Fear is a topic that most drivers prefer not to talk about. Why? Perhaps it's because they don't want to admit to or show a weakness. Perhaps it's because they don't understand it – specifically where that line is between self-preservation and fear. James Colborn is not afraid to tackle the topic this week, and I'm sure he'll get you thinking. You'll possibly come to your own conclusions about where your personal limit is.
If someone asked me to define my driving – with a positive focus I might add, as I think we're all very self-critical in racing – I would say that I am a smooth and consistent driver. I am not overly busy at the wheel; I'm not having to correct my driving constantly; and in many instances, it means I can deliver consistent lap times again and again. Combine this with reasonably good finishes and it translates into me having fun at the track and leaving happy, often with a trophy or plaque. So, what's wrong with this type of driving?
The major problem with this driving style is that it second-guesses a major component in racing; am I finding the limit and how much speed am I leaving on the table?
The answer to these are relatively simple, and they are things that I think secretly plague a lot of drivers, especially those in club racing. I personally believe it is a fundamental differentiator in drivers. It's courage. The statement "what is the worst that could happen?" is something that drivers approach with varying levels of comfort.
Driving pushes our courage buttons in many ways. For some, it's close-proximity racing that creates an overwhelming sense of fear and something to shy away from. Others have anxiety over the financial consequences of racing and "driving with their pocket book" often rings true. There is some fear of being tagged, hit, or touched on track. Street driving indoctrinates us with the thought that ANY contact is bad. Truth be told, any contact is usually bad, especially if you strive for clean and safe racing, however, let's not confuse things. Contact on track for many drivers isn't about avoiding a trip to see the stewards. It's the belief that contact equals crashing and crashing at race speeds is really frightening.
My personal challenge is different. Having raced for a while, I've had my fair share of taps and off-track incidents and I'm just not smart enough at speed to calculate the cost of what might get broken when I'm three-wide, going into a hairpin turn. My issue has always been – in varying degrees of severity – the fear of the car careening off track if I brake too late or if I get on the gas too soon, resulting in me losing control, finding the limit of the car, and… I crash. Yes, I, too, am frightened of crashing and getting hurt.
Over the past four years, I've worked on a series of ways to get comfortable with this and work on the courage aspect of racing cars at speed. This truly is a sport where you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, so I wanted to share a few of my personal insights about overcoming the anxiety racing brings and how to look for improvement. They are as follows:
For some people, these insights will seem rudimentary and basic, but I hope they are useful to others. If you want to evolve your own driving, you have to push the limits of your own comfort and the limit of the car simultaneously. Has this gotten better for me over the past four years? Yes, without doubt! But two factors really impact my personal "racing" comfort. The first is time. Unless I'm in the car constantly (for example, at time of writing, I've had a two-month gap in racing) my courage's memory seems to fade and it takes a little while to come back. Secondly, I keep putting myself in situations where the competition gets harder or the challenge increases, and so the comfort level increases. If I find myself in a Continental Tire Series race with a car I've hardly driven on a track I've not been to before with sixty pro drivers around, my comfort level is distinctly unpleasant!
At the end of the day, the worst of the phrase "what is the worst that could happen" changes with experience, however, I believe the steps above will really help you address concerns and come out the other side a faster driver with more confidence. Even if it's just a little bit!
– James Colborn
Also be sure to check out Ross Bentley's book, Ultimate Speed Secrets: The Complete Guide to High-Performance and Race Driving.
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