This past Saturday was spent up at Lime Rock Park having a little fun on the racetrack. It was the first track day of the year and people were getting itchy to drive as was apparent by the packed paddock and pit area. Cars from every genre were present. There were imports, muscle cars, full on race cars and daily drivers – you name it and they were there. The event was held by NASA/PDA, this is a great organization, not only because of their commitment to putting on a great event, but they make the event fun for novices as well as advanced drivers by providing not only classroom sessions, but one on one instruction if requested.
I was there to do a bit of instructing which is always an interesting experience. My student today was a very nice gentleman name Joe who showed up in a 1985 Mercury Capri with a full roll cage, full suspension and running Hoosier R-compound slicks. The car was raw, very raw and when I asked him when he’d last been on a race track he said 1971 – alrighty then. Now as an instructor I’ve had students that have run the gamut from great to downright terrible. Some students simply don’t want to listen as they feel that they are better than Michael Schumaker right out of the box. Others, take instruction extremely well and progress nicely up through the ranks and classes. These are the ones that are a joy to work with.
Joe, my student was great at taking instruction when the car was stopped, but once out on the track we ran into some difficulties. Keep in mind that a key component for an instructor in a track car is communication, because of this we utilize a dual headset radio: one earpiece for the student, one for the instructor. The radio is voice activated and generally works very well, however our first session was somewhat of an experience. First off it was 25 degrees, the track was ice cold and we were driving on slicks which made for some very interesting first corner action. Because of this we kept the speeds down, which meant noise levels were lowered as well. I noticed that Joe was listening but not really responding to most of my instruction. We slowed, I double checked the radio, Joe gave me the thumbs up and we proceeded back on course.
Within about 5 laps the tires finally had some heat in them so we were able to pick up the pace a little. Joe was doing fine, but again, my verbal instructions didn’t seem to be getting through, plus we started having some automotive issues. I noticed that upon hard braking the steering wheel began to shake, thus the rotors were shot. Then as we slowed for turn 1 I heard what sounded like ball bearings coming from the rear end – not good. So, into the pits we went. We parked the car, took off our helmets and proceeded to chat.
This is where it got interesting. I asked Joe why he only responded to my verbal commands about 60% of the time. He had a very simple answer for me… he was deaf in his right ear. This was also the ear that he subsequently had his communicator earpiece in. I then asked about the car itself. He said he recently purchased the Capri from a friend and that the car was in hibernation for about 6 years. He said he felt the warp rotors but never noticed the marbles in the rear end (go figure). We chatted for a few more minutes and I explained to Joe that because of his handicap and the fact that the car was not up to snuff we’d be calling it a day. He was a true gentleman and agreed that it was for the best.
Now, most track days go smoother than this, but as I mentioned this was the first one of the year. It did however teach me something – I was rusty. I should have gone over every detail from soup to nuts with Joe, asked more probing questions in the beginning and then evaluated my situation a bit more carefully. All in all it was still a good day, but I fear my next student may be in for one hell of a pre-track grilling.