There is a quote from Michael Schumacher on the home page of this website:
“Just being a mediocre driver has never been my ambition. That’s not my style”
― Michael Schumacher
The best performers in driving and other pursuits all have similar things in common. They shoot high, and aim higher, always pushing themselves to new limits, and learning more in the process. This article from Time Magazine addresses 8 things that successful people do. How many of these things are you doing in life and in driving?
Let’s see how these 8 things relate to driving a race car:
#1 – Be Uncomfortable: If you are not pushing your limit, or the car’s limit you aren’t learning anything new. There a plenty of drivers of fast cars out there, there are not a lot of “fast drivers”. If you want to be truly fast you need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. This is hard, and sometimes frustrating work. Making mistakes isn’t easy. Learning from them is harder still. Having the force of will to push through being uncomfortable separates the good from the great. As renowned driving coach Ross Bentley states in his book, “you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable”.
#2 – Stop Reading, Start Doing: All work and no play makes you a dull driver. Studying how to drive is necessary. There a numerous books on the subject, and plenty of bench racing is done discussing various theories found in books, on websites, and tidbits of paddock talk from fellow drivers, instructors and coaches. At the end of the day you need to practice the skills, for real, in real life, with real cars, real racetracks, and real physics. Don’t make the mistake of just going out and turning the same laps you always turn. Put all that reading to good use. Have at least one goal for each session. Try to accomplish something new when you drive. Work on an area of weakness, or work on some new technique. Whatever you do, have a goal. Otherwise you are just practicing the same old thing.
#3 The Sweet Spot: Make your goals, or challenges achievable but not too easy, or too numerous. If your lap times are 15 seconds slower than the lap record in your class, don’t go out and expect to match that record without figuring out why that other driver is faster. That other driver took a lot of time to develop the skills, confidence, and car set-up to get that lap record. Break down the areas of improvement into definable goals or challenges that are attainable, yet still force you to push into the “uncomfortable” zone. If it is too hard, you give up. If it is too easy, you stop working.
#4 Commit to the Long Term: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a great driver. Like most things in life, racing isn’t fair, and learning to drive fast isn’t easy. Even with natural ability, a lot of hard work is required to attain the skills and confidence to drive a car fast. Don’t expect to learn how to be fast in a single weekend or even a single year. It frequently takes several years to develop even a mediocre skill set. Long term commitment by itself isn’t going to get you there. You still need to make sure your practice time is valuable. Once again, just turning the same laps over and over isn’t going to make you faster. Have a goal for every session.
#5 Find a Role Model: There is always someone faster at the race track. A lot of drivers drive best when they have another car to chase. Why is this? Chasing another driver gives you something to shoot for, it also gives you an immediate way to measure your own performance against a faster benchmark reference. (separately it often forces your visual and mental focus to change.) When there is something to strive for it unlocks something inside you that allows you to more easily push your own limits. Don’t stop with chasing another driver on the track. What is this driver doing off track that is helping their performance? How to they prepare the car? How do they study the track and their data? How do they take care of their fitness? If you want to be the best, emulate the best. Many drivers use coaches to maintain their performance and are constantly seeking to improve, even if they are a the top of their game. The best always seem to find a way to go faster.
#6 Naps Are Steroids For Your Brain: The brain needs sleep. The amount of processing that the brain does when sleeping is absolutely amazing. At a professional race drivers are frequently found napping just before the start of a race, and they are diligent about getting a good nights sleep the night before. Even if you are just at a lapping day or practice day, make sure you plan to get enough sleep. When working on new skills multi-day events are better than single day events. The brain gets its work done processing information while you sleep. On day-2 your performance will be more consistent at the new skill than on day-1 simply because you were able to sleep on it.
#7 Keep a Notebook: The best drivers keep detailed personal track notes for every track they have ever driven, and they update them every time they visit that track. In this new age of smart phones, tablets, and the ability to ask the internet the answer to virtually any question at whim the power of the notebook is undervalued. Simply writing things down cements them in your memory. A track notebook can be used not just for local track knowledge, but also to track performance, to set goals, make car set-up notes, and note when things don’t work. (the best learning comes from failure) Reading the notebook gives you ample time to reflect and learn from your past experiences. There is truth to George Santayana’s old adage that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If you keep a track notebook, and you use it, you will not repeat past mistakes, and you will be amazed at how much new information you add to the notes every time you go back to a familiar track.
#8 You Weren’t Born an Expert: Even the best drivers with natural talent have to work hard to maintain and improve their performance. You are no different. You can become an expert driver with practice and time. Feel like you’re too old? Put that notion aside. In my experience everyone can be taught how to be a better driver, but they have to “want” to be better. If you want it bad enough you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
-Andrew Wikstrom 04/13/2014