It began when Shannon McGuinness bought a Jaguar XKR that came with something more than ABS and Bluetooth: it also included a free track day. “I thought, ‘how hard can it be? Just push on the gas pedal and go fast!’ Not the case whatsoever!”
Leading the pack of novice drivers at that Las Vegas Jaguar Clinic was Roberto Guerrero, formerly of the Columbian Formula 1 team. On the radio Shannon kept hearing, “White XKR, pick up speed, White XKR, you’re falling behind” Finally she had to pull off into the pit, mortified. Things turned around fast, though, when a coach jumped in the car. One-on-one, she quickly got the hang of things.
By chance ProFormance instructors Wes and Ken Hill were at the clinic. They sang their employer’s praises, so upon returning Shannon checked ProFormance out and fell in love. A track car and lapping followed, and then the inevitable (for many) Competition Licensing and racing.
Also inevitable was the resident talent spotter, Don Kitch, Jr., who convinced Shannon that she had the makings of a good instructor. What started as a hobby became a career behind the wheel, bringing out the best in ProFormance clients.
Preaching the ProFormance Gospel
“The common thing that newer students need to work on is braking,” Shannon says. “They’re surprised to find how hard you have to brake before a turn. I tell them that with the helmet on and the windows down it’s loud in the car. They’ll be hearing me say Great! Great! Great! but I’m actually yelling Brake Brake! Brake!”
At ProFormance Shannon loves helping her clients’ fulfill a long-held ambition. “When someone buys their dream car and brings it to Pacific Raceway, it’s fun to push them out of their comfort zone. They’re doing something they’ve longed to do their entire life.”
“I taught a retired gentleman the other day. He literally had tears in his eyes because bringing his car to the track was fulfilling a lifelong dream. To be part of that, to help people expand their boundaries – that experience is more fun even than racing.”
I always ask people, “Did you learn something today?” and “Did you have fun?” When you see a smile on their face, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Driving: Two X Chromosomes Can Be Better Than One
Shannon acknowledges sport driving has traditionally been male-driven, but more and more women are coming into it. “When I started instructing in 2013, we’d see a woman come through HPDE a couple of times a year. Now there are a handful of women in each course. Women are buying high performance cars, and they want to go to the track too.”
In fact, instructors sometimes joke that guys will fight over the women students, because they’re quicker learners and listen better. “Instructors say that in general, their favorite students are new drivers, who don’t have all the bad habits, and women. They’re like a sponge.”
Another joke she uses with women clients to emphasize – once again – the need to brake on the straightaway before a turn: “Tires are like men: they’re not good at multitasking. Get that braking done in a straight line!”
The presence of more women in motorsport – and at ProFormance – makes sense to Shannon, because things are changing everywhere. It used to be that when a couple came into a car dealership the salespersons talked mostly to the husband. “You guys got this backwards. Women make most of the major purchase decisions. Nowadays women are responsible for more car sales than men.”
Meeting the Makers
Shannon’s skills soon helped her expand her horizons. When BMW was short a driver at a California event, a fellow ProFormance instructor recommended her. She went, and that one instance snowballed into a career traveling to every track across the US. Shannon lends her driving expertise to a wide variety of car manufacturers, working with McLaren, Rolls-Royce, BMW, Lexus, and others. She played a huge part in the launch of the second-generation Acura NSX, training dealers, doing consumer events, and coaching drivers in elite track events.
“It’s a lot of fun going behind the curtain, working at manufacturers’ private proving grounds, seeing what the public doesn’t get to see.”
ProFormance For the Win
There are many places around the country to learn sport driving, but Shannon is fully on board with how ProFormance does things. “At a lot of other driving schools you take a course and you’re done. At ProFormance you can go to the next level, attend the competition school.” There’s also the famed ProFormance community. “Everyone’s so involved in helping one another.”
“I love that Don still teaches, and that his whole family is involved. It’s fantastic to have such an amazing family-owned business in this day and age.” The dedication of the staff also makes a big difference for Shannon. “All the instructors have a really good background in driving, racing, teaching, and they really care. It’s not a paycheck, it’s a passion. They’re all there because they want to be. I love being a part of that.”