Tuesday, October 30, 2012

(180) A lifestyle better than I ever imagined

Up till a few months ago, I didn't think instructing would be my thing. I figured I would enjoy driving only, and that teaching other people would just be depressing because I wasn't driving.

But that turned out not to be the case last weekend, when I worked as an instructor for a supercar autocross experience at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The event was run by Imagine Lifestyles, a supercar rental company.

The basic idea behind the event is to let people drive 3 laps in one of the available supercars of their choice. On the lot we had a good variety: the Lamborghinis were 2 Gallardo LP560-4 Spyders and one Gallardo LP550-2 Bicolore, and the Ferraris were two F430s (one coupe, one spider), a F430 Scuderia, and a 599 GTB. 

It was not a traditional racing school environment, with classroom sessions and multiple on-track sessions throughout the day. As instructors, we had to focus on getting people up to speed comfortably and quickly. It was a challenge and my personal method went through a lot of adjusting during the weekend.

During the first day, we had fewer customers due to it being a Thursday. Still, this was a lot of people due to the short sessions and high interest in the program. We had 250 the first day. With 18 instructors, that works out to approximately 13 students per instructor. Since it was a slower paced day, we could afford to do more talking prior to hitting the autocross in order to get the students really well prepared. Once we were out on track, the instruction was more limited and hands-off, simply because the students already knew what to do.

Once the quantity of customers picked up, though, we had to start changing our instruction style. By Saturday we were literally getting the students right in the cars, introducing ourselves as the instructor, and telling them to go over to the start line after showing them how to use the paddles for the transmission. I only got to stress looking ahead and being smooth before we were launched off the start line for 3 high speed laps. This caused me to switch to a more hands-on approach out on the track, telling the drivers where to look, exactly where to brake and turn, and all the rest. The students handled it really well, and almost everyone I taught showed big improvement in just 3 laps. I felt really proud of them.

This increased efficiency meant we could do more drives. On Saturday, we gave about 530 drives to 450 customers. I didn't hear numbers for Sunday, but it felt like even more. During the 4 days, I had about 83 different students, assuming we all shared the instruction equally. It was definitely more people than I could keep track of.

I got to spend time in most of the cars. The only ones I didn't get to ride in were the two Gallardo Spyders. From what I hear, this turns out to be a good thing because not too many of the instructors enjoyed riding in those cars. They said that it was really hard to be smooth in them, and so the instructors ended up getting knocked around a bit by their drivers. Combined with the high dash, limited visibility, and claustrophobic passenger area, some even got motion sick.

The Ferraris were another matter. All of them were very comfortable to ride in, the 599 especially. The 599 was probably my all-around favorite car. Heavy, yes, but it is very powerful and has surprisingly good handling. Also roomy and comfortable. It has the best seats I have ever sat in. Body hugging, but still soft enough and extremely comfortable. Beautiful in almost every way, as well.

The highlight of the weekend was definitely the instructor drive-arounds, though. Every now and then a customer would purchase an instructor demo session. This is when we got to wheel the cars hard and show what the car could really do.

This is a video of the first time I got to do one of these laps, and it was in a Ferrari F430 Scuderia.

Ferrari F430 Scuderia helmet cam footage.

It was incredible. The Scud is a race car, no question. For me, the most impressive thing about the car was the differential.

I have never experienced an electronic diff for myself, so I was highly curious. During braking, you can tell the car is tighter. It doesn't tip into the corner like unassisted cars do when you trail brake as you turn in. You go faster, yes, but it doesn't really pivot like you expect it to. Then, when you get off the brake, it rolls very freely. As you apply the throttle, you can feel the car shimmy, and then set, and you take this as your cue to floor it. The car rockets off the corner effortlessly.

It's glorious.

Also glorious is the Lambo V10 in the Gallardo Bicolore. I got to drive this car near the end of day 4. The Bicolore has 50 more horsepower than the Scud, but is heavier. I was absolutely giddy with excitement at the prospect of driving this car, and it shows on camera because I won't shut up. The car makes you high on life and full of energy. This car would be an absolute blast to drive every day. I hope my passenger wasn't annoyed with my antics.

Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Bicolore helmet cam footage.

I still giggle to myself every time I see that video. I still think it would have been better if I just shut up and drove. But it is what it is.

Overall I had an absolutely great time. Imagine Lifestyles really did a great job running this event. They said they want to come back next year, and if they do, I am definitely going to try to do this event again.

I actually enjoyed teaching so much, I'm looking at getting a full time instructing job. But as that idea is just in it's infancy, we'll explore it later.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

(179) Hired

It's been a little bit since I updated you guys, so here it is!

My primary objective for the past 10 months has been to get back into a race car. While I haven't achieved that goal quite yet, I now have a better idea of how I am going to achieve it.

My past plan was to try to develop a portfolio of internet businesses. This has not progressed for various reasons, one of which is that I just don't find it very rewarding or motivating. While that is on the back-burner, and still very much a possible route I may follow, for now I will pursue what does give me a sense of accomplishment, which is computer programming. Demand for computer programmers is high, so the job security is great, and the pay is more than adequate to get me racing again. Of course, there are problems.

One of the problems is my education is lacking. I don't have a high school diploma, so I can't enter a college to earn a degree in computer science. I can fix that by getting a GED, which will allow me to get into a 2 year college. While I'm at community college, I can earn a high school diploma by completing college level courses which earn high school credit much faster than high school courses. Basically, 3 units at the local community college translates to 10 credits to a high school diploma. I need 180 credits to qualify for the high school exit exam so that process would be greatly accelerated over doing high school level classes. With a high school diploma, I would be eligible to enter a 4 year university if I decide to go that route. Better to get it done now and be ready should the opportunity present itself. A 2 year degree should be more than enough to get me a good job, though, especially since I am building computer programs for my portfolio right now. I already have a good grasp of three programming languages.

Of course the downside to this process is it will take some time. Right now I'm scoring pretty highly on evaluation tests (okay, let me be honest, I am destroying the tests - except for math), so the GED part should be quick enough to get me into a degree program by next year. I may be able to land a job with a good employer at that point if I can prove I will complete the degree, or I have a good portfolio of released programming work.

So, that's it for the road map to a job that will likely take a lot of time but will have a more predictable and reliable income than "build websites to sell stuff on the internet." But what about racing?

Well, I am going to try to stay close to racing as well as I can, so that means trying to get a job as an instructor. Working as a racing or performance driving instructor has a lot of advantages. Most instructors are independent contractors, so they have a lot of freedom about where they work. They get to drive every now and then, which is good for keeping skills somewhat in shape. Plus they get to meet tons of people that are highly interested and at least relatively well invested in motorsport. That last bit is really good for networking.

So, since it's such a good deal, I went and got myself an instructing job with Imagine Lifestyles (www.imaginelifestyles.com), a supercar rental company that occasionally organizes autocross experience events using exotic cars. I am going to help instruct a 4-day event with Lamborghini Gallardos and Ferrari F430s at Candlestick park in San Francisco from October 25th to the 28th.

What's really cool is not only do I get to introduce people to driving truly great machines, but I will probably also get to drive them some myself, because instructor hot laps are offered to show the clients what the cars can really do. Now that, that would be awesome.

I'm really excited to do my first event as an instructor. I will definitely update you guys when that's done, and I will see if I can get some helmet cam video (not sure about the company policy on that, but I will try).