Do you feel that you are stuck in an intermediate run group when you should be in the advanced one? You are not alone. Read on for tips on how to advance yourself to the group you want to be in.
Disclaimer And Caution
Advice I am about to give you assumes you actually belong in the higher run group. You should be a solid intermediate driver at the very least. This means, in particular:
- You take and give point-bys in all allowed passing zones without hesitation.
- You run similar or better pace compared to other drivers with cars like yours.
- You have an understanding that most of the drivers in advanced groups know what they are doing, and you only think you know what you are doing, but probably don't know everything, and therefore you will extend additional courtesy to your fellow drivers. Mostly this means pointing cars by when you are unsure whether they are faster - assume they are.
If you are not a solid intermediate driver, you will be very obviously out of place in the advanced group. Other drivers will complain about your driving to the officials. You don't want this to happen.
With that out of the way, let's look at why you might be in the situation we are considering.
Some organizations have a policy that a driver is promoted to the next group when they are being "held up" in their current group. A driver in a low horsepower car may not be "held up" enough for promotion, even if they are otherwise qualified to be in the next group.
Some organizations have a long and bureaucratic promotion process. Frequently there are requirements on the number of events with that organization and possibly even on the number of events at each track.
Some organizations are simply content with leaving intermediate drivers at intermediate level forever (or until they need more instructors).
How do you get yourself unstuck?
Run With Other Organizations
This can be a good and a bad thing.
If you have a "reputation" in a particular organization and this reputation is not favorable, and you think you are really better, you can run with another organization who would have no preconceptions about you.
If you are an intermediate driver with club A, but really you are just about an advanced driver, you can go to club B, sign up for advanced group, and if your driving matches club B's advanced group level everyone will think of you as an advanced driver.
Some organizations say that they verify driver experience. Not all of those actually do.
The flip side of running with multiple organizations is you have less experience with each one. Therefore organizers do not know you as a competent driver (probably they don't know you at all).
Run With Other Regions Of A National Organization
This is a version of the previous strategy for national organizations like NASA and PCA. Usually regions of the same national organization have close relationships with neighboring regions, allowing you to use your status in one region while running with an adjacent region. This typically is most useful for gaining advanced status in "away" regions assuming you already have it in your "home" region. Transfering status from "away" regions to your "home" region is harder but possible.
Just Sign Up
Even organizations that claim to verify experience do not always do it. If you are able to freely choose your run group, sometimes you can simply choose the one you really want to be in. This will not work with organizations that actually check your experience.
Talk To Competition Directors
If the organization you are running with holds competitive events besides HPDE ones, you can attempt to get into the competition by talking to whoever is in charge of that. Frequently there are different people in charge of different parts of a track event, and in this case the person signing off HPDE promotions would be the Chief Instructor whereas the person deciding whether to accept a driver into competition would be Time Trial Director. If Time Trial Director approves you to time trial, you may be required to run in the advanced group which gives you an automatic HPDE promotion.
Find A Sympathetic Instructor
Rather than pleading your own case, find an instructor to plead your case for you. Instructors have much more influence with event organizers than ordinary participants.
An instructor who previously promoted you is likely to recommend you for another promotion, if your driving is up to par. If you do not have an existing relationsip with an instructor, try to find one who is competing. Competitors usually want more drivers to compete with and will be sympathetic to your cause. However, competitors also tend to be better drivers than non-competitors, and if they don't want to have you in their run group because of how you drive you will not be getting a recommendation.
Good Equipment Required
When your driving skills are being evaluated, the baseline is someone in the run group you either are in or are trying to get in (depending on evaluation policy) in a well-prepared car. You can be the best driver in the world, but if your car is junk and as a result you cannot drive as well as your fellow drivers, this counts against you. Some instructors can tell that the deficiency is in the car; some will not care. In particular, using worn tires has a large negative effect on your perceived skills.
No Substitute For Track Time
Ultimately driver skill is a function of experience, and experience comes from track time. More accurately, skill is a function of useful experience: if you have no idea why what you are doing works, or what you are doing at all, you are not improving your skills. Most of the driver qualities improve naturally with track time, and your competency becomes obvious the more you run. Similarly having a high horsepower car may fool spectators looking at you go from the outside, but does little to hide lack of talent from an instructor sitting in the passenger seat.
Look for events offering affordable track time, attend them and use as much of the available track time as possible.