My experience both as a racer and a coach has shown me that it takes the novice driver at least 6 races, on average, to really get something resembling a grip on the complexities, strategies, and nuances of racing competitively. For better or for worse most of us learn from experience. Some of us are lucky enough in this process that we only damage our egos. Other times the damage is more, sometimes considerably more, serious. In any case once we have fallen on our face and really embarrassed ourselves a few times we generally start paying more attention to how well we are driving and less attention to winning or to what other drivers around us are doing. This, in my opinion, is mentally where you want to be. I call it “driving your own race”. At this point a drivers approach to high performance driving changes forever and the process of becoming truly and consistently competitive begins. Driving becomes less about “going fast” and more about “driving well”. The point being this; you may be able to turn one or two laps that are faster than your competition but if you often find yourself sitting in the weeds with your nose in the wall or your car frequently breaks down during a race because you are “over driving” the car you need to ask yourself “how fast was that?” Of course the goal is to win and to do that you need to really hustle the car. I won’t argue that. But if your focus is on winning and not on your performance as a driver, i.e. how well are you driving (?), your chances of winning, let alone finishing, are greatly reduced.

Once a driver told me in all seriousness that he was faster than another driver and that he would have beaten him if he hadn’t crashed his car on the third lap of the race. This is a “coulda, woulda, shoulda” story and at the end of the day is the kind of strategy that does not win races.

So let’s take a look at what I think are the most common mistakes a novice driver can make in their attempt to be competitive.

 


The race


Trying to win your first race.

Trying to win in the first lap.

Focusing on the car in front of you.

Focusing on the car behind you.

Failing to adapt to changing circumstances.

Missing your marks.

Misjudging closing speeds.

Over-defending your line.

Trying too hard.


Preparation


Not having crew
.

Not being properly prepared for the weekend.

Not staying properly hydrated.

Not getting enough rest the night before.

Not keeping ahead of the day's schedule.


 


Trying to win your first race.

The goal for your first race, even your first few races is to survive and learn. If you happen to win in the process so much the better but don’t count on it. Depending on the size of the grid it can often take a long time to work your way to the front. Most novice drivers tend to be over confident early on about how fast they are. Their first race can be a very humbling experience. For the most part you will be racing against people who have been at it for a while. Even some of the slowest drivers out there are going to be pretty fast and possess a great deal more track savvy and traffic management skills than you will likely possess. Pay attention! You’re still in school. Observe. Learn. Survive.

 

Trying to win in the first lap.

Actually this mistake follows many drivers throughout their career. Some people never learn that to win a race you have to finish a race. While a good race start can be a thing of great beauty and satisfaction all of that can evaporate quickly if you overcook the first turn because your brakes, tires, brains weren’t quite warmed up yet.

 

Focusing on the car in front of you.

Anybody who has raced for any amount of time has seen a situation like this. Two cars are heading into a brake zone when the car in front over cooks his brake zone and goes agricultural into the tire wall. The car behind him follows him right off track and into the wall. This is because the driver of the second car was so intently focused on the car in front that they never noticed, until it was too late, they were being led to disaster.
Put your eyes in front of the car(s) in front of you. That’s where you want to be isn’t it? If your eyes are in front of the car in front of you then you stand a much better chance of ending up there and not duplicating his or her errors. If your eyes are on your competitors tail lights that is likely the position in which you will remain. Your car will always follow your eyes.

^

 

Focusing on the car behind you.

It’s called driving with your rear view mirror. The only thing you need to know about the car behind you is that it is there; beyond that forget about it. After all, if the car is behind you, that’s right where you want them isn’t it? If you want to keep it that way your business is in front of you. Period! End of discussion! If this driver is going to pass you the best thing you can do to ensure that it will happen is to keep looking behind you. Again, your car will follow your eyes. If you are looking behind you what direction do you think you will end up going in the grid; forward or back?

 

Failing to adapt to changing circumstances.

It’s a simple fact! If you make a change to how you drive one section of a race track it will change whatever happens next. For example, let’s say that there is a medium speed sweeper (we’ll call this turn “A”) leading on to a long front strait which, in turn, leads to a high speed sweeper (we’ll call this turn “B”). Let’s assume that you have found brake markers that you are comfortable with for turn B but you are still working on your line through turn A. Finally after much trial and error you find a line through A that really works for you. You are suddenly able to come to back to full throttle a car length earlier than you had previously been able to before. You glance down at your speed and see that you have carried 5 mph more exit speed than you were previously able to carry. Great right!?! Well maybe, maybe not. In this scenario that extra five mph will build upon itself all the way down the strait so that by the time you reach your usual brake markers for turn B you are carrying 10, 15, 20 mph more speed than you were previously carrying and guess what..?; your carefully worked out brake markers no longer apply to the situation and you find yourself in the wall on the outside of turn B watching all your hard earned gains, as well as a large chunk of your racing budget for the season, evaporate.

^

 

Missing your marks.

