Performance & Race Driving Tip

Squirting out of the 120-degree right-hander, I stretch second gear to redline, accelerating hard, flicking the shifter up to third, foot buried to the floor, and catch fourth gear just before my reference point, the change in pavement surface: A good corner exit.

driving-MINILike touching a hot stove element, a shift-point reference provides feedback that is accurate and instantaneous. Most exits out of that right-hander have me shifting to fourth gear right at the pavement change, so catching it a few feet earlier means I was able to get to the throttle sooner than usual. It had everything to do with the way the car was balanced and the late apex line I carved through the turn.

Hitting a turn like that makes the back of my neck tingle, like when a favorite old song comes on the radio. But it’s even more than that because it’s not a passive thing. It’s happening right now, and I’m in it. I’m making the music, not just listening to it. It is art… and also science.

Knowing that I’ve nailed the turn, getting everything I could out of me and my car provides a sense of satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of purpose.

Yes, that’s it. Purpose. It is my purpose. I drive with purpose. Driving is my purpose.

It’s the next day and I’m approaching that same right-hander again. I have the car on its edge under braking, heel-and-toe blipping the throttle as I skip-shift from fifth to second gear approaching the point where I begin to turn in, overlapping the release of the brakes with a crisp turn of the steering wheel, arcing the car past the apex and then unwinding the wheel, letting the tires run free as I strongly feed in the throttle, using up all the roadway, looking way ahead as I upshift my way down the highway.

It doesn’t matter if I’m on the track, racing, or buzzing the backroads and highways, I’m always comparing how I did when exiting each and every turn.

For instance, back in 1993, exiting turn 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway I glanced at the speed readout on the tiny dash as we, my car and I, merged with that one-foot gap of air next to the wall. 219. One MPH better than the last lap. Great run through 3 and 4, good lap coming up. Looking for 220 at that point, next lap.

Or, shifting to sixth gear, having just exited the Daytona International Speedway Bus Stop chicane for yet another lap during the Rolex 24 hour race, I compare where I’m at to the “D” of the “Daytona” painted on the wall outside of NASCAR turn 3. A couple of feet earlier means I carried good momentum through the Bus Stop and exited it well.

And exiting the right hand turn from Duthie Hill Road onto Highway 202 in my MINI, I compare where I shift into fourth to the pavement change. A car length – albeit a MINI-car-length – earlier than my previous best means a strong exit.

Is it just me? Am I the only driver who compares shift points exiting every turn I face more than once, whether I’m on a racetrack, an urban intersection, or a twisty back road highway?

I’ll bet I’m not alone.

Check back here often for more tips and advice for performance drivers, race drivers, high performance driving instructors, and anyone else interested in learning to get around race tracks quickly.

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