The World at Speed (Your Words Come Back to Haunt You)
I understand you were here in Alabama for the Legends course at PSDS the week before last. I had hoped to sneak over to Barber that day from my work nearby, but was unable to get away. The weather was pretty terrible, too. The guys at the school told me you all had a great day, and made the best of the weather, as I know you are often called to do.
Well I didn’t write to talk about the weather! I have emailed you before, actually, probably in my typically VERY LONG fashion (sorry). I’ll try to keep this shorter and less stalker-like.
As a brand new beginner to high performance driving, I have felt really…slow. Embarrassingly so. I was all big talk about getting out on the track, and once I got out there, not so much. It’s OK. I understand that there’s a learning curve, and I am truly starting from zero. I know that learning at this end of the curve is not and cannot be all about speed, but rather, has to be about maintaining technique with safely increasing speed.
And to be honest, I think I’m doing pretty well. I’ve done a one-day DE at a good beginner track (Little Talladega), and two autocross days, and I’m loving every minute of it and learning a lot. I have figured out one thing that I know I need to work on, though, and it’s not so much a “driving” thing. It’s a mind thing. It has to do with the IDEA of speed in my head. And you absolutely hit the nail on the head when you said this in the 24HRRacer video (pt. 3 I think, difference between LMP and GT). You said:
So really it’s about training your mind, and really convincing yourself that it’s physically possible to go that fast through a corner.
Now of course, you were talking about super high speed. But the principle is exactly the same as I am coming to understand it. I struggled for a while as I looked at the pieces – the car can do it, I am physically capable of doing it. I’ve had some excellent coaching. I am ready to go faster. And I am not afraid of going faster. It’s just…I don’t know. Literally. I do not know. Speed is just completely foreign to me.
As I started to get into motorsports this past May, the very first thing I did was to sign up for a hot lap ride at PSDS. When I got out of the car after my first of what ended up being three rides that day, I was absolutely stunned. In a good way. But I knew instantly that I had NO CLUE what this “high performance driving” experience really was. I’ve been a professional violinist earlier in my life, so I recognized immediately what I was seeing in that car that day. Time-honed, long-practiced-till-they’re-second-nature skills used at high speed. Truly awesome. Lots of variables where creativity enters the picture. Beautiful! I was so hooked.
The driver of that car was Hurley Heywood. And I had no clue who he was that day. Looking back now, I feel like the Porsche Princess!
That day was my very first introduction to what I call “the world at speed.” It’s a place I had never been. Everything was a complete and total blur. I stumbled out of the car and thought I was going to hurl. For which I thanked the driver profusely, of course! I have gotten involved in the club racing scene as a volunteer working pit & grid, and I bring my helmet, and when time allows, I get rides. I have continued to go out to PSDS for hot lap rides. And I have ridden shotgun in my car with great drivers behind the wheel, and felt exactly what it feels like to be in my very own car going much faster than I have ever gone.
And the last time I went out on a ride-along, a really cool thing happened. I realized that I was getting well and truly acclimated to the world at speed. What was once a blur was now making total sense. At first, it all went by so fast, I couldn’t tell you what turn we were in at any given moment for a million bucks. Now? I’m totally getting it. Looking back after just five months of getting out there with some great drivers, I understand things about the process that I couldn’t have that first time out. At first, I was completely overwhelmed. I mean, my senses were overwhelmed. The way things are processed from the various body parts to the brain at high speed – I’m getting now that it comes with time. Again, I’m reminded of the very long arc that I experienced in learning to play the violin. I’m now recognizing the landmarks. Ticking off the corner numbers in my mind. Anticipating what I known is over the blind crests. Getting the various lines around. Remembering which rumble strips are good, which will upset the car. It hit me all at once the last time I was out. Amazing. I’m learning!
My driving coach took me out one day early on to do a cornering drill course. I got the basic technique and the line of the wobbly little figure-8 course down easily. “OK. Now find places to add on some speed.” I repeatedly overslowed in the corners, the tightest one in particular. My coach took the wheel and demonstrated the kind of speed he suggested I could handle. Same all around as I had been doing – just faster through the corners. “So really it’s about training your mind, and really convincing yourself that it’s physically possible to go that fast through a corner.” Amen. In the moment, that is precisely what it comes down to for me.
And doing that? Getting my head around that to the point that I was able to carry some decent speed through that tight corner the first time? And again? There are no words. “YES!” was the word of the moment from my coach. “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” was my eloquent contribution. More recentlly, I had the chance to ride with a fantastic local driver. He’d just come off what ended up being a track record lap in time trials for his car class at Road Atlanta, and he came to the grid an hour later for the last session of the weekend because he’d earlier offered me a ride (how awesome was that??). You know Road Atlanta. He drives a superfast 996. As we came down the end of the longest straight, down the hill into turn 10A that first time, the first time I’d ridden Road Atlanta at speed by the way, I closed my eyes. I had no context for this! And I wasn’t driving! In that moment, I just couldn’t see it. I was not yet convinced that it was physically possible to make it around that corner given the tremendous speed at which we were barrelling toward it. Big brakes, eyes open, and of course, we went right around, neat as a pin thru 10B and on up the hill and under the bridge. Beautiful! Once convinced it was possible, it was eyes wide open the rest of the ride.
Wow. This was a very long way to get to the reason I opened this email as soon as I watched 24HRRacer – which is to tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge & experience through your website, PCA blog & various video projects. Hearing those words come out of your mouth – it was a great affirmation to hear you express the very challenge I face at this early point in my learning curve. From a total beginner to a total champion, I sincerely thank you.
And also? Apologies again. This ended up way too long. Again.
Happy New Year!