There are 2 kinds of fear holding you back right now. Fear of death and fear of failure. It’s tough to talk about fear, but this is YSAR, and we like difficult subjects.
Fear of death
As drivers move up from novice to intermediate to advanced skill levels, they face a variety of typical fears associated with pain, injury, or death. In some ways, it’s good to have some fear for your health. Racing is a dangerous sport and you literally could get killed or worse doing it. What would be worse than getting killed you ask? Accidentally killing someone else? So let’s take a look at the typical driving fears a driver faces on track and how to get over them.
- Fear of high speed – Novices are often afraid to drive 100 mph (or whatever). Once they hit some specific speed, they unconsciously lift off the throttle. This may also manifest itself in not shifting into 4th or 5th gear when appropriate. You see this on long straights where the car stops accelerating for no good reason. What’s the fix for this? None needed. It goes away on its own as the driver gains experience. Personally, I don’t experience fear of speed, but that’s probably lack of opportunity more than bravery. My car barely breaks 100 mph, and to be honest, I think I would be scared to go 150 mph.
- Fear of braking hard – Low intermediates fear pressing the brake pedal. Their braking pressure is often backwards with the highest brake pressure at the end of the braking zone rather than the beginning. They are so gradual on the brakes that they coast into the braking zone. Most cars these days have ABS, but there are plenty of drivers who don’t brake hard enough to engage it. What’s the fix for this? Go to a skid pad or an abandoned street and mash the fuck out of the brake pedal until you realize you aren’t going to damage yourself by braking hard. If you don’t have ABS, either you’ll learn a little about brake modulation or about the cost of tires. I don’t think I ever feared braking hard. Hence, I’ve flat-spotted a few tires back when my driving skills didn’t auto-modulate the brake pedal.
- Fear of throttle – RWD cars can spin if you mash the throttle. If you experience that, you’ll be wary of that pedal. Even if you don’t have a powerful car, you can spin in the rain. That happened to me one time and it was quite the surprise when it happened because there was no warning of squealing tires. As intermediates progress from low to high, most get better at throttle modulation. I think the progression happens naturally because this form of drifting is fun, and fun will beat fear eventually.
- Fear of sliding – As the intermediate’s corner speed increases, their tires begin to slide. Suddenly the tires are squealing and the steering is getting light. What to do? Well, if you’re an intermediate, you certainly don’t speed up. What’s the fix? Get used to driving with slip. That’s a lot easier to say than do. You need to practice in a safe environment, like a skid pad or a simulator. I see a lot of a HPDE regulars and coaches who can drive with mid-corner or exit slip but never get comfortable with entry slip. Entry slip is sort of what defines advanced driving.
- Fear of fast corners – There are good reasons to be afraid of high speed corners. Messing up at 90 mph is going to be a lot more messy than at 50 mph. On the one hand, I don’t have any problem with drivers taking it down one notch. Track driving is dangerous enough as is without pushing the limits. On the other hand, over-braking leaves a ton of time on the track. I don’t know what the fix is for this fear. Riding in the passenger seat? Having a coach in the car?
- Fear of contact – I think I suffer from this a little. I really don’t want to damage my car. Race position just isn’t that important to me. If that makes me less of a racer than the other guy, I’m okay with it. But let’s be clear, I think it really does make me less of a racer, and one reason I prefer endurance racing to sprint racing is that the mindset favors longevity over position.
- Fear of rain – Lots of people are afraid to race in the rain. Rain makes traction unpredictable. If you drive your normal limit, you will suddenly find yourself above your limit as traction changes. The solution, for most people, is to drive so far under your limit that you never go accidentally above your limit. I emphasize your because what you think of the limit is actually a broad loss of traction not an absolute value. In the rain, you actually have more time to sort things out because you’re going slowly. However, you have to have your car control skills to the point where you can recover from unexpected understeer and oversteer. I’ll talk more about rain in a future post. The fix is having trust in your ability to control an out-of-control car.
Fear of failure
In addition to the physical fears, there is a more debilitating fear that is entirely abstract: fear of failure. What if you try really hard and still fail? What if you never become as fast as your best friend? In these cases, it’s much easier to protect your ego and stop trying. The alternative is to admit you suck at racing, tear down your ego, and be both honest and critical of your skill. Honesty is painful. So painful that it’s easier to say “they’re just driving harder than me”. As if driving harder is a simple choice that you have decided isn’t worth your time.
If you spend your time making excuses rather than actually training, you may have a fear of failure problem.
- They are just driving harder than me – Everybody owns their own limit. Own up to yours. Your speed isn’t simply your choice, but your comfort level.
- My #1 priority is safety – Yes, it should be with everyone. That’s a given. You don’t need to say it, and if you are, it’s because you’re covering up something else.
- I don’t check my lap times – Because you don’t want to know how slow you are. Own your failures and you’ll also own your successes.
- I don’t record/post video – Because you don’t want to see all the things you’re doing wrong. Or more likely, because you don’t want others to see it. Protecting your ego will only slow down the learning.
- I don’t use telemetry – Because you don’t want to know what you’re doing wrong. Or because you don’t know what it means. Don’t let ignorance, intended or not, hold you back.