To carry the concept of adapting to changing circumstances a little further: It is very easy to be so intent on passing a competitor in a brake zone that you completely miss your own brake markers, completely blow the brake zone and lose several positions in the process, or worse. This is the most common example but it would be easy to find others. Keep in mind that during a race you will often not be on the “ideal” line. In fact your line may be far from ideal. During a race your ideal line becomes a matter of assessing where you are on the track, where you want to go, and what is the most effective way to do this while trying to get in front of the person in front of you and keep that person behind you, behind you. Again, if you are focused on the position of the car(s) around you instead of your own position the end result can be embarrassing at best and disastrous at worst. Drive your own race!

 

Misjudging closing speeds.

The ability to sense the speed of your own car is an essential skill. Without it you cannot consistently judge braking distances, entry speeds, etc. Being able to accurately judge the speed of the car in front of you is equally essential. It’s pretty easy to be chasing someone down only to realize too late that you haven’t left enough space to brake before the front of your car merges with the rear of the other. Anticipate! Err on the side of caution until you are confident with your skills in this regard. Again, keep your eyes on your own marks. Drive your own race.

 

Over-defending your line.

Defending a line in order to make a recently completed pass stick is a legitimate and often necessary strategy. However it is important to keep in mind that a defensive line is not necessarily the fastest line. If you find yourself defending your line turn after turn you need to understand a couple of things. First you are slowing yourself down and anybody you are chasing is likely walking, if not running, away from you. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, if you find yourself needing to take a defensive line into every turn the driver you are defending against is likely faster than you. They will get around you eventually. There is a good chance that you should go ahead and allow the pass. There are a couple of advantages to this. The first advantage is that you can go to school on this driver. This is especially true if you are running in a “spec” class. If that driver can carry X amount of entry speed into a given turn, chances are you could learn to as well. Since, for most people, it is easier to chase than be chased this may not take as long as you might think. Secondly you can use the draft from this driver to help you track down the driver that was in front of you before the pass from behind occurred.

^

 

Trying too hard. Focus on your performance not your goal.

“You’re trying too hard!” This is one of the most valuable pieces of feedback that I ever got from a coach when I was learning to drive a car at the limit. It was at Laguna Seca in a spec class and I was driving my heart out, trying to go as fast as I could. Unfortunately I was also getting passed left and right by 80% of the grid. When I came in to discuss things with my coach he didn’t talk to me about line, smoothness, vision, or anything else he just said “you’re trying too hard” and walked away.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t really “try” to go fast. Either you are fast or you are not. Of course everyone’s goal is to go fast but simply wanting to go fast, or trying to go fast, will not generally do the trick. If you focus on your performance as a driver, i.e. how well are you driving the speed will generally take care of itself. If you are focused on going fast you will likely not be focused on the things you need to be focused on to actually go fast. By trying to go fast you are generally inviting the car to get ahead of you, the driver. This never ends with a good result. The driver must be constantly ahead of the car.

 

Not having crew.

Your first few race weekends can be a pretty overwhelming experience. You have a lot of information coming at you and it can be hard to keep track of it all. Having someone, preferably with race experience, who can help out can make all the difference in the world. It is easy to miss some very important details. Did you remember to torque your wheels down, show up for the drivers meeting, buckle your helmet, put up your window net, put fuel in your car, etc? Sure, I know these all sound like obvious things but you will be surprised how easy it is to miss these details in all the excitement. If nothing else pit next to your friend, you know, the one that talked you into going racing in the first place, or bring your significant other. Make a check list the night before of everything you need to do the next day as well as a shorter list of everything that needs to be done before you head out on to the track for any given session. Then give this list to your crew and let them double check it for you. You can show up to the track alone to go racing but why would you want too? You need to be focused on driving and surviving. Let someone else whom you trust help you with the details.

^

 

Not being properly prepared for the weekend.

At the race track in any given weekend it is generally Murphy’s Law x 10 (unfortunately for all of us Murphy was a “glass half empty” kind of guy). Plan on it! Try to have everything ready well before you have to show up at the track. Don’t leave anything undone thinking that you can deal with it once you get there. If you do this you will likely be scrambling the whole weekend. You have simply added to the work load you will inevitably have in any given weekend at the track. Not only will you not have much fun but you are not giving yourself the proper space necessary to succeed.

 

Not staying properly hydrated.

This item is pretty self explanatory. Stay hydrated! Drink a lot more than you think you need too and then some more and that will probably be the right amount. Water or a 50/50 combination of Gatorade and water is your best choice. Sugar free fruit or vegetable juices are also a good choice. Soda pop is a last resort and the least desirable choice.

Staying properly hydrated will keep you alert, awake and focused.

 

Not getting enough rest the night before.

It can be hard to sleep the night before a track event but it is important that you develop a strategy for doing so. The reason for this should be obvious.

 

Not keeping ahead of the day's schedule.

There are a lot of things to keep track of on any given day at any given race weekend. By a BIG clock at your local Fred Myer and get in the habit of posting the weekends schedule under it with times pertaining to you highlighted. If you are working with a crew, coach, and/or significant other, have them remind you 15 to 20 minutes (or more) before things are actually supposed to happen. You really don’t want to get out to pre-grid 3 minutes before the start of your race, or worse yet, miss pre-grid completely. Give yourself the time and space necessary to be ready. Keep your eyes and brain ahead of the day’s schedule.

^ Top

 

 

 

 

 



Copyright IF Racing. All rights reserved.