Bark’s Bites: Your Ego Is Getting in the Way of Becoming a Better and Safer Driver

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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]