along great, they work hard and make great improvements through the day. You’ll often continue to see them around for years after your first event together. I’ve taken rides with some students from their first day in HPDE1 all the way through HPDE4 and Time Trials. 35% of days are just good. You and the student get along okay, but don’t fully “click”. They don’t ever really drive that fast or improve a ton, but they have a good time and that’s what is important. 5% of the days are rough. You can’t figure them out. Some students aren’t used to listening, they think they’re too good, or they are too overwhelmed by the whole experience. Any club out there should have your back if you feel really uncomfortable or in danger. As an instructor you have full power to park your student or pass them off to another instructor if the situation isn’t working. There have been a few highly publicized accidents involving instructors, but in actuality, incidents are very rare.
*These are the approximate ratios that I seem to find, I’m hoping that as I get more experience and improve as instructor I can make these ratios even better.
I can go on for days about instructing, skills, tips, stories, etc but we’ll end it here. If you can get the skills and experience, instructing is a spectacular way to not only get free track time, but build great relationships fellow instructors and students alike.