Driver Development Title

DRIVER DEVELOPMENT: Learning Processes

by Billy Johnson

How do we become better at driving? Practice makes perfect, right?  Well not necessarily.  Without feedback and direction, additional practice won’t always improve your ability and can possibly lead to the development of bad habits.  So in reality, perfect practice makes perfect.  In Part 2 of the Driver Development series, we discuss how drivers learn to improve their craft through various methods from coaching to data analysis to simulators which all aid in the advancement of the skill of driving.

In Part 1 of the Driver Development series, we discussed the importance of car control, and categorized drivers into three different groups based on their experience and ability.  Part 2 will be an analysis of the learning process of driver development and we will discuss the different ways people learn to drive in a performance environment.  Now buckle up for another long, in-depth article.


Baseball drillsDriving is just like any other athletic ability.  Some people have more natural talent than others and no matter where you start, with practice, feedback and hard work, you will become better at it.

During the development of a driver, it is important to know how to get better.  If you grew up playing a sport as a kid, there was probably a coach that had organized repetitive drills designed to improve your skill.  There was also constant feedback from the coach if you weren’t throwing the ball, catching the ball, kicking the ball, or running correctly.  There were also many other players to compare yourself to during every practice or game.  Golf coaches for example, analyze and work to improve many aspects ranging from a golfer’s swing, to their chip shot, putting, club selection, and ability to read the course.  Without this feedback, the progress of any skill is slower and can often lead to bad habits which might work as a crutch in the short term at a lower skill level, but can become limitations at a higher level. 

Driving is no different.  Practice and constant feedback (or self-analysis) is crucial in developing the skill of driving.  There are a variety of different ways that individuals learn and since every one’s brain works differently, some get more out of certain types of training and analysis than others.  For example, I get a lot out of analyzing data and I look at speed traces, throttle positions, brake pressures, etc… for every lap, while my teammate watches every lap of in-car video.  While I also look at video and he looks at data, our brains get more out of different forms of information.  Moving forward, we will look at Eight main processes: Reading, Riding with an instructor, Driving with an instructor (in the right seat), Instructor watching in a corner, Lead-follow, Video Analysis, Data Analysis, and Simulators. 


Racing SchoolRacing schools are great for getting feedback to improve your driving.  But unlike most sports where you train with a coach one or more days a week, racing schools are often a 1-4 day events that happen once a lifetime (or per year if you’re lucky and have the means).

A common path for up and coming drivers and enthusiasts alike is to take a racing school.  Like most sports, racing schools have instructors and curriculums with repetitive drills in which they give constant feedback.  They also have classroom discussions and teach the fundamentals of driving on a track and how a car works.  They often try to sell you one of their books, which isn’t always a bad thing. This is a great path that incorporates five of our list of eight different learning methods.  The first is reading:


BooksReading books from complete guides to becoming a racing driver, to driving techniques, to in depth technical articles on the physics behind how a car works will all make the reader a more educated and well-rounded driver who is more effective at making a car fast both on and off the track.



Making a car go fast is an extremely complicated interaction between car and driver, and success requires the optimization of the car’s setup, the driver’s inputs, and the relationship between the two.  Driving a car fast is all about the ability for a driver to feel and keep the car at its limits at all times. The more you understand what the car is doing and why it’s doing it, the better you can work with the car to make it go fast, both behind the wheel and back in the garage to optimize the car’s setup. 

There is far more going in the act of driving than there is when throwing a ball, hitting a ball, riding a bicycle, or navigating the slopes on skis.  There is a reason why racing schools have classroom discussions that touch up on the basics of how to drive and how cars work before letting their students loose in the cars.  If you look at the best athletes in the world in any field, there is a huge emphasis on the time, effort and now technology that is being spent on optimizing every last detail of the activity in attempts to gain an edge.  Because of its complex nature, there is a lot more to be gained by the driver from reading and learning about the technical side of their craft than for athletes in most other sports.  The talented but technically inept driver (like Dick Trickle) will often lose out to one with less talent but has optimized his car to give him a competitive advantage.

Knowledge is power.  There are a lot of great books out there ranging from those that go over the fundamentals and are easy to read to others that are very technical and require a higher education to be able to follow some of the math.  In any case, building your library and always pursuing knowledge behind your craft will give you an advantage over the driver who does not. There are no down sides to reading.  However reading is just that, and while greatly beneficial, to get better at driving, you actually need to get behind the wheel and practice.  Now on to the driving:


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The Monkey in El Monte
The Monkey in El Montelink
Monday, November 10, 2014 10:32 PM
Please, please, PLEASE keep this series alive, Billy. Coaching is important in every aspect of life, and having been an instructor with NASA for years, it seems the minute someone stops learning at the track is when they stop seeking advice. Thanks for sharing your experience in your Nationwide drive, it gives definitive proof of the value of the simulator. Perhaps in the future you can share with us some highlights from the class Ford is rumored to have hired you to give on being good at driving aggressively to some fellow Ford drivers a few years back??
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 1:10 AM
Very interesting article.
A little point to add to the simulator thing. I built myself a rig with a real seat and a fanatec wheel/pedal setup, a load sensor on the brake pedal, and use a 120" screen with a projector. I am no pro driver, i do trackdays in an s13 i built and refine for grip driving, and it is starting to feel quite good (still having a weird pad knockback issue though). Anyway, i am quite surprised to read "gran turismo" and "simulator" in the same sentence. imho it just is an arcade game, rwd cars are a joke on it. Yes, you can learn about tracks with it, mostly what corners to sacrifice on entry or exit, but that is all you can. I really don't see it as a way to improve one's skill. Same goes for forza 3 (forza 4 is better at rwd modeling but still lacking). They are video games, as realistic as a console game can be to still make sales. No one wants a console game that will throw you out every time you hit a patch of grass.

