Let’s say today is your first day on a racetrack. You’re nervous. You should be. You might reach speeds in excess of 150 mph, often close to a concrete wall. You will be attempting to simultaneously master the course layout, the rules of the event, and the black art of high-speed car control. There will be other novice drivers surrounding you, all trying to accomplish the same thing. The risks are very real.
At many track days, the convention is to put a driving instructor in the right seat of your car. But who instructed the instructor? Is this their first ride-along or their hundredth? What, in other words, qualifies this person to help you navigate this exciting and dangerous new world?
Incredibly, there’s never been a universally recognized answer. Several major track-day providers, from the Porsche Club of America to the National Auto Sport Association, have established their own programs for instructor training and certification. However, unlike racing-license rules, which are standardized enough to permit some degree of reciprocity across various clubs, the regulations and teaching materials used in different instructor-training programs can vary widely. A student who does a few track days with the BMW Car Club of America and then switches to events run by Hooked On Driving will have to relearn some rules. For example, many organizations require that their instructors use hand signals, while others use an in-car voice communicator. At some track days, you use your turn signal to give permission to a driver behind you to pass; at others, doing that will get you black-flagged and sent home early.
The Motorsport Safety Foundation (MSF, not to be confused with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, which focuses on two-wheeled matters) wants to fix the situation. Founded in response to the 2013 death of respected race driver and instructor Sean Edwards during a private coaching session, the organization has spearheaded a number of safety initiatives, including an adopt-a-corner program to upgrade safety barriers and low-cost head-restraint rentals for drivers. Its new undertaking is intended to address the safety concerns of both teachers and students by establishing national standards for the selection and training of performance-driving instructors, along with a common curriculum for driver training.
Development of lesson plans is under way, guided by veteran racing driver and Speed Secrets author Ross Bentley. Six levels will be offered. Level 1 is online training, meant to work in conjunction with hands-on workshops conducted by MSF-certified organizations. Completing Level 2 certifies the instructor to sit with a student on track. The steps above that teach skills for specific situations. Level 6 grads will be approved to provide remote instruction using data logs and in-car video footage. Certified instructors will be listed in a database managed by MotorsportReg.com, a registration system used at many high-performance driving events.
The state of track-instructor safety has long been important to Road & Track—this column has discussed ways to evaluate and communicate with your instructor (“Track Teachers,” October 2016). The Motorsport Safety Foundation initiative won’t immediately fix the hobby’s problems, but it aims to reduce the risks for everyone involved and help legitimize track days. .