Mazda Prototype teammates Tom Long and Joel Miller are also some of the best driver coaches around. In addition to private clients, Miller is the official driver coach and mentor for the Mazda Road to Indy categories, from Formula 2000 to Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. Driver coaching can be the difference between winning your next race or continuing to struggle. Joel’s BEHIND THE ZOOM blog gives you an outline of how to get the most out of hiring a coach.

All of the Mazda racing series are in the mid-summer swing and visiting some fantastic circuits. For the Mazda Motorsports Prototype program, our most recent races have been at Watkins Glen and Mosport, with Road America next. Those are three iconic circuits in North America, and all three are at the top of my personal favorites. My teammate and co-driver Tom Long and I were recently chatting about some of the clients we coach privately during our off-weekends. (Which answers the question, “What do racers do when they aren’t racing?” We go to the race track!) Tom and I discussed how a driver can get the most out of hiring a driver coach, and I’m happy to share those thoughts with you.

The obvious reason to hire a coach is to be a better driver, which is why you should hire a professional. Driver coaching can range from the basic knowledge of a proper line around the race track (for beginners), to learning how to read data systems, car setup, race craft and everything in-between. Here are three tips to get the best experience from driver coaching.

1.) Know What You Want to Achieve
Tip number one is knowing what you want to achieve from having a coach for a day or weekend. The idea ‘I just want to be faster’ is a given. A day at the track with a coach will get started on the right foot if the client knows what they are having trouble with (for example: braking and heel/toeing). Since this is preventing them from going faster, we can start right away. The first on-track session is always an evaluation by the coach to assess the driver’s skills. If the coach is directed to some trouble areas, we can get to work much faster because we all know track time is valuable. Open lapping days have so much more track time than race weekends, so that’s best if you are trying to work on a specific driving discipline. In contrast, if you are trying to work on race craft, then a race weekend would be a better choice to utilize a coach.

2.) Work With a Coach At Least Two Consecutive Days
My second tip is sometimes tough due to monetary or calendar-related issues, but having the opportunity to work with a coach two or more consecutive days will pay off exponentially. Day one is usually spent learning each other, and getting used to the lingo. If the morning session is spent with the evaluation session, then you only have a few on-track hours to get down to the business of making yourself faster with the coach’s inputs. Before you know it, the driver is making great progress, but we have to stop at the end of the day. Two consecutive days allows the driver and coach to learn, then address certain topics. Allowing for a second day, the driver is able to sleep on what was learned, and then start building upon day one’s lessons with a fresh mind.

3.) Ask Questions
The third piece of advice is to ask questions. Coaches may assume you know what we mean when describing a concept. We talk in racing lingo which you may not understand, or a coach will request you try something mid-corner with the throttle, but you have no idea why. Asking questions will help you understand the reasons why you’re being asked to do something, which should make the concept memorable and repeatable. We want to make sure that what was learned in the morning carries over after you’ve had lunch. There is always time for questions – so never think it is an inconvenience.

Whether you are new to racing, a seasoned racer or only participate in track days here or there, remember that you are out there to have fun. Coaching is available to help you have even more fun, especially when the concepts we teach ‘click’ and you go, “Wow, that really works!”

Feel free to reach out to me and my Mazda Motorsports teammates with any driving-related questions. If you are at any of the IMSA events, make sure to stop by the paddock and say hello. Maybe our conversation will prompt the next blog idea or your next race victory. Until next time, remember: Driving Matters.