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"It doesn’t mean earlier apex.  It means an earlier turn in with less steering angle initially."

 

Dave Scott:  Race Coach

Dave Scott2Dave Scott started out like the rest of us did, by doing a track day.  But he ended up in professional racing and now he is coaching.  Dave may have had an advantage going in.  He was a Secret Service agent and the primary driver for five United States Secretaries of State.  That’s another interesting article for another day, assuming he’d even be able to talk to us about it. 

“It started sort of accidently like probably for everyone else as a hobby,” says Dave.  “I had a friend who said ‘hey you know you have this little sports car and these car clubs have track weekends.  For a very little amount of money they’ll put an instructor in your car and it’s a lot of fun.’  And so on a whim I decided to go with him and gave it a try and I liked it.  Some experience I’d had earlier in life, the basic physics of driving, weight transfer and contact patch management ended up being the same, so I was very fortunate that the learning curve went straight up.” 

“For many years I was actually a sworn federal agent,” continued Dave.  “I worked for the State Department in the U.S. Secret Service and in that career I ended up as the primary driver for five U.S. Secretaries of State.  Obviously we drove large sedans and Suburbans, which weren’t a lot of fun, but the fact of the matter is that the basic principles are exactly the same and I never saw that coming with motorsports.  Suddenly, it became apparent that, well I’ve done this before, it’s just a lot more fun in a sports car.”

Dave’s progression from track days to professional racing was pretty linear.  “Over a period of time I went from DE to club racing, amateur racing to racing professionally and then to doing it full time.  I had left the government and was doing some contract work overseas and was interspersing that with racing back here and gradually did the racing full time,” explains Dave.  “I was asked to become an instructor and then I had some opportunities to club race with the BMW club and some other groups.  Just due to meeting people and doing pretty well and sort of like Forest Gump, being in the right place at the right time, I had an opportunity to try out for a team that was running at the time in what was called Grand Am Cup or the Firehawk series.  So that went well and I ended up with a one-race sponsorship and did well in that and it just started mushrooming from there.  To be frank with you, none of this when I was younger was on my radar and never in a million years would I have seen it coming, but one thing led to another and opportunities presented themselves.  I raced at various times in the old Grand Am Cup, Grand Am Rolex, IMSA, ALMS and the old Speed World Challenge.”

Dave’s daughter was born in 2006.  He was away three weeks of each month, nine months a year racing.  Not bad work, if you can get it, but Dave wanted to have more time at home and so he made the shift to coaching.  “Suddenly I was a dad and wanted to be home a lot more so I started to accept some of the coaching gigs because they typically were much smaller commitments, fewer days, and just as lucrative, if not more so.  I migrated to doing a whole lot more of that so I could be dedicated as a dad and still keep my hand in it.  So now what I do is coaching.”

About 75% of Dave’s coaching clients are amateurs and the rest are professionals.  Most of them are word of mouth referrals.  We asked Daveracecoach2 360px to give us an anecdote of one of his clients who started out as a track driver but ended up driving competitively.  Dave took one of his clients from track days to national class championships in Porsche Club racing, including a number of track lap records.  He worked with this driver on increasing his pace and the mental aspects of racing.  “A lot of it, and this is common to a lot of people at his skill level, even in the pros, the differentiator is what was going on with the brake pedal,” says Dave.  “I’ll never forget the famous Mario Andretti quote from around 1980 or 1979.  He had won the F1 World Championship and he made some cryptic comment that there are many drivers even at the Formula 1 level who mistakenly think the brake pedal is only for slowing the car.  It was one of those thigs that never made sense to me at the time, but as I started to get better at driving, I realized how much wisdom there was in that.  With this gentleman we focused a lot on what he was doing with the brake pedal to balance the car and reduce the amount he was slowing it in order to keep the car poised enough to give him peace of mind to carry more speed into and out of the corners.  Raising his vision, the basic thing that everybody talks about, looking farther ahead, as he started to go faster and carry more speed into the corner became harder and harder for him because he was intimidated by the pace.  We really worked on picking things out that would give him comfort that he was going to be okay coming through the corner.  By raising the vision, his body language changed, he got a lot smoother in the car and he was able to mentally disconnect from the mechanics of driving, from the ‘oh where do I have to hit the brakes, how slow do I have to go, where do I need to start my turn in, when do I have to go to the gas,’ to the mental aspect of paying attention to what the car was telling him and making minute changes as he looked farther and farther ahead.  It fundamentally changed his driving and allowed him to execute properly with the brake pedal.”

Drivers can master many skills in their efforts to  drive faster and a coach can help master those skills.  At the beginning, it is best to pick one or two skills to focus on so as not to become overwhelmed.  We asked Dave to weigh in on which skills he felt should be prioritized.  “The one that really comes to mind, they call it a lot of things, rolling the car into the corner, bending the car into the corner.  What it really is, is initiating a turn-in process, starting the hands moving a little earlier in the cycle, but more slowly.  Being a little slower with hands and rolling the car, adding a little more steering angle, balancing it more than hitting the brakes hard in a straight line and then abruptly turning the car.  It doesn’t mean earlier apex.  It means an earlier turn in with less steering angle initially.  I’ve found that not only is there less drama, less dramatic weight transfer, but when people figure it out and they feel how much more stable it makes the car, they realize how much more speed they can carry into and through the corner because they are doing a lot less of throwing the car around, a lot less weight transfer and throwing it through.  To me that is one of the biggest leaps of faith as people transition away form a traditional HPDE mindset of brake and then turn to everything blended together.  There are other aspects as well.  There is trail braking and other things, balancing downshifts, but to me the ability to reduce the drama of weight transfer gives so much confidence and gives the platform so much stability that things like what I mentioned earlier like with the brake pedal sort of begin to make a lot more sense.” 

