Elliott Forbes Robinson gave an interesting keynote at the SCCA Motorsport Expo last Saturday talking about what he’s learned during his 37 year career in racing. Following along with Randy Pobst’s theme of fear, he noted that if you’re feeling the adrenaline rush while driving, then you’re probably doing it wrong. It should feel awesome, yes; but not exciting. Exciting is often bad and can lead to surprises. And surprises are often bad as well: wheels falling off, fluid on the apex, no brakes, throttle stuck. It’s not that good driver’s don’t make mistakes, it’s more about how they recover. Like good actors who miss a line in a play, the observer may not notice. For a good driver that mistake could be too fast corner entry, or going off course — just without drama. But it is more a matter of style. He always tries to turn in early (something I hear attributed to Mike Skeen once too.) By turning in early, he’s able to make constant adjustments, but more importantly, he can get on the throttle at the right place, every time. He hardly ever trail-brakes and thinks of braking as the least important aspect of the corner. He tries to get all of his braking done in a straight line. As a result he consistently gets better gas mileage while maintaining competitive lap times.
Randy Pobst was the keynote speaker at the first day of the annual SCCA Motorsports Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina last week. His speaking topic was fear, but his message was really about vision. We know instinctively that fear causes the fight, flight, or freeze response. Randy noted that rational fear helps control risk. It can help us perceive scary cars or situations on the track and it nags us to check fluid levels, lug nuts, and safety equipment. But he also observed that fear hurts driving performance as well. When we get the white-knuckle grip on the wheel, our pumped-up forearms are incapable of subtle movements. Instinctively we realize the car isn’t handling right, but the tight grip doesn’t give any feel for what the car is really doing. Fear also adds to the physical and mental workload associated with driving, and can cause a loss of focus, causing the driver to miss flags, gauge warnings, or objects in mirrors. He cautioned that mirror fear also causes mistakes and sets one up for easy intimidation by the competition. That in turn causes timidity, getting run-over, stagnation, missed opportunities, and no improvement.
The biggest impact of fear, Randy noted, was that it makes us look at what we fear — the vision connection. It makes us look where we fear we’re going, not where we want to be going. He calls it Mother Nature’s revenge for the industrial revolution: all of our instincts are wrong. You go where you look and your hands just work it out. (So, by Randy’s own admission, you should still be looking at the apex when you hit the wall.) If you aren’t looking where you want to go, you’ll feed in the power at the wrong time/wrong amount. It seems intuitive, but if you aren’t going where you want to go, why do you want to go there faster? Yet you’ll often hear drivers back on the gas in a spin. Look not at what you fear — sound advice.
So how do you alleviate fears? You can extinct fears by creating new memories. Always be learning, whether that’s attending driver’s schools, seeking coaching or mentorship, or reading. Randy recommends “Going Faster” by Carl Lopez — the Skippy Bible. But most importantly is to ask for help “especially if you’re bad…” Randy is a huge fan of the skid pad and getting a stable car set-up. Remember, under-steer is frustrating; fear is over-steer. Most importantly, have fun. Thinking about fun reduces fear.