Track Courtesy

What About Running At Non-NSX Events?

[KS] I have some thoughts on this matter. First, though, some background, as I   will be sending this message to a wider audience, including the (recently   revived) big NSX list, since not everyone there has seen the discussion on   the Midwest list.

It appears that one local chapter of the BMW Car Club of America is concerned about NSX participation in their track events because of a few reports of incidents with our cars and owners at a recent track event held at Road America by the Porsche Club of America. Allegations include discourteous behavior (specifically – passing in turns), driving too fast,  and unsafe driving.

I’d like to comment first about how these specific incidents ought to be handled, and follow that with some thoughts about our participation in such events in general. In fact, I was not at this particular event, and cannot comment whether the charges are true or deserved; I can only pass along thoughts about the kinds of behaviors that are alleged. All of this is IMHO, even where not stated as such. And please notice that none of the comments below are directed at specific individuals.

There are two basic types of track events held at racetracks: drivers schools and races. This entire discussion is relevant only to drivers schools, not to races, where on-track behavior is generally less restrictive. At a drivers school, passing is allowed only on designated straightaways, and only on a signal from the car being passed. Any violation of these rules is unsafe – not only because of the behavior itself, but also because it is not expected by the other drivers at the event. Simply put, there is no excuse for unsafe behavior. It’s got to be stopped.

It is the responsibility of the event organizers to enforce the rules at any event. They can and should enforce the rules by black-flagging any violators to bring them into the pits, lecturing them there, threatening expulsion for any repeated violations, and making good on those threats if necessary. There are other potential options for individual cases as well,  such as assigning a new instructor to the student, etc.

Sometimes, though, the event organizers need help from others to do their job. In particular, they don’t always see unsafe behavior when it occurs. Therefore, it’s imperative that any unsafe behavior be dealt with for the safety of everyone at the event, by calling it to the attention of the appropriate individuals. Who are these? Well, if your best friend is acting like a jerk on the track, you can take him aside yourself, but more likely it is someone that you don’t know and who might resent any advice you might give him. There is a chain of command for responsibility for any driver’s behavior at these events. At any in-car driver’s school, there is an instructor who is responsible for each student. Even if the student has been signed off for solo, his or her instructor is still responsible for the student. So that would be the first person, the one with the most direct contact with the student, who is in a position to act on such behavior. In addition to the driver’s assigned instructor, there is always a Chief Instructor who is in charge of the actual running of the event, who is also in a position to act on such behavior himself/herself, as well as to discuss it with the instructor or assign a different instructor, etc. And there may be a separate event chairperson who is also able to act in such a situation. Any of these people can and should be approached in order to prevent continued occurrences of unsafe driving. To observe such  behavior and not call it to anyone’s attention only contributes to an unsafe environment.

In addition to passing violations, there are other types of discourteous driving that may also be taking place that need to be dealt with. One example is tailgating – following too closely. At a drivers school, there is no need to follow closely going through the corners, when there’s no opportunity to pass for a while. In fact, the only place one car should be close to another is exiting a turn leading onto a straight passing zone. When I hear about a car that’s "driving too fast", I seriously doubt that that, in itself, is the problem. A driver can be much faster than others on the track, but as long as he/she does not follow too closely when catching up to another car, it simply isn’t a problem. I suspect the so-called problem is actually one of following too closely.

One last type of unsafe behavior should also be mentioned – driving beyond your limits. If you spin, if you go off the track, and particularly if you wreck your car, you are, by definition, exceeding your limits and driving in an unsafe manner, jeopardizing your own car (and life) as well as those of others. Do these things and you WILL be considered an unsafe driver. Maybe it looks cool on the videotape. But it doesn’t look so cool when you see the car in front of you on the track doing it and you have no idea where he will wind up and whether he will be directly in your own path. We’ve incurred a rash of track accidents this year. While I think a nice-looking NSX is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, a crashed NSX is one of the saddest. Let’s put a stop to this. I hope everyone will ratchet their track driving at drivers schools back a couple of notches. If those extra hundredths of a second in lap times are important to you, then you should be driving in race events (where participants expect to smash up their cars at some point) and not in drivers schools.

