I believe in the HOD philosophy that prioritizes things in this order: Safe, Fun, Learn
Dev Clough: Head Coach for Hooked on Driving
by Ziva Allen
When we discovered that Dev Clough, Coaching Coordinator for Hooked On Driving’s west coast region, once was voted Instructor of the Year by NASA, we knew we wanted to pick his brain about coaching, driving and his thoughts on the HPDE hobby. I know I’d want him in my car!
Q. Tell us about your driving career.
A. I came from a family that did not have much interest in cars beyond transportation, so I’m not sure where my enthusiasm came from, but it started when I was maybe 10 years old. Early on I was oriented towards hot-rodding, but then I discovered the world of road racing, and I was hooked. As a teen I dreamed about racing karts, but never had the resources. The dream was not a reality until I was about 30 years old and I finally began racing karts. I tried lots of forms of kart racing, including sprint tracks and even a little dirt oval stuff, but settled in on road courses like Sears Point, Laguna Seca and later on Thunderhill. I raced karts for about 15 years before moving on to cars.
Q. What is the Mazda RX-7 series?
A. The RX-7 series was the forerunner to the current Spec Miata race series. The cars were all 1979-1985 Mazda RX-7s. All of the modifications allowed to the cars were “Specified” so the cars were very equal in performance, putting the focus on driver skill. It was great racing, with typical fields of 40 or more cars.
Q. You were a kart racing champion. Talk about the transition from karting to cars and how karting can make an HPDE participant a better driver.
A. The essential driving skills are the same. Karts are just extremely responsive. Controlling a slide and being quick in a kart requires the same skills it would in a car. I grew up in Chicago 40+ years ago and spent all winter sliding cars around in the snow. Roads are more crowded these days, and it is very hard to find situations away from the track where you can practice car control skills, without being really stupid, which, by the way, I probably was back then! So karts can teach you how to control a car as it nears the edge, and the concepts of line, trail-braking, being smooth…all the skills needed to drive a car well can transition from karts to cars. I recommend that Drivers get some time in karts.
Q. What is your role with Hooked On Driving?
A. My title is Operations Manager and Head Coach. I coordinate event logistics and take care of many of the details in preparation for events. I also manage our volunteer coach staff. Our management team is small, so our responsibilities can cover a lot of territory…we all do whatever needs to get done.
Q. How do you approach HPDE instructing? What is your teaching philosophy?
A. I believe in the HOD philosophy that prioritizes things in this order:
Safety is always the first priority. If cars get damaged or folks get hurt, our sport is jeopardized. We specialize in a very friendly and relaxed experience for our drivers, but we are aggressive when it comes to safety. We are proud of our excellent safety record.
Next, our drivers come to HOD to have fun. We know they could play golf or tennis or any of a thousand other forms of entertainment, but they have chosen to give HOD a shot. So the experience has to be fantastic and fulfilling. We have a saying among our coaches, “Diagnose your Driver.” Understand why your driver is there. Coaching a driver whose goal is a career in racing is very different from coaching a driver who is filling their bucket list. One of the things we are proudest of is our coach’s ability to get this right.
The third item is for folks to learn. We want folks to end the day knowing they have skills they did not have before the day started. What brings our coaches back is the satisfaction of knowing they have shared their knowledge and skills with other enthusiasts. Personally, and I hear this over and over from our coaches, the most satisfying experience is that smile on a drivers face when they begin to understand and master a new skill.
In keeping with those three items I personally believe that a positive environment is essential for good teaching. We have chosen the word “coach” over “instructor” with intent. We think a coach implies a partner in the learning process. It just makes sense to me that reinforcing good results is the most constructive way to learn. I know that has always worked best for me.
Q. You developed the curriculum for HOD. Tell us about that curriculum.
A. The curriculum was actually developed by a lot of folks. David Ray, the owner of HOD, was really the key person in this. He set the tone for HOD and offered a lot of guidance for the curriculum, but he also gave the entire HOD Team a lot of latitude to try various ideas. If I tried to list all the folks who contributed, I would definitely leave some key contributors out. What I can say is it has been, and continues to be, a collaborative effort of a lot of smart and motivated folks!
The basic curriculum follows closely the HOD Philosophy described earlier. Our novice drivers get a lot of special attention. There are download meetings before their first session in the morning and immediately following each session through the day. We have developed a fairly sophisticated presentation that begins with the essential knowledge drivers need, from important locations, basic track protocols etc. and moves along into high performance driving techniques as the day progresses. We try to get a coach in every car for our new drivers first time on the track. In fact, typically all or most of our novice group has a personal coach riding right seat through the day. For drivers in the novice group who have been with HOD previously, we alter the program slightly so their day is not just a repeat of the basics, and introduces new concepts. Our novice drivers are kept busy through the day with classroom, plenty of track time and even some paddock exercises, when possible.
As drivers move into the more advanced groups, the classroom experience becomes much more interactive. We continue to offer opportunities to discuss more advanced driving techniques, nuances of individual tracks, corners and even cars, but we make this more optional after the first meeting or two. Most drivers choose to participate and feedback has been good on the quality of the information.
Q. How should someone interested in track days get started?
A. The first thing is to forget the obstacles you think might exist
- You do not need
- A super sports car for your first event or two
- Special tires or suspension and you definitely do not need a supercharger!
- Your first trackday is all about driving, and very little about the car.
- Get the image out of your mind of Tom Cruise banging fenders, or what you have learned watching “Fast and Furious 9.” It’s not like that!
- You do need
- A nicely maintained car. Focus or Ferrari is fine!
- A helmet (we rent them)
- A great attitude!
- Register for an event
Next is to decide which group is right for you to run with. Each organization has its own pluses and minuses. There is a ton of information online, and that’s a good source, but I would personally suggest you just visit an event and decide for yourself if it feels right.
And finally, choose a track. It’s tempting to want to go to the track you have heard about on TV or that’s closest to you, but selecting the right track for your first event is important. Look for a track in your area that is well suited to inexperienced drivers. That doesn’t mean “not challenging.” In fact, my favorite track, after 35 years at this, is a great track for new drivers, yet continues to challenge me every time I drive there.
Q. What do you do to continue to improve as a driver?
A. I think this is true in all sports. I continue to focus on the basics. I remind myself every event, “eyes up.” Look farther ahead. I also spend a lot of time driving on the streets and thinking about being smooth and feeling the car. And I try not to close my mind to the input of other folks. Not easy for me, by the way! There is a corner I have driven hundreds of times and was pretty sure I had figured out. Then a friend suggested a different approach…and it worked.
Q. Which one or two cars would you recommend to an HPDE participant?
A. First, narrowing this to one or two cars is tough. In my opinion we are living in a golden age of fabulous cars. There are simply a lot of fantastic choices right now of cars that are track-ready, right out of the box.
But, you asked for one or two, so I’ll give you three:
The Ferrari Italia is spectacular…but beyond most budgets
The new Stingray is an amazing value. Ferrari performance at 25% of the price!
And on a tighter budget (like mine), I’m excited about the new Mustang, and not just the GT.
But in an age of Carreras, 370Zs, BRZs, MX-5s, Caymans, Lotus’, McLarens, BMWs, and many more, there’s plenty of room to argue!
Q. What are the important modifications for a track day vehicle?
- Seat time. If you’re on a budget, spend your money on seat time
- Tires. Not necessarily pure racing tires. There are tires today that you can leave on the car even if it’s your daily driver that will be amazing on the track. They will not last 60k miles, however!
- High temp brake fluid and high performance brake pads
- Performance seat and properly installed harness
Thanks Dev for spending some time with us. Our readers thoroughly enjoy hearing from coaches and your input is much appreciated.