Iracing is very good, clearly. Its financial model is more oriented toward pro teams though. You might want to give a try at assetto corsa, although still in development, it has a very good focus on tracks and cars, and is quite open. Anyone can add a car or a track, and define the physics behind. I think the tracks included are laser scanned but don't quote me on this. Supposedly, nurbingring nordshleife is going to be laser scanned too in the next release. It also supports various external gears, i saw a software that allows any android tablet to act as a switch panel for example.

A little word on data logging too. If you cannot afford a datalog system, and have some basic C programming, you can (somewhat) easily use an arduino board to make such a system. These boards have everything you want to connect to an OBD2 system, or acquire various sensors directly and then store it on an SD card (or send it using bluetooth to your phone that is going to act as a screen, if needed). It still is going to take some work, but if you have spare time, consider it.
Anthony H
Anthony Hlink
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 9:32 AM
Crousti, I would respectfully like to take issue with a couple points in your comment. Firstly, "games" like Forza and GT are far more simulator-like than you might think. My son used Forza when he was 6 years old and with the combination of my coaching (which is the point of this article), was able to go out at win the Canadian Rookie Karting Championship when he was 7, against kids who were 9 to 12 years old. Furthermore, he used Forza right up until he was 12 every off-season and again, along with coaching, was able to stay sharp and continuously refine his race craft which carried over to the track with an eventual birth in the World Karting Championships representing Canada, all of this against race teams with significantly more financial and other racing resources than us.

As for iRacing, to say that it's financial model makes it more for pro teams is incorrect. We switched over to iRacing with a proper three-screen setup along with steering wheel and pedals (which you don't necessary require). Yes, iRacing costs money - money for membership as well as buying tracks and cars, but we are not a financed "racing team" and we have no where near the financial resources that a "pro-team" has and we are doing just fine on iRacing. It is really bringing his skill to the next level in hopefully preparing for his transition to cars. Now I just have to find him a proper coach!
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 2:26 PM
I got to experience the simulator-to-track crossover this summer. I'm a long fan of Forza motorsports logging more hours than I want to count in FM3 and FM4. This summer we were able to drag our LeMons Mercedes 300SD down to Sebring FL.

The amazing thing was that from playing Forza I already knew what the track looked like. I didn't quite know what speeds I needed in my car and what lines to take, but I knew what was coming. The game does a good job of showing where the gators are the tallest and, very relative at sebring, the surface of the track such as through turns 17 and 17a.

After finishing the race(and winning our class!) and coming home my first thought was to turn on Forza. Having driven the track in real life made driving it in the game that much easier as well. Now I know where to brake, and what lines work well through certain turns. I really wish Forza included the other tracks we do so I could practice them too, CMP and Barber.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 11:20 PM
Some of the best stuff I have yet to read.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014 1:17 AM
@Anthony do not get me wrong, i never said video games account for nothing. I said GT & FM were not simulators. They sharpen reflexes, they can teach what a trajectory is, how a track look like, and how you sometimes want to sacrifice a corner to attack, defend or get more from the straight line that lies just after. But the handling model is not accurate at all, which is exactly what happens when a game has to please millions of players. That would be way too frustrating to players. Simulators are a niche market and cannot be developped nor marketed the same way, they just would not sell enough copies.
Thursday, November 13, 2014 10:18 AM
Thanks for the feedback guys. Please feel free to ask any questions or post a topic that you would like to see discussed in the future.

Thursday, November 13, 2014 11:34 AM
My personal control problem is keeping the rear of the car in the rear. I have been in my car with you in the left seat and see and feel you control the car. It is like you could be drinking coffee and do it all with one hand. You react before I feel anything. I think I know what to do but I don't react as fast enough. I am open to any inside information.
I appreciate all you give to the race community. Your info makes me want to HP more.

Sunday, August 21, 2016 9:04 AM
It's good to see that my way ahead is the way ahead. 1 on 1 coaching, data analysis, and sim time. 2/3 can be done by me, and since I'm a cheapass I'll knock those out first. I've plateaued in the 1 second from lap record range and need a way ahead.
Thursday, February 16, 2017 4:42 AM
I got a question here.

Why did you publish this under "latest articles", with an updated time, when it was originally published 3 years ago ? Why not state clearly this is an old article ?

This is not the first time it happens. It sound a bit like clickbait to me ... the article is good, but i already read it. I thought it was the next part.
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