Why I'm a Car Control Instructor

July 12, 2011

Almost seven years ago I did my first BMWCCA Car Control Clinic as a student. The CCC is an all-day high performance driving school, with a focus on real-world skills. It's also a prerequisite for the club's driving schools held at local racetracks like Laguna Seca or Infineon Raceway. The CCC is held in a vast expanse of pavement, either in the Candlestick Park parking lot or an unused section of tarmac at the Marina Airport near Monterey.

The school centers around three exercies:

<ul> <li>An emergency braking and lane-change course</li> <li>An oval-shaped skidpad to experiment with the effects of weight transfer on a car's ability to turn</li> <li>A slalom course with two slaloms (fast side and slow side) connected with 180 degree turns, like a little racetrack</li> </ul> The courses are marked with small orange cones. Students are divided into three groups, and spend two hours at each exercise during the day.

<img src="http://www.ggcbmwcca.org/IMAGES/clinic-photo.jpg" align="right" style="padding-left:10px;">After my first CCC, I was hooked. I did the CCC two more times after that, also mixing in a healthy dose of club autocross events and getting more and more into the club's track schools. I made a lot of friends in the club, and got to know the event organizers and instructors pretty well.

In February 2007 I got The Call from Mister CCC himself, Bob Gobel. They were looking for some more instructors for an upcoming CCC, and was I interested in trying it out? Oh yes I was! I had gotten a new job the month prior, but this was more exciting to me.

The days leading up to that first CCC where I'd be an instructor were nerve racking. Would I do well? Would I get carsick? Would I have anything to offer anyone? Well, the first day came and went and I had a blast!

Being able to share in someone else's "lightbulb moment" with the car or their eyes or hands was all the payment I needed to do this volunteer job. The time in the morning and at lunch where instructors get to play on the exercises is a nice bonus too to practice my own car control skills.

This past weekend was another CCC -- it may have been my 20th, and I had a new job at this one. Rather than being a ridealong instructor, I was put in charge of one of the slalom courses. I was to introduce the exercise to each group of students, teaching them the course layout and the goals of the exercise (vision, planning, smoothness). My job was also to ensure that it all ran smoothly and safely. Unfortunately, riding with students in cars was not a big part of this job. However, I did get a chance to ride with a couple of students. One in particular stands out for me as the best example of why I love doing this.

I was chatting a bit with fellow instructor Tristan, a wunderkind of car control. He is fairly new to the instruction thing and was sharing some frustration with not being able to break a student out of his shell. See, some students take to the exercises and environment and go gung-ho from the start, squealing tires and pushing their car to its limit and beyond. On the other side are those who do not embrace the fact that we're in a place where there is nothing to run into. These folks drive very slowly and carefully, just as they would on the street. They do not press the gas pedal hard without some serious encouragement.

One of our jobs as instructors is to figure out how and how much to push each person out of their comfort zone, to help them experience something new and different in their car. We are ecstatic if every student is squealing their tires and spinning out at least once during the day. For those that give us a nice, comfortable ride ... well, we need to figure out how to fix that.

Tristan asked me if I'd hop into this gentleman's car to see if I could get him and his car to slide around a bit. Great! Sure! He was cool with watching over the exercise, so I got into the guy's car and introduced myself and started giving him a pep talk about how this is a really safe school, and how we need to push everyone to a new place with their driving and things get a LOT funner after you get there once.

It was our turn to go out on the course, so I asked him to show me what he had learned so far. He was very smooth, impeccably precise, very much in crontrol. Cool! But the car's tires were silent. This was a problem!

On our second lap I warned him that I was going to start really encouraging him to go faster -- in a big way. So as we were halfway around the last turn before the "fast" slalom side, I told him to punch it. "FLOOR IT! NOW!" He complied! Great! Off we went into the fast slalom, but then he backed off. "go! go! Go! Go! GO! GO! FASTER FASTER NOW!!!!!" He got back into it, but then it was time for the next turn. We went through the slow side of the slalom and I gave him more encouraging words. "That was great, let's do that again, but stay in it!"

So as we rounded that last turn again, I was literally screaming at him "PUNCH IT NOW! HOLD IT DOWN! GO GO GO GO!!!!! FASTER! KEEP GOING!!!! YOU'VE GOT IT" We were flying through the fast side and he was keeping up with the car. "BRAKES! BRAKES! HARD!" We needed to slow down now to make the turnaround. I could tell he was feeling the adrenaline at this point.

"That's our four laps, but let's do one more ... you've got it now, let's keep going!". Again through the last turn, then "GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO!!!!! KEEP IT UP!!! GREAT!!!!" He was feeling it now and doing it on his own. As we slowed down for the slow side I could tell the adrenaline was out in force in his blood. I congratulated him on his accomplishment and let him know that it was our last lap.

We exited the course and he did not say a word, but I could see that his hands were shaking on the wheel. "So, what do you think about that?", I asked.

After a long pause, hands trembling and gripping the steering wheel, grinning from ear to ear, all he could muster was a breathless "WOW!"

Every student at a CCC has a moment like this. Some earlier than others, some stronger than others. But it is that exact moment that makes the day totally worth it -- for everyone.