Local Man Becomes Professional Driving Instructor for Motorsport Club
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
There is a time and a place for everything, and sometimes those times arrive later in life. Such is the case for James Noah, currently 64 years old and living out his dream of being a professional driving instructor for a motorsport club.
“Most of the other instructors are half my age,” Noah says.
Not that he’s complaining. He’s just happy to be enjoying retirement behind the wheel of a fancy sports car.
“Let’s be honest,” he says. “How often do you get paid to drive a Lamborghini?”
Originally from Minnesota, Noah moved to Indianapolis in 1999 to work for a company that supplies robotics and assembly equipment for the automobile industry. Throughout the past two decades, he worked for various automotive companies before retiring in December of 2019.
Noah had a good friend who was an instructor with Porsche Club of America, whose members get together at tracks around the country for high-performance driver education (HPDE). Though these are not racing events, they allow laymen to rent out a track for the weekend and learn how to drive performance cars.
In 2013, Noah purchased a vehicle he could use on the track, then started going to these weekend events. As he gained experience, he moved through the ranks from novice to intermediate to advanced. After five years, he applied to become an instructor with a club out of Cincinnati called 10/10ths Motorsports.
“These HPDE weekends enable people to drive their car in a controlled environment,” Noah says. “Though there are no prizes, this is a full speed race.”
In September of 2020, Noah was hired to be a professional driving instructor for Xtreme Xperience, a company out of Chicago that has a fleet of cars such as Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and McLarens. Xtreme Xperience goes around the country to different tracks almost like a tour, and people pay to drive supercars on a track with an instructor.
Noah describes the interview process for this job as the most intense he’s ever had, but that makes sense when one considers what’s involved.
“You’re in a half-a-million-dollar car going 140 miles per hour,” Noah says. “They want people they can trust.”
Instructors arrive in the early morning to test cars and warm them up. Around 9 a.m. they start taking people out on the track to satiate their need for speed. Usually the guest is behind the wheel and Noah is the passenger, but sometimes they ask him to drive.
“You have to profile people to see where they are comfortable, and be sensitive to how the car is handling,” Noah says. “The main goal is safety, but we want them to experience what it’s like to open up the throttle a bit.”
All of the instructors have closed-circuit radio, so they are connected with one another and the pit boss. They know what the other cars are doing, making it a safe environment. Having said that, this high-octane fun is intense and hectic, which means that Noah must remain sharp all day long. To do that, he stays in tip-top shape, training like a professional athlete by following a regular regimen every day that he’s not on the track.
“In this job, if you lose focus and make a mistake, it’s bad,” says Noah, who combines strength and endurance training with agility training, flexibility and core training, and hand-eye coordination exercises. A lifelong athlete, Noah is both an alpine skier and karate instructor.
He goes to Michigan almost every weekend during the winter. He also skis in West Virginia and Colorado, and attends race camps in Switzerland. He competes in the oldest and largest national amateur racing program in the world, and is a two-time national champion in his age group.
Four decades ago, Noah met his wife Tsuyako in Okinawa, Japan, when he was studying karate.
“When I lived in Japan, I competed on the U.S. World Championship team,” Noah says. “It’s been a lifelong activity for me.”
Married for 41 years, the couple has a son named George, an Air Force major currently at Northern Arizona University and an instructor with the Reserve Officers Training Corps program. They also have a daughter named Leiona, who lives in Hollywood, Florida, where she is a law school student.
Tsuyako, who worked in the Avon school district for many years before retiring, has been supportive of her active, adventurous hubby and all of his hobbies. Now that they are both retired, she usually accompanies him on his skiing and racing adventures.
Though Noah enjoys his job, he recognizes that it’s not for everybody.
“It’s mentally and physically demanding,” he says.
Nevertheless, he’s glad he followed his dream and encourages others to do the same. He references a nautical term called kedging. When ships get caught in calm seas and sit for days, they take a small boat and row the anchor out ahead of the ship, drop the anchor, and it pulls the ship forward. They repeat this over and over again and, slowly but surely, they move the boat forward.
“A dream is a great thing, but to be a goal you have to quantify it,” Noah says. “Set a goal and then ask yourself what you have to do to reach it.”
Suffice it to say, Noah is relishing retirement.
“I like the challenge associated with this career, the camaraderie of the instructor core and the enjoyment of driving full race speed in this car,” says Noah, who admits that this job was not originally on his radar. In fact, he was considering driving a delivery truck post-retirement, just to stay active. Then this opportunity came along.
The funny thing is that Noah says he’s a rather poky driver when he’s out on public streets, proving that there really is a time and a place for everything.