racecoach3Dave’s coaching philosophy emphasizes helping clients to master driving in any car on any track.  “I try to craft every word I say whether in-car or out and looking at data in terms of ‘yeah we’re driving at track ABC, but everything we are going to talk about is about driving technique.’  These are things you will use at whatever track you go to.  The more tracks a person drives, they realize there are not a whole lot of differences between tracks.  There are a lot of similarities.  I try to coach towards using corners at say Sebring, as an example, for other tracks they may encounter and then elevate the discussion to ‘we are going to talk about balancing the car on the brakes.  We are going to do it at turn three at Sebring because it is a great example of hard braking and balancing into a sharp corner or the hairpin at Sebring, pick an example.  But this is something you will use at every track you drive on.’  Over time it means less business for me, but I get great referrals because people become better drivers and they are able to transition to a new track fairly quickly and not stumble and need to fly somebody in.” 

Data is becoming more and more available to amateur drivers and is becoming more integral to the coaching endeavor.  We asked Dave about his use of data in coaching.  “The data never lies.  We convince ourselves, ‘oh I was foot to the floor all the way to the 200 foot marker.’  Well the data shows we were coasting from the 600 foot marker and we braked at the 200 foot marker and so it’s a great way of getting past our ability to fool ourselves.  Frankly,  in a typical coaching weekend, even though I do get in the car with clients, I urge them to go in the car without me not only to lay down data for themselves but also the car is going to feel different without my bulk in the right seat.  That’s when we use the data and the video when they come in to analyze what went on.  I use data extensively when I lay down a baseline lap so we can do overlays, gap analysis, even overlays of video to see where I’m picking up time over them.  Everybody thinks it’s a panacea to put a pro like me in a car and I’m miraculously four seconds faster and they think ‘wow he’s killing me in one corner,’ but in reality I’m picking up 3/10ths of a second in each corner on a 12 corner track and you’ve got your four seconds right there.  Showing people where that 3/10ths is coming from, that little bit more, it’s not all coming in one corner, it’s coming everywhere.  The data, even more than video, is the way to show that because it is right there in living color.” 

Another important key to coaching for Dave is his willingness to sit in the right seat with clients.  We asked him to talk about what makes anracecoach5 360px effective coach or driving instructor.  “Many of my peers, many of whom have more business than they can handle, will never get in the car with a client and they seem to do okay.  I have concerns over safety like everyone else does.  We lost Sean Edwards a couple of years ago, who was a dear friend, while he was coaching in the car.  I just have found that being able to talk real time with the driver is irreplaceable.  The ability to watch their body language and see little nuances, look at their eyes and see where their chin is pointing and make suggestions or corrections on the spot is irreplaceable and a lot of clients want that at least sometimes during the engagement.  I intend to keep doing that for as long as I can.  I know you are playing with fate a little bit, but you can’t get that 100% solution looking at a data screen after the fact.  The tenth here and the tenth there is only visible in the car. 

“There are many fast drivers and a lot of them coach, but many of them are unconsciously competent.  They can’t articulate to another person how to get to where they are.  They can lay down a killer lap and a lot of people hire them because they have a marquee name, but the ability to communicate to the driver in a cadence, in a style that matches their ability to hear is 90% of what makes a coach effective.  Michael Schumacher’s coach may not have been faster, but his ability to communicate things to Schumacher made a difference in his driving. 

“One thing that is often helpful and often underused is praise.  People do a lot of things right and no matter how stoic a person seems to be, everybody likes to be complimented for something, a genuine compliment for something well done.  I have found that one of the ways that you can impact someone who is overdriving the car is to compliment them about something they are doing right and then say ‘next lap let’s work on that other corner where we are kind of sliding around.’  In the end people really want their instructor to think positively of them and even if they’re not conscious of it, it’s normal human emotion.  The ability to pass on regular compliments I have found have a tremendous calming effect and allows us to focus on the areas where there is opportunity for improvement.  It makes a huge difference in the ability to control the driver.

racecoach“I carry a note pad and make notes in the car.  It allows me to remember things corner by corner, which I don’t think anyone else does, but I tell the client the first time I go out in the car with them, I don’t care how fast you drive the car.  I just want you to pay attention to where you’re braking, how the car feels, how the brakes feel, I’m just getting a baseline.  So if you want to putt putt around, just do it.  I don’t really care.  All of the sudden they relax and that always gives me a couple of pages of notes and then we come in and we work on it for the span of the day or two days and we end up going a lot faster.”

Dave Scott has a storybook career transitioning from a track day on a whim to professional motorsports.  How many of us would like to make a living racing three weeks out of each month, nine months a year?  His career in the Secret Service sounds pretty interesting too.  His transition from racing to full time coaching benefits us all.  Dave is still doing what he loves and he has an intelligence and articulateness when he talks about driving technique that undoubtedly makes him an effective coach.  If you want to go faster find Dave at www.racecoach.net.  And if there should happen to be an attack at the track, he can probably get you out of there safely as well. 

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