Instructing for Xtreme Xperience

I know most of the HPDE instructors in the greater Seattle area. When Xtreme Xperience came to our area in 2018 and tried recruiting local instructors for one of their "Real Supercars, Real Racetracks, Real Professional Coaches" events, most of us had a very negative reaction. We envisioned a scenario where a rich 'cowboy' with no skills is turned loose in a Ferrari, and we as instructors are in the right seat trying to stay alive. One of my peers, a leader in the local BMWCCA, went and tried out as an instructor. He came back and reported that he had a blast. He quietly started tapping a few of us on the shoulder who he thought had the necessary skills and demeanor to be successful with Xtreme. I joined them for the Seattle and Portland events, and I too had a blast. Let me tell you about it from the perspective of a 'busy' HPDE Instructor.

First, let me dispel some of the myths. The majority of the clients I have encountered with Xtreme are getting to drive their "Dream Car", and they were gifted the experience by a family member or significant other. They have literally been waiting months for this moment. They have sat through a 30-40 minute classroom and been exposed to the basics. They bought high deductible insurance. They have been told if they hit a cone or put a tire on the curb, they will owe hundreds in penalties. They are *very* interested in staying within the limits.

The few customers who do have prior HPDE experience have heard the same things, and they arrive at the car knowing they have to drive well below their "HPDE Limits". Xtreme sets the limits as "7/10ths". They define that as the lowest level of Car / Driver / Track conditions. They expect the professional coaches to drive no more than 7/10ths too. Another way they express this (to the coaches) is "No push, no tail-out, no ABS". If the car is slipping around, you're pushing it too hard. Broadly speaking, few clients get to pull lateral G's anywhere close to the limits. They still have a blast.

So, what's it like from a coaching perspective? In some ways, it's a cross between Driver Skills and HPDE. The 'DS' aspect of it is you are interacting with a different driver every fifteen minutes, and that "three minute interview" is maybe all you get by way of getting to know them. You need to rapidly figure out what level they may be on, and coach to that level. Many/most have never been on a track before. A useful tool is to think of it as managing the confidence vs skill balance. If they're low on confidence but possess average street driver skills, your job is to build their confidence up. As I pushed drivers to add "a little more gas" here and there, I always checked in, "Am I pushing you too hard?" Nobody said I was, but I've been teaching HPDE/DS a lot, and I read people pretty well. If they're high on confidence, but not demonstrating the requisite skills, you have to keep them safe by reining them in. And you do it all while being relentlessly positive. They have paid a fair bit of money to be here, and you want them to come away beaming. I try hard to inject enthusiasm; Woo-Hoos, hand claps, fist bumps, whatever you can add that keeps the energy up while not tipping over into the cheesey.

The XX 'Team' is a pretty tight-knit clan, but they do go out of their way to embrace the new coaches, and do all they can to make you successful. Their safety culture / teamwork is excellent, but how you bring up concerns is key. I felt like I was always listened to / viewpoint considered, but I have decades of experience in saying the tough things in a way that people listen to. I saw other new (auditioning) instructors have very 'eye-roll' reactions and making clear that XX methods are stupid. That.....did not go well.

XX modifies the track set-up in a few key ways. If the straights are long enough that very high speeds (150+) will be attained with no skills, they typically add a chicane early on to slow things down a little. If the track has long fast sweepers, they may add a chicane there too, both to control the speeds, and to orient the cars to avoid too much exposure to blind turns. If a track has multiple layout options, they may select one that minimizes lap times in order to maximize the number of customers they can cycle through the cars. Brake zones are expanded to be very conservative (a good thing, as I had several students who would brake from 130-140, and then ease off brakes at 100).

XX tries to have enough instructors at each event so that you can spend maybe a solid two hours in the right seat working, then a 30 minute break. In a full day at that tempo, I'm averaging 23-24 clients a day. It's a very high rate. The instructors try to take care of each other by proactively asking if you need a break. I think the key bit there is to be thinking ahead, as the best 'substitutions' happen if you tell somebody a session ahead of time that you want a break the next time in. That way, they can have somebody suited up and ready to go. For bathroom breaks, that has worked well for me. The trickier one is when you're out on track with a client and have the sudden realization that you are fatigued (forget the client's name, use the wrong words, get tongue-tied). With those, you really need to get out of the car at the next possible time to ensure everybody's safety.

All instructors are wearing Motorola radios with "Secret Service style" earphones inside their helmets. The pit boss, along with Tech (vehicle issues) and Media (video recording issues) are also on that channel. At the majority of XX events, there are no turn workers. The instructors call out turn worker info to each other, e.g. "Local Yellow, exit of Turn 2, gravel on the track." The radio network can be used to call for a pass from behind. More commonly, the pass is initiated by the coach in the (slower) car in front, using hand signals. XX does expect the coach to at minimum place a hand near the driver's wheel, and even grab the wheel to facilitate the pass. This is unusual (in my experience) but it is effective. I will say that having the radio in your head all the time can be a little bandwidth sapping, and it's a chore to juggle that with communicating with your customer.

In general you will not have an intercom between you and your customer (a handful of cars are outfitted with chatterbox mics that tie into the stereo, I have yet to use one). I elected to buy a new Bell SA2015 Open Face helmet for this reason; it makes speaking clearly with the customer easier, along with simply having a 'face' instead of a 'Stig' look.

If you are not in a vehicle, the other most important job to do is 'Expediting'. When the team is running at maximum throughput, a coach stays in the right seat for a fair bit of time while the customers come to the car to saddle up. An expeditor usually squats or kneels in the driver door area and helps the customer get situated ergonomically, belts on, and USB stick handed over to the right seat coach. This can be done in 20 seconds or so.

The USB stick plugs in to the car's data/video system. Video is recorded any time the vehicle is in motion. The USB stick goes with the customer back to "front of house" where they can sell the video to the customer as a memento if he/she desires. The data/video system can be a little fussy, and that's why "Media" is always a radio call away to come over and assist. One of the 'tall guy' pitfalls I discovered is on the Ferraris, the cigarette lighter / power cord is roughly where my elbow wants to be. Bump it, and you take the data system down. A best practice is to turn on the video and in the first fifteen seconds give your name, the client's name, the location and a brief description of the car. I like to have some fun with it and imagine it being shared on Youtube - "Hi, I'm Todd, and I'm here with Drew in this fabulous Ferrari 488 - Red, because Red is the fastest color! We're here at Portland International Raceway with Xtreme Xperience!"

Coming back in to the pits area from the track, XX usually has a photographer there to capture the 'big grins'. They usually line up on the Driver's side, with a logo'd semi-trailer as a backdrop. If you're driving the car and the customer is in the right seat, make it clear to the photographer to go to the other side.

If you have established a 'connection' with the customer (i.e., they had fun with you), they may ask you to accompany them to a 2nd or 3rd car. Since there's usually a wait between car availability, it's important that they know your name so they can ask for you again. The CS agents / pit wranglers will always do what they can to make this happen, but there are limitations. If you're already out on track when the customer's turn comes up, and the particular car is booked solid for the rest of the day, oh well.

The one 'class' of customers that stands apart for less engagement / energy are the corporate clients. XX may sell all or part of the first day of the engagement to a few corporate clients (sometimes this is a day that doesn't even appear on the customer-facing website). I have had some great clients on a corporate day, but I've also had a few who either didn't realize that the 'pitch' they were attending included a supercar drive or who were very timid. You just have to adjust...

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