The voice in Jim Warn's head is calm. Always calm.
"Just squeeze the brake," it says.
"Feather the throttle just a bit. Let the car settle down," it reminds him.
"Perfect job on the corner," it says. "Just try to do that same thing every lap."
From his perch on a hill overlooking the twisting Infineon Raceway road course in California, Tom Dyer can see almost every move the MJ-2 Racing team rookie driver makes.
He is so familiar with the course, he can almost feel what the car is doing as Warn steers, brakes, and accelerates the Monte Carlo stock car.
Dyer knows the track like any commuter knows the fast way home. He's an instructor there for the Jim Russell School of Racing and the Audi Sports Car Experience. He's also worked with Nextel Cup's Ward Burton, Stanton Barrett, and Bobby Labonte and the Indy Racing League's Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Tom Dyer, who makes his living...
Tom Dyer, who makes his living racing and helping others to drive well, says every racer can benefit from coaching. June M. Boone
The son of a Trans-Am driver, Dyer grew up in a racing family. He's driven karts, sports cars, open wheel Sprint Cars, stock cars, and has won on just about every type of track that exists.
Although Warn began his racing career in sports cars on road courses, the demands of the heavy, somewhat slow responding stock cars in the NASCAR Camping World West series are still new.
"We went to Infineon for a test day before our race," explains Chuck Carruthers, who oversees the two-car MJ-2 team and also serves as Warn's crew chief.
"We wanted someone who could work with us during the test day," he says. "Tom came highly recommended."
"I've never been big on driving coaches," admits the crew chief, "but when I saw and heard what he could do during the test, we hired him to help on race day."
In spite of becoming the community punching bag for the more experienced drivers and road course "experts," Warn finished 12th at the track, with all the fenders still attached, although some of them just barely.
Driving coach Tom Dyer works...
Driving coach Tom Dyer works through a corner with MJ-2 Racing rookie Jim Warn. Dyer worked with the Camping World West team at the Infineon and Miller Motorsports Park road courses. Jerry F. Boone
"Jim's like a stallion," says Dyer. "He just wants to get out there and race and go as fast as he can all the time. That's good. But he needs someone to help moderate what he does, to keep him focused and calmed down when things begin to go badly."
That, says Dyer, is the job of a coach. But it's not the only job.
"A lot of what we work on is improving driving skill," he says. "It's helping a driver be as good as he can be. Many drivers have more talent than they ever get a chance to use."
Dyer contends every racer can benefit from coaching.
"Not all of them need it," he says, "but we can all benefit. If a driver stays at it long enough, he'll learn just about everything he needs to know. A coach simply speeds up that process."
Following the Infineon race, the team flew Dyer to Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City to work with both Warn and Jeff Jefferson, the team's senior driver.
"They have entirely different backgrounds and levels of experience," says Dyer, "so the help I can offer each one is not the same."
In Warn's case, he was the voice in his helmet, helping to guide the young driver through corners. In Jefferson's situation, some of the time was spent going over a track map to talk about perfect lines.
"People don't feel the track is as technical as Infineon," says Warn, "but if you do a bad job on one corner it puts you in the wrong place for the next four or five corners. You've basically thrown everything away until you get to the front straight," says the young driver.
"There's so much I don't know, I'm kinda like a sponge trying to learn it all. Tom has been a great help just keeping me focused on every lap. There is so much to think about, especially on a road course, that having someone working with you is great."
Dyer says a coach is unlike a spotter in that he isn't concerned about traffic, although some spotters also work like a coach.
"A coach doesn't tell a driver what to do," he adds, "he gives suggestions, advice, tells him how his line or braking point compares to drivers who are faster than he is."
Here driving coach Tom Dyer...
Here driving coach Tom Dyer goes over a map of the Miller Motorsports Park complex with Jeff Jefferson, the veteran teammate of rookie Jim Warn. Jerry F. Boone
He realizes that not every driver-especially blue-collar, short-track racers-can afford to hire a professional coach.
"But they don't need to," he says.
"The only requirement to be a coach is the ability to watch a driver on a track, analyze what he does, compare it to what other drivers are doing and see if there might be a way to improve.
"It may be that the best coach is someone who races at the same track and would be willing to come to a practice session and offer suggestions and advice," he says. "The key is that the coach has to be someone the driver trusts and respects and is willing to listen to."
Why a practice session? "The feedback has to be immediate," he says. "A coach can't talk to a driver about what he or she did on lap 10 of a race and expect the driver to remember. That's why having a radio-and many tracks won't let you use a radio on race nights-is important.
"And during a race on a short track, the driver is pretty busy with other things," he says.
Dyer also says drivers can be their own coaches.
"If you're having a problem with a corner, sit back and try to figure out why. What are you doing and how can you do it differently. Go out and watch another driver."
"As drivers, for the most part, we all know what we need to do," he says. "From time to time we just need to be reminded."
More info at www.tomdyer.com.