“I’ll complete my car prep when I get to the track; the schedule looks pretty open.”
There is never enough time at the track. Something always comes up to suck away free time. You need to register, setup in the paddock, deal with tires, go through tech, and on and on. The more tasks you can take care of in advance, the more likely you will be able to think about your driving.
Get ahead of the game with car prep so you can work on pre-session mental preparation.
“I start every session slow and gradually come up to speed.”
For beginning drivers or those who have had a long layoff, this is sound thinking. For the rest, the drawback is that when it goes green for the race, everyone else is on it hard – are you mentally prepared?
Perhaps the trickiest thing in high-performance driving is learning to go fast on cold tires. Many will frown at you if you go too hard, too soon, and make sloppy mistakes. But if you let the slow-start habit take hold, you will rarely be qualified well – and even if you pull out a late-session flyer in qualifying, you won’t be ready to hold the pace when the race goes green.
Work on pushing harder, sooner, every session. It’s a difficult skill to develop, but it has major benefits.
“I have some killer tweaks up my sleeve this weekend.”
‘Tweaks of the week’ almost never pan out. Set your car up to run reliably and with sufficient compliance to allow you to survive your mistakes as well as those of others. Not only do most tweaks not work out, but they distract you from all the basics.
Stick with the fundamentals — at least until you get near the front of the pack. Until then, tweak your driving, not your car.
“I’ll figure out the track when I get there.”
These days, there is no excuse not to know the track before you arrive. Not everyone has a simulator, but everyone has a computer. I recommend the speedsecrets.com Virtual Track Walks, but there are also countless YouTube videos. You can also talk to friends who have been to that particular track. You should be able to discuss the track layout using the correct corner numbers or names the moment you set foot on the facility.
“I’ve been really busy at work. I haven’t checked the alignment, brakes and shocks in quite a while, but I’m sure everything is OK.”
Your car needs attention. Every driver downplays off-track excursions. Any time the car is off the track surface, there is a chance that something in the setup changed.
Have a system to stay ahead of your car’s needs. It’s not enough to have a checklist; you have to use it.
“If it rains, I’m not going out.”
Perhaps you won’t ever excel in the rain, but you should learn what rain racing is all about. It may even improve your car control.
Speaking in very general terms, most cars will accelerate and decelerate in the wet fairly well, given appropriate tires, of course. What they don’t like to do is turn. Instead of accelerating through the turn, run straight in, stay off the racing line as much as possible, get through the turn carefully, and accelerate out.
Anything you can do to soften the car will help you maximize what limited grip is available.
Try it, you might like it.
“I don’t want to hold anyone up.”
Some drivers are so lacking in confidence that they become focused on not messing anyone else up and become overly fixated on their mirrors. Meanwhile, an overtaking driver’s biggest fear is that the car ahead will try to help them by getting out of the way.
Even if you are not one of the quick cars, look ahead and drive your line. Being mirror-aware is good, but being mirror obsessed is dangerous. Drive your line and give a point-by if someone comes up quickly; but stay with your job: Drive your car and let others drive theirs.
About the author: A racecar driver coach since 2010, my drivers have been on the National Championship Runoffs podium 15 times, scoring six gold medals (two each in FV, FF, FC, FE, HP), two silver (both in FE), and six bronze (four each in FV, FC, P1, FM). I also coached the FRP F2000 champion twice. Ross Bentley also recently noted in his Speed Secrets Weekly that the SCCA Runoffs may be the one of the biggest mental challenges in sport. Ross said: “Guess who I’d get to coach me if I was racing in the Runoffs? Why? Because Jim tunes the helmet.” Check out kearneykdd.com for more information.
This story originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of SportsCar magazine, the official publication of the Sports Car Club of America, and a print and digital subscription is just one of the many benefits of SCCA membership.