It was stated, regarding the individuals who participated in these reported incidents, that they are not part of "our group" – "our group" referring to a local bunch of NSX Club members who regularly go together to track events around the Midwest. Well, folks, I’ve got news for you – as far as these clubs are concerned, they ARE part of our group. They will lump all the NSX drivers together as "those NSX people". We can’t dissociate ourselves from specific individual NSX drivers as part of the "NSX group"; all we can do is to ask them to treat problem drivers as individuals and not to  condemn and punish the entire group for the behavior of a few individuals.

This brings me to my second point – that of our participation in the track events that are held by other marque clubs. It’s unfortunate, but true, that we just don’t have thousands of members like those other clubs, and hundreds of people who can work hard on holding track events across the country. Our numbers are relatively small, and while we have been able to start holding a few events on our own recently, we can’t count on having a hundred drivers sign up for every track event like those other clubs can. So even though our numbers are increasing, I think we will never be in a position to have the kind of event program that these larger clubs do.

OTOH, we are EXTREMELY fortunate that a few of the marque clubs welcome participation by club members driving cars other than their associated marque. They don’t need to do this; in many cases they can fill their events with their own cars. But they allow us to participate, with all kinds of benefits to them, including greater confidence in filling their  event (and having it pay for itself), greater exposure of outsiders to the unique capabilities of their preferred marque (in hopes of winning converts, perhaps), and, in many cases, the hope that the more nice people who are car enthusiasts who get together at a time, the better a time we’ll all have. And this is a real PRIVILEGE for us – it’s not a right, but a  privilege that can be revoked at any time.

Because this is a privilege, we should be grateful for this opportunity. One way to show our appreciation is to behave in as friendly and cooperative a manner as we can. This means more than just following the passing rules and not crashing. This means treating people with respect. This means, in general, being "nice folks" – not complaining when we’re asked to remove the NSX jack from the trunk of our cars at an event, not complaining about the run group we’re assigned to, etc. I’m as guilty of some of these negative actions as others in our group, and I sincerely regret doing so. I would suggest that everyone might want to think twice before getting angry at anyone at a track event held by another marque club, lest we lose this opportunity, not only for each of us as an individual, but for the entire group as well. We should be grateful they allow us to be there. Kind of like being a guest at someone’s dinner party, where it’s considered disgracefully rude to insult or complain to the host.

One of the things I’ve found over twelve years of doing this is that it helps to participate in the same events with the same group(s) on a consistent basis. There are several reasons for this. One is, the event organizers and other frequent participants know me, they know my driving style and abilities, and they know whether they can trust me. Another is  that I’ve become good friends with many of these same people. I like these people. You, too, can find a group that you like to get together with, time after time.

I’d like to make another suggestion for anyone who is interested in showing his or her appreciation for the ability to participate in these events, particularly if you’ve found a group where you feel comfortable with. Help out. Every track event requires a tremendous amount of work. (If you’ve never done it, you have NO idea how much.) The people who run these events can always use some help. Consider volunteering to work at a track event. There are plenty of jobs that you can help out with – some will prevent you from driving at the event, and others won’t. You can work corners. You can sign people in at registration and check that they have tech forms. You can "clean tech" the cars (check that there is no loose debris inside the cars at the start of the day). You don’t need any experience, and they will be happy to show you how to do what you will do. The help will definitely be appreciated.

I was very proud, last October, when I spoke with one of the event organizers at the conclusion of a BMW CCA track event at Road America, and he complimented our group of seven NSX’s and what nice folks we are and how much they enjoyed having us. I hope we can all contribute to this attitude and make it a tradition among our members. In this way, we can continue to enjoy the benefits of participating in these events. And hopefully we can prevent a few individuals from spoiling it for the rest of us.

At the Track