Speed Secrets: Ten Shirt Pocket Tips

Features, Racing I By Ross Bentley I April 24, 2014
We all want to go faster, safely, don’t we? The following dos, don’ts, and tips have served my coaching clients well over the years, and I hope they will for you as well.
Once a skill is practiced to one’s own satisfaction, drivers often stop looking for improvement. Yet the limits to your performance may be a great deal higher…your maximum potential is virtually limitless, provided you have sufficient motivation to reach it. Improvement is there for the taking only, if you invest the effort. On track, focus on the present and save analysis for the paddock. It is the driver’s job to learn to continually do the hard thing easily, gracefully, efficiently. The beginner practices until he gets it right. The old hand practices until he can’t get it wrong.
Stretching the mind prior to competition raises confidence. With your eyes closed, replay the course exactly as you intend to drive it. Imagine perfect laps until they become fluid. Mentally rotate the steering wheel, shift gears, and brake at appropriate locations. Fine skills or complex techniques can be slowed down and analyzed so that on-track driving scenes and actions become familiar. The brain makes little distinction between visual and thought images. Building and continually refining a mental track model is important to process the abundance of real-time information produced by increasing speed on-track. The quality of your mental model is more important than your technical skills.
Take a quick visual scan of the area in front of you. Start on your far left and scan across to your far right. Concentrate on seeing everything between you and the outermost point. Close your eyes and take a mental inventory of what was perceived. Repeat the scan. This time, separate your scan into frames or mental snapshots. Compare the first scan to the second set of frames (storyboarding) . It’s surprisingly apparent when details go unnoticed. Practice behind the wheel of a street car, then in the race car at speed. It will radically improve the odds of doing the right thing at the right time, when you contrast track storyboarding to the familiar scenes in your mental model.
Vision is our overwhelming dominant sense: the "king of the senses." Your eyes lead the way and control smoothness. Without proper visual perspective, "High Speed" can be like driving in a bank of fog, where planning ahead is unthinkable, but critical. Looking ahead not only gets you where you need to be, it focuses your concentration. However, scanning at the point of emerging information is not enough. By the time you are aware of the mistake, it’s too late to change it. If you accurately perceive and keep up with it, you can use a well-internalized "mental model" of the track to anticipate. Anticipation is immunization against accidents.
When visual depths of field get shorter, escalating speed progressively increases anxiety. When you’re looking only as far ahead as you can react (or shorter), your eye movement can become fixed; scanning for crucial information stops. The fundamental result of progressively-increasing anxiety is fear. Fear brings panic inputs, and involuntary panic input is always wrong. A brain that has been scared sends off commands like: "LIFT…" "LOOK OVER HERE, instead of where you are going…" "BRAKE!… in the middle of this turn." Instead, have a good understanding of what you did right… have a better understanding of what you did wrong.
Driving is all about making good judgments. "Judgment" is not a sensation.
Judgment and experience take the form of thought. Motions generate feelings too, but feelings of going fast are usually distractions. Feel-fast sensations are usually quite unrelated to quickness.
How much speed is too much? If it keeps you from going precisely where you had planned. Carrying too much speed into a turn can be thrilling and may feel fast, but it obstructs the position you had planned to be in. The primary purpose of braking is to slow the vehicle to target turn-in speed. It’s the speed at turn-in that establishes your position at any given moment. Separate braking forces from speed sensing – they are two different things.
To do something inefficiently or badly requires as much physical and emotional strength to continually snatch oneself back from disaster time after time as it does to do things right. Beginners should not expect to post times that World Champions would be proud to claim. Old hands should expect to spend practice time refining existing skills. If you wish to develop new skills, you might decide to consider the need for a coach to extract and develop the next steps. Fatigue, anger and overconfidence – they all blur judgment and are the most common explanations for overdriving. Relax. You were just testing the limits and now you know what needs to be changed.
Become aware of fatigue – adhere to the "Three Mistake Rule." If you’ve noticed three successive mental and/or physical mistakes, many more have already gone unnoticed. Break your routine; slow down or go into the pits, if necessary. Why driving suffers is no mystery. We are poised for flight; muscle systems are cocked for emergencies – and release – that never come. We become tired of being poised, but can’t willfully let go. Fatigue itself is a snowballing mechanism: tired muscles contract themselves involuntarily and thus use still more energy, generating more fatigue in the uncontrolled effort. Fatigue focuses concentration on your body. If your attention is on your body, it is not on your driving.
In the "zone," your effort is optimized, not over stressed, and your endurance is increased; you are performing "within" yourself. When you concentrate, it slows time which, in turn, allows for your confidence to increase. That’s the ultimate tool for getting control of the time sequence. What getting control of the time sequence within the movement does for skill is even more interesting: change the timing and different arcs or portions of arcs within a cornering line can be moved with brilliant results. It is not the gizmo and not the tool. It is the tool-user who makes the real difference.
There you go – just ten things to focus on. But my recommendation would be to take them one at a time. If you try to tackle them all at once – or even at just one event – you won’t accomplish any of them.
– E. Paul Dickinson
Exerpted from Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets WeeklyFor more tips and additional articles on the art and science of racing, click here to subscribe.

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