The advanced stuff

I was just listening to a Garage Heroes in Training podcast featuring Mike Skeen and was reminded that  Ross Bentley loves to say that “the advanced stuff is just doing the basics better”. I don’t disagree with much Ross says, but I disagree with this.

Natural Progression

In lots of sports, there is a natural progression of skills where it’s not really possible to do the advanced skills until the basics are mastered. There’s no way to skip to the end. To me, that creates a division between skills that can be learned early and those that cannot.

My favorite example of an advanced technique is the tennis serve. Take a look at the picture of Pete Sampras below. You’ll notice several strange things.

  • His right elbow is higher than his head
  • His right elbow is higher than his wrist
  • His racquet if facing straight down
  • His right palm faces away from his body

If you’re not a competitive tennis player, his position might look a little strange. How did he get his body into such a weird position? Most casual tennis players have a follow-through that looks like the image below.

  • The racquet head is down
  • The racquet has moved across the body
  • The palm is facing  inward

Casual tennis players learn to serve with a circular motion. The racquet face is pointed in the direction they want the ball to travel through most of the stroke. After the serve is done, their follow-through causes their racquet to be close to their knee on the opposite side. Contrast this to Pete Sampras. His racquet is nowhere near his knee. Why? Because the advanced, topspin serve, is absolutely nothing like the no-spin casual serve. Advanced driving also looks nothing like casual driving.

Advanced Driving

The key to advanced driving is corner entry oversteer. This has absolutely nothing to do with the vehicle being FWD, RWD, or AWD. If you think that oversteer is induced by spinning the rear wheels, you have a lot to learn about high performance driving. Oversteer is induced by decelerating and turning at the same time.

We can break down the driver actions millisecond by millisecond or discuss the physics for hours. None of this matters. You cannot learn to drive with corner entry understeer without experiencing it firsthand. You can buy a lot of performance in the car world, but you cannot buy the muscle memory to manage oversteer. This you must earn the hard way.

Training yourself to automatically recover and optimize oversteer takes many hours of deliberate practice that will undoubtedly result in spinning. It is impossible to learn how to become an advanced driver without finding the limits of you and your vehicle. If you are scared to spin your car, you will never learn how to recover from oversteer. It really is that simple. Spin not, win not.

Most HPDE organizations will kick you off the track if you spin 3 times. Some will even end your day on the second offense. That’s because HPDE organizations are (rightly) more concerned with safety than you becoming an advanced driver. Don’t be a selfish idiot on track who takes other peoples’ track time away. And don’t be a criminal and imagine the streets are your playground.

Reconciling

So why do I think Ross says “the advanced stuff is just doing the basics better?” I think his primary message is how important it is to do the basics. Every great athlete has sound fundamentals. Now you may look at a specific athlete like Stephen Curry and note that his jump shot is a little unusual. Yes, he broke with tradition and shoots on the way up. But his footwork is impeccable. I think Ross would also say that if you’re serving with a circular motion, you aren’t actually doing the basics correctly. Well, if the basics are as hard to perform as a topspin serve, I don’t think they should be called basic. 

What next?

Driving is fun at every level. You don’t need to become an advanced driver. You don’t need to spin your car off track risking expense and injury. Take the responsible road and drive well below the limit. Everyone will thank you for it. Maybe it’s better to be an enthusiastic amateur than a jaded professional. No, that was not a sex joke. YSAR is too classy for sex jokes.

2 thoughts on “The advanced stuff

  1. My biggest insight (which I am stealing from some past reading — could have been from you!) is that beginners are taught to late apex, and to turn AFTER braking — as in NO trail braking. I understand the reason for the late apex (minimizes the chance of running out of room on exit), and feel like you can progressively trim that to an appropriate apex without unlearning anything. But teaching someone to start turning right at the moment the weight is transferring away from the front end (as they release the brakes) is just plain stupid. I would prefer to have been taught trail braking at 30% speed, then adding 10% each time I was ready, than being taught such a terrible technique in the first place.

    Like

    1. Yeah, separating braking and turning makes no sense. I do trail-braking with students from day one. I don’t have them aggressively rotating, but I do want them starting with good principles and not bad habits.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s