Q: How far ahead should I be looking on track?

Q: “The brain takes 1/4 second to process and recognize visual images from the eye. At 100 mph you’re traveling at 146 feet per second, or 37 feet per 1/4 second. What you “see” is 1/4 second in the past. So, at 100 mph, when you “see” your tire at the apex, you are actually 37 feet past the apex. We are essentially driving in the future. This doesn’t take into account the time to send a signal from the brain to body to control the car, around another 1/4 second. There is something going on here rather mysterious to me. Experiments show brain wave activity occurs prior to consciousness and movement. When we look ahead at where the car is going maybe we provide input to allow the mental calculations of position. Maybe when we are in the zone, groove, rhythm, we are in some predictive state allowing driving in the future. So do we need to look 1/2 second ahead?”

A: Very interesting! While I’ve seen some slightly different numbers in terms of reaction times and the amount of time it takes for the brain to process information (and no comment on your math and logic!), your question is a good one.

“So do we need to look ½ second ahead?” No! Many, many seconds ahead!

On the road, traffic safety experts suggest that a driver should be looking 12 to 15 seconds ahead. On the track, I’d say drivers should be trying to look at least that far ahead, but knowing that due to the speed we’re traveling, that might not be possible.

Imagine that you’re driving on a straightaway, approaching a corner. You look way ahead – possibly a thousand feet ahead. You spot the turn-in point, and a second or two later you begin braking for that corner, perhaps 400-500 feet before the corner. You still have that turn-in point in your overall vision, but you’re already glancing into the corner, taking in pieces of the visual picture between the turn-in and the apex. As you get to the turn-in point, you haven’t actually been looking at it for seconds (or fractions of seconds). But you don’t need to be looking directly at something to drive to it. In fact, if you did, and then picked your vision up a ¼ or so seconds before you got to it, you’d be “lost” in terms of where to go next!

When you say, “We are essentially driving in the future,” you’re right, because we’re looking many, many seconds ahead, setting our path and speed well in advance of actually getting to a spot on the track.

When driving down the highway, do you look at something, and then check whether you’ve driven next to or over it by looking directly down at your tires? Right, you don’t do that. You look at it, set your path, and trust that you’ll get there.

And when you say, “When we look ahead at where the car is going maybe we provide input to allow the mental calculations of position. Maybe when we are in the zone, groove, rhythm, we are in some predictive state allowing driving in the future,” I say, “Yes!” It’s because we’re looking many, many seconds ahead that we’re able to do the mental calculations to set the right path, and why being in the zone feels as though we’re able to predict the future. We’re predicting where we’ll be by looking way ahead.

4 Comments

  1. I am using this quote when coaching in the passenger seat: “Never put your car in a position where your mind hasn’t been before.”
    I repeat this a few times during the day, whenever I find that the client is mentally drifting off and starts making mistakes.
    I don’t know who wrote this quote, but I find it is a very effective line that gets my clients to think.

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    • I love that quote! Thanks Klaus.

      Reply
  2. The way I explain it to students whenever I coach is that if your car is already pointed at a certain spot on the track, looking at the spot doesn’t change anything for better or for worse. So look ahead and spend that same time planning your next move. I try to nudge them to look slightly past where they were first looking. So if they were looking only at the apex at entry, I tell them to look through and past the apex. If they are looking past the apex at entry, I tell them to look through and past the apex and to the exit. This creates flow in their vision movement instead of a singular point.

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