As a driver, if you could have Santa (or whomever you believe in!) give you one gift – a physical thing, some ability, or whatever – what would it be, and why?
That’s the question I posed to Valerie Maloof, Austin Cabot, Peter Carroll, Davin Sturdivant, and Ian Korf. All have contributed articles here in the past, so I went looking for what I hoped would be diverse answers to my question – answers that might trigger thoughts in your mind.
Happy Holidays! – Ross
The Ability to Think More
Any driver will tell you that getting more seat time is an important aspect of improving as a driver. I know you probably get a lot of letters from accomplished and aspiring drivers alike asking for a new racecar or a pro ride for next season (I’ve been asking you for those same things for 20 years now), but this year I’m asking you for something different. Unfortunately, the past few years haven’t allowed me as much seat time as I would have hoped, but they have allowed me to make an interesting observation from my recent personal experiences. What I would like more than anything else this Christmas is the ability to think more.
Yes, I know it sounds silly, but more cognitive ability is a major key to success many people need to go faster – they just don’t realize it. While I haven’t had as much time behind the wheel this year as I have in the past, I’ve likely spent more time around tracks and drivers than I ever have. You might be surprised to hear that I feel like I’ve learned more during this time than when I was driving a lot, but I’ve really been able to become a true student of the sport. By removing the physical act of driving from my normal routine, I’ve been freed up to think, process, and conceptualize more. On those rare occasions that I have gotten a seat in someone else’s car this year, I feel that I’m not as fast as I once was, but I have a much better understanding of what’s going on. I’m beginning to be aware of the fact that the first few years of driving were about lap times and only about lap times and I completely overlooked one of the most important aspects.
In speaking with a lot of accomplished drivers over the past year, one thing has stood out to me. The confidence, adaptation, and patience they possess behind the wheel are all things I would love to have myself. But by asking for more cognitive ability, I can get a package deal and have all the future keys to success behind the wheel that I need. Like most great drivers, I want to be able to process events more quickly, adapt to changing conditions and car variables, try different lines lap after lap, all while only using a small portion of my mental capacity. The ability to do all these things allows for more confidence which in turn allows drivers to go beyons the limits while knowing they can overstep the boundaries and still be okay. I know people talk about programming a lot, but programs can only run as fast as the hardware allows. Your cognitive ability is the hardware. That’s what I would like for Christmas.
– Austin Cabot
In this holiday season, I thought I’d share with the Speed Secrets Weekly readers a different side of gift exchange. A few years ago, my family experimented with a new kind of gift giving. Have you ever been frustrated by trying to find the perfect gift? Or found that the gift you received isn’t at all what you wanted? Gift giving shouldn’t feel like a responsibility. And when opening a present, you shouldn’t feel trepidation as you fear yet another pair of socks. In an ideal world, you would open the gift, it would be just what you wanted, and everyone would share in the excitement. How can you make this happen? By choosing your own present in secret, wrapping it up, and opening it with your loved ones. Wait what? Isn’t the whole point of the holiday season the giving? I would argue that the point is the *sharing*. And when everyone is surprised and happy, that’s an experience worth sharing. Try it with one gift per person. I guarantee you won’t be dissatisfied with what you receive.
In that vein, what am I wishing for this holiday season? Well, I already have a racecar and enough spare time and money to race it from time to time. So I have pretty much everything a racer could ever want. So maybe I should wish for something like safety, but safety is so important that obsessive planning will make me sleep better than wishing. I could be grandiose and wish for you to have a racecar or something even bigger like World peace. But I don’t know that the World wants that. So in the spirit of gifting something to myself and sharing it with others, I’ll tell you that my wish is that Ross and Peter Krause run a webinar on data analysis. I can’t wait to open that present and share it with the rest of you.
– Ian Korf
The Gift of Fun
I’m going to risk sounding like a song and start off by saying, I don’t want a lot for Christmas – and what I want, I am willing to share.
You know that feeling of joy each of us felt the first time we connected with a car? For me, it was the first time I drove off in my 5-speed 1985 Honda Civic Si at age seventeen. That thing was already old when I bought it with my Mom’s help, but I still remember the feeling of driving off after my brother’s engineer-like driving lesson that closed with something like, “Now don’t embarrass me by stalling.” Off I went, half holding my breath, radio off, hoping for the best, big smile on my face. And I made it, and exhaled.
You know that feeling, right? The same one you got as a teenager when shifting started to make sense and you drove around a little too fast with the windows down and the music loud. The feeling you got the first time you rolled onto a racetrack, hoping to look like you knew the line. Or that moment in your first race, when you inadvertently went two-wide into madness at Mid-O and after making it, you smiled big. Those moments not unlike when you first fall in love and you are faking it because being that happy could not possibly be real or safe.
That feeling is all I want for Christmas. Because sometimes we have so many things and so many accomplishments, we forget how good we’ve already had it behind the wheel. We are so focused on taking off that extra tenth or increasing our roll speed that we forget what we have already gained. I’d like to remember that the magic moment is not so much when we get there as right before, when we feel we’re getting closer and we might not. This holiday, I want to remember just how much I have, and give myself – and my automotive loved ones – a pat in the back while we say, well done, that was fun!
– Valerie Maloof
A Christmas Feeling
What would I like to get from Santa? I would really, really love to have the ability to do "car setup by feel."
I’ve been instructing and club racing for years. Each year I learn a little bit more and get a little bit faster. But occasionally, all my planets will align and I’ll go really stupidly fast. Where did that come from? I then spend the rest of the weekend chasing that time.
I know that slow is fast. But I don’t think that’s it. I think the issue is car setup. I have a setup that I know works. And just like a broken clock that’s correct twice per day, my setup is occasionally perfect. And a crazy fast time just falls out.
I’m racing a very well-prepared BMW M3. It weighs very little, has considerable aero, decent power, and 3-way adjustable shocks on slicks. It’s wired with telemetry. And I do spend lots of time poring over the data. From a driving perspective, I feel I am making good progress.
The car is very well set up as it comes off the trailer. It’s easy to drive, gives lots of feedback, and is very predictable. But I generally just run the setup that I know works. I do try fiddling to make it better. But I don’t often succeed. So I usually just set it back to my baseline.
I know there are drivers who instinctively know what to change to get the car to do what they want. I know this was a big part of Gilles Villeneuve’s talent. Certainly, Mark Donahue was a master at it. They could tell the engineer exactly what to change to get the car to do what they needed. These two were also capable of making the changes themselves.
I see other drivers with a crew come in every couple of laps to make changes. Shock settings. Tire pressures. Alignment adjustments. But in club racing, you are usually your only pit crew. So that’s not always practical. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have an instinctive understanding of exactly what to change and when? The ability to nail the perfect setup on your own every time? That is what I really want for Christmas.
– Peter Carrol
A Fun Button
It’s the end of the racing season, and Christmas time is coming around. I’ve been a pretty good boy, and it’s time to ask Santa Claus for a gift. However, what should I ask for? I write down everything that I could want for the next year. I could ask for a new go-kart, or maybe a new engine.
Suddenly, the perfect gift comes to mind. A "Have Fun Machine." More importantly, a "Fun Button." (I’d like it to be portable, so I can carry it in my pocket, after all. It saves weight that way. ;-) )
How does a "Fun Button" work? Whenever I would get stressed or frustrated at the track, I’d click the "Fun Button." A wave of relaxation would wash over me, and all of the "first-world problems" that can occur would be a distant memory. I’d start driving better, and mentally focusing on only the things I can control. I’d immediately remember to start enjoying myself at the track again.
Having fun at the track is one of the most important elements for a racer to have a successful weekend. It helps the driver relax. When a driver is having fun, they’re focusing on manifesting more positive outcomes for themselves. Even the most challenging situations can be overcome more easily, when the driver is focusing on having fun.
While I wait for Santa to send me my "Fun Button," I can work on improving my mental approach to being more positive at the race track.
Racing is one of those sports where it’s easy to get caught up in all of the trials and drama. We can forget that just being able to race is a gift in itself, and we can mentally spiral out of control by focusing on the negative aspects that sometimes we can’t control. (“I’m not winning races. I don’t have budget. Etc.”)
We can’t control all of the outcomes at the race track, but we can control how we think about them. Try to put a positive spin on challenges that you encounter. Stay persistent, have fun and keep working on improving. The strong finishes will come. It’s just a matter of time. And maybe a "Fun Button!"