High-performance driving and racing are fantastic ideas; just don’t drive yourself crazy in the process.
In a recent article, I focused on subconscious notions that adversely affect a driver’s performance, but barely scratched the surface of a problem so deeply rooted in the sport that everyone thinks it’s normal. As a driver coach, I see it all the time, and have learned that if all those negative thoughts are not deflected, they run the risk of becoming part of a driver’s (subconscious) racing plan or, more accurately stated, the racer’s habit.
I’ve been guilty of most, and you probably are, too. But, as they say, awareness is the first step to recovery. So, read on – and stay positive!
“I work on the car up to the last minute, it keeps me from getting nervous.”
This approach keeps your mind off of driving. Sometimes a last-minute thrash cannot be avoided, but for many drivers, this bad idea seems to be ingrained. Having the car ready an hour early allows you to look inward, assess your performance, and consider your approach to the next session.
Social interaction is a part of any track day, but you need to prioritize your time and allow yourself some introspective time. It takes both commitment and courage to look inward and be honest but fair to yourself. Yet, it’s not all about self-criticism; you should also note the things you are doing well.
Follow your routine (assuming you have one that keeps you calm) and always do it the same way – and get to the grid early. Nothing distracts you from driving more than being late to the grid.
“I’m not all that competitive by nature, so I’m just going to go out there and enjoy myself.”
Do you really feel this way or is this just a way to hedge your bets? Most competitors want to know how good they can become, but if you are playing this game, you will never find out.
Set reasonable goals given your past performances and look to make a small gain. And don’t kid yourself: Everybody wants to go faster.
“I’ll only be happy if I can get under a 1:25.”
The other extreme is the driver who views each session as a dare. It’s good to have goals, but it’s silly to set your sights on a particular lap time when the conditions don’t support it. There are many factors that are totally out of your control: track grip, tires, wind, temperatures, draft, air density, and so on.
Like the ads say, your results may vary, so compare yourself to other drivers running similar cars that day rather than to some past lap time. If the track is not fast, looking to set a new personal best will end in frustration.
“This time I’ll do Turn 3 flat.”
A high-speed turn that can perhaps be taken with the throttle pegged is the racer’s equivalent of the white whale in Moby Dick. Reaching for the ultimate no-lift run through a difficult turn is fraught with danger. Doing the turn consistently and staying within yourself is much more likely to be of benefit.
Set reasonable goals and creep up on them. This isn’t a video game; mistakes have repercussions. Other variations of this bad idea include: “I must be in the top 10 or else,” and, “I must get a certain amount of points this weekend or else.”
Focus on driving better rather than a specific outcome and your performance will improve.
“My motor sucks. I’ll drive around it.”
Even in spec classes, complete engine parity is not a guarantee. Maybe you actually are down on power, but what are you going to do about it? Perhaps you are contributing to the problem with demon late braking that doesn’t allow you to go to the gas as early. A cleanly driven car is always going to move away from you on the straight if you are screwing up the preceding corner.
Do the best you can at the event and plan to address your motor deficiency as soon as possible. You may have to sacrifice something else to make those ends meet, but nothing good comes from trundling around down on power. You may try too hard and crash or, worse, you may accept that you belong where you are in the field.