Speed Secrets: Driving Lessons

Features, Racing I By Ross Bentley I August 14, 2023
Driving Lessons, Indy Car getting close to the wall

Here’s some great driving lessons; imagine driving an open-wheel car on a high-speed oval track for the very first time. What do you suppose would be one of the biggest challenges? Yes, letting the car get close to those very, very, very hard concrete walls!

A young driver I was coaching faced exactly that one day. Every time he exited out of Turn 2 onto the back straight or Turn 4 onto the front straight, his car was no closer than four feet from the wall. As part of my coaching, I told him to “unwind the steering,” “let the car run free,” “let the car get close to the wall,” “open your hands,” “use all the track,” and everything else I could think of that might sink in so he’d let the car run close to the wall. Nothing worked.

Indy500 close to wall - driving lessons

You know what happens when you don’t use all the track: because the car is on a tighter radius, you go slower. Going slower is not the objective when driving on a race track!

Having studied and used mental imagery (typically referred to as visualization) as a learning and improvement technique, I had the driver sit in the team trailer, close his eyes, relax, and mentally see, hear, and feel himself exiting onto the straight by unwinding the wheel and getting within a foot or so of the wall. I was confident that some mental imagery would fix everything (as it had with my own driving, and that of practically every other driver I’d ever worked with), I sent him back on track.

It didn’t work. He still drove too far from the wall. I was confused, since these driving lessons had worked so often in the past. Then I had an idea. I had my driver stop, and I asked him a question, “How close to the wall should you be?” His response was “About a foot or so.”

Back on track he went, as I went up to the spotter’s area up above the grandstands to observe and talk to him on the radio. I said, “Tell me how close to the wall you are each time you come out of Turns 2 and 4.”

First lap at speed: “Four feet.”

Second lap: “Two feet.”

Third lap: “One foot.”

In three laps he fixed it. And that’s when it hit me: Having a mental image of what you want to do is not enough. No, you also need a clear awareness of where you are right now in relation to what you want. That led to what I call The Learning Formula: MI + A = G.

MI is the Mental Image, or what you want to achieve; A is an Awareness of where you are right now; and G stands for the Goal you’re trying to achieve (like driving a car within a foot of a concrete wall at somewhere around 150 MPH).

In my coaching, I use The Learning Formula all the time, and still haven’t found a instance when it didn’t work, or didn’t help someone improve. It’s been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my life in motorsport.

I’ve applied these driving lessons in other areas of my life including the time when I was doing some business executive coaching. When working with the owner of a Harley-Davidson dealership regarding his company and personnel (this had nothing to do with motorsport, and all to do with improving his business’s performance), I thought about how The Learning Formula applied to business, too.

MI, or Mental Imagery, is just like a strategic plan for a company. It’s the long-term goal, what you want to achieve with the business, and how you plan to get there. A is just like the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual metrics, such as financial and other short-term measures and reports.

A business with only long-term goals, or MI, but without short-term metrics providing guidance along the way is unlikely to reach them. Similarly, a business with only short-term metrics (A), but no long-term vision (MI), is likely to fall short of its goals.

While my business is extremely small compared to even a motorcycle dealership, let alone a company like Harley-Davidson, or a much bigger one, I apply MI + A = G to it. It has made a positive difference since I started doing it.

I now have a very deliberate process of applying MI + A = G to my business (and, of course, my coaching), and only wished I’d done so many more years ago.

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