Be a Track Day Instructor

Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach. Except for John Hogan, who just pretends. Can he convince a bunch of track virgins he’s an instructor with the Ron Haslam Race School?

Of the thousands of track laps this magazine’s racked up over the years, I can only lay claim to a few of them. I’m the only person on the team who can count on two hands the amount of times I’ve ridden on track. Don’t get me wrong, I love circuit riding but I’m certainly no racer.

So if you were to pitch up at a trackday for the first time, looking for somebody to guide you round, the last person you’d expect to see is me. Jesus, the last place I’d expect to find myself on a trackday is welcoming twelve wide-eyed, Frank Thomas-clad lemmings into the briefing room. But I am: “Tonight Mathew, I’m going to be a Ron Haslam Race School Instructor”. Only problem is, when I walk through the doors, dry ice blowing and lights flashing, I’m the same, talent-free track riding pretender, tripping over my fancy boots and sporting the same set of knee sliders I started this job with four years ago.

The group of twelve sat in front of me know nothing about circuit riding. It’s my job to introduce them to the flag system, braking zones, apexes and the like. So I get stuck in. On the outside I’m mumbling, on the inside I’m suffocating. I try to relax everyone by starting with a conversation: “Did anyone see the new series of Knight Rider last night?” More blank faces than a dummy factory stare listlessly at me. I feel like an unfunny comedian playing a rammed Albert Hall, all this is before we’ve got anywhere near a now soaking Donington.

Lord help me. I change tactics and talk about why I love riding Donington, about how when you watch Stoner stuffing his bike into the Melbourne loop it feels great knowing that you’ve ridden the same inch of tarmac. I see a collective flicker of agreement in the eyes of the pupils – I have their attention. I fire into the points I consider most valid; which way the corners go, what to do when somebody waves a black flag at you and the like. 20 minutes later the group are eager to get out there and see what I’ve been harping on about. I’m filled with the need to smoke cigarettes. Loads of ‘em.

I’m assigned a pupil to shepherd for the day. Thankfully veteran instructor and all round good guy Pete Boast is on hand to ensure my man gets the most from the experience, but he’s happy for me to talk the talk. I do so with my fingers crossed behind my back, hoping I can back up the stuff that’s spewing from my mouth.

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Matthew Holl, my pupil for the day, tells me that he owns a Kawasaki ZX-6R, that he’s ridden his old man’s Triumph a bunch of times and that he’s keen to get an ACU race licence. What he fails to tell me is that he’s fifteen years-old, he’s only ever ridden his Dad’s bike up and down his drive and that he has yet to throw a leg over the ZX-6R.

This all becomes apparent when we waddle out onto the track like little ducklings, Matt’s feet poking from the pegs like flapping puppy’s ears. I immediately think that if he’s not careful he could catch his toes on the track, pulling his foot from the peg, which would be bad. I have more pressing things to deal with though, namely the lack of brake lights on the CB500s the pupils use. The first sign I get of Matt getting on the brakes is when his bike completely fills my visor on the way through Craner Curves. I decide to hold back a little.

Matt isn’t afraid of the throttle, far from it. On the back straight I see 100mph on the speedo, as well as flames spitting from the exhaust of his bike. He’s more than capable of changing gear but I think he likes the sound of the rev limiter; fair enough.

Pete’s words about not overloading the little blighters with information and advice are ringing in my ears, and within ten laps I’ve seen enough to offer some structured and genuine feedback. Before we pit, my little duckling turns into the Melbourne Loop while shifting down three gears and dumping the clutch. The bike slews and screams at the same time. I wince and get out of the way, expecting the worst. Bizarrely he stays up. His body language tells me he’s completely unaware of how close to lobbing it he was. Thankfully.

I soon see the reasoning for keeping debriefs brief. Matt’s eyes have glazed over with adrenaline. He has no interest in listening to Pete and I, he just wants more of what he’d just tasted. Pete plays a blinder, getting Matt’s attention and calming him down before handing him back to me. “Nobody puts their riding gear on while they’re riding their bike, Matt – you have to do one thing at a time until it becomes second nature.” I almost believe myself as I hear the words tumbling from my mouth. Matt nods in agreement and we spend some time working on body position on a bike in the pits before heading out for more. I’m amazed when I see Matt applying techniques that I’ve taught him. His feet are up out of the way, his lines are better and he’s riding smoother considering his lack of experience. I can’t believe how much better he’s going, and it’s down to me. Which feels both incredibly satisfying and quite daunting at the same time.

Matt’s thoughts on Hogan’s instructing

“I was really nervous about riding round Donington, especially because it was raining by the time I got to ride a bike. John did a really good job of helping me relax. I thought he knew exactly what he was talking about. In the briefing room he made a few jokes and got us talking about why we were there, and I forgot my nerves. On track I just wanted to go fast. The first session felt fast but my lines needed work. John made a few suggestions about my body position and they made me quicker. I’d be more than happy to have him instruct me again.”

Ron’s thoughts on Hogan

“John fell perfectly into the category of instructors that are really good at talking to people. All the instructors get a little nervous before the day, in a good way. I’d seen John ride before and I knew he was capable of leading new riders on track no problems. He was relaxed whenever he spoke to the students, which helps relax them. This is key to them enjoying the day and learning something new. That said he does have a slightly angry face, even when he is saying all the right things. I’d want him to work on this if I was going to have him back.”