Make Mistakes: The Key to Driving Faster

Performance & Race Driving Tip

Speed Secret: Make Mistakes.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We cannot not think about something. If we think, “Don’t make a mistake,” our mind only hears, “make a mistake.” It doesn’t register the “don’t.” The harder you try to avoid making a mistake, the more likely it is that you’ll make it. How many times have you felt yourself heading for the edge of the track – and a little beyond – and tried to avoid it by steering away from the edge… only to have the car hook up and spin towards the inside of the track?

One of the things that some driving schools do that I really disagree with is making drivers come in to the pits for dropping a wheel off the track. It’s a penalty. And what do people think about penalties? Avoid them! In the case of running out of track at the exit of a turn, if I know I’m going to be penalized by having to pit if I drop a wheel or two off, I’ll do everything I can to avoid that “mistake.” My focus will be on avoiding the mistake. And guess what? I’m more likely to make the mistake – or another one that results from avoiding the first one.

The very first time I drove a race car was a Formula Ford at Willow Springs Raceway in California, during a Jim Russell School course. I can recall it like it was yesterday… the blistering heat of the Mojave desert, driving “my” bright orange Merlyn FF into Turn 4, clicking it down a gear, powering through