Lets Improve Beginner Racecar Driver Education

As our pro coaches at Racers360 continue to work one on one with more and more drivers of different experience levels one thing has become quite clear; the majority of drivers are taught some incorrect techniques during their first few events on track.

Most of the time these incorrect lessons are purposely taught in the name of safety. At Racers360 we believe this is doing an injustice to new drivers and hurting their ability to progress long term. Here we will state what is being taught wrong and how we believe it should in fact be taught to continue to maximize safety for beginners, while not causing drivers to form long lasting bad habits on the race track.

So, what is taught wrong?

By far the most common mistake we see amateur racecar drivers making revolves around where they are picking up the throttle. The majority of the drivers we work with are picking up the throttle at varying points sometime between the turn in and before the apex, far earlier than they should be.

The root cause of this problem stems two separate lessons that when combined cause bad habits:

1) We must brake in a straight line

2) You always want to either be on the brakes or the throttle

That second point is true in the right context, but this is something drivers need to build up towards being able to do correctly. The second point is also less of a lesson than a phrase everyone often hears spoken about everywhere in the paddock or on the Internet.

There are more important foundations that we must build with our driver before they are ready to start working on always being on one pedal or the other. When a driver hears that phrase too early they will start to combine it with the only way they have been taught to brake, in a straight line. That is exactly what leads into the single most common error for drivers, picking up initial throttle too early.

There is no question that the intentions of above lessons are good, especially for the non-racers who are out at the track for pure enjoyment and self-improvement. We all want beginners to be safe on track, taking away trail braking for drivers who don’t have the correct feel or car control does reduce risk. However, we do not believe drivers should be taught something actually incorrect when they are first starting their on track education. Or to state it further we need to do a better job letting drivers know that straight line only braking is a short term technique that is incorrect and will be changed when they are ready to make that progression.

The most important time in everyone’s learning journey in our sport is that first year on the racetrack. That is where good and bad habits are formed and once they are formed they can take years to break.

What Are Those More Important Foundations?

Early in the education process for drivers there are a few critical things that should be focused on:

- Where to be looking on the race track

- Correct seating position

- Correct initial brake application

- Correct to slightly late apex spots

- Correct turn in points

- Correct initial throttle application spot

(We are sure there are more, so please feel free to leave a comment with other important beginner lessons and we will add them to our list(

Almost all HPDE and racing schools do a fantastic job on almost all of these. We believe problem areas revolve around “braking in a straight line” and that final bullet point.

I think any experienced driver will know braking is not solely a straight-line activity, so when we teach it initially we need to be more transparent with beginner drivers. Building up to the perfect braking technique is a multi step process and be clear with drivers from the very start that what will be taught will change as they progress.

In the classroom before their very first session we believe it should be taught in the following way:

“Heavy braking is a straight-line technique, but braking is not exclusively done in a straight line. Our end goal will be to slowly start releasing off of heavy brake pressure before our turn in, holding onto the brakes passed the turn in point and continuing to slowly reduce brake pressure until we are finally off of them as we approach the apex point.

However, to begin your first day we are going to be braking in a straight line only. This is part of the process towards building you all into excellent racecar drivers. Before we can build in your trail braking technique we must first perfect a few more important points.”

That is where our last bullet point comes in. The area where drivers should start picking up initial throttle is not focused on enough. Having our drivers really build the discipline to tell themselves, “I am not allowed to pick up the throttle until I am ready to start unwinding the steering wheel” needs to become a critical teaching point on day one in all driver educational programs.

We believe that should be taught in the following way:

“Some of you may have already heard this following belief and if you haven’t you will soon, “racecar drivers need to always either be on the throttle or the brakes.” We want to tackle this one head on with you right away. This statement is not incorrect, but if you start working on this before you are ready it will cause you to form bad habits.

Early on while we are working on building a strong brake application and building your initial throttle application spot discipline we want you to actually have long coast periods while on track. Always being on the throttle or brakes is the fast way to drive for the majority of corners only when it is combined with a correct initial brake technique, trail brake technique, and initial throttle application technique. When a driver focuses on this more advanced lesson too early they will lose their strong foundation on these more important items. So, yes in the beginning we won’t be teaching you the ultimate best way to drive on the racetrack, but we will build you towards it. It is okay and encouraged to have long coast periods in the beginning”

This allows drivers to see the full picture and puts an emphasis on the correct building blocks. It is not a big change from what is currently taught but the difference between, “braking should be done in a straight line” and “heavy braking should be done in a straight line” with a description of what they will eventually be working on makes a huge difference on the overall lesson.

To summarize how Racers360 believes beginner drivers should be taught in regards to these issues:

- To start out we will only be braking in a straight line. As you get ready for turn in we want to be coming off the brakes, looking through the corner and coasting.

- Eventually we do want to extend our brake zone passed turn in all the way down to the apex, but before we get there we need to build our foundations first.

- We want to wait until we can start opening our hands on corner exit before picking up the throttle application.

- That means even if you feel way to slow after turning in, we will not use the throttle to cure that “over slowing issue.” We build the discipline to tell yourself, “I am not allowed to pick up the throttle until I can start to unwind the steering wheel.” We will correct that over slowing issue later on when we are ready to focus on trail braking.

Here we are being clear with our eventual goals so that drivers know right away where we want to get to. But, presents that lesson in a way that breaks it down into steps without forming long lasting bad habits.

New drivers on a track need small snippets of information to work on. Their senses our overwhelmed and we want them to focus on the correct items initially.

When they know upfront they will be coasting but that is not the eventual goal and it is something we will work on eventually. They will naturally focus less on that section of the corner and be able to focus much more on that initial hit of the brakes and where we want to pick up the throttle. Only once they have perfected and built the correct habits on both of those will we be ready to focus on the backend of the brake zone and how to trail brake.

You will see nothing we have written about here is revolutionary, instead is a question surrounding priority of lessons for beginner racecar drivers and transparency in teaching. Where we pick up initial throttle needs a much higher priority and we need to be upfront with students and tell them that braking is NOT a straight line only activity, but to begin that is what we want you to do.

Typically the straight line braking is taught to keep things simple and as low risk as possible. There is nothing wrong with those intentions but that should not get in the way of teaching the correct technique. In fact, it is actually putting drivers indirectly at a higher risk as they start to want to drive faster with incorrect techniques.

For those of you wondering why that initial throttle application spot is so important it all relates back to weight transfer. A critical topic all racecar drivers need to learn. We have some fantastic articles on that here:

Does An Earlier Throttle Application Mean A Better Exit?

Do You Always Need To Be On The Throttle Or Brakes?

Racing Tips In Under 60 Seconds: Weight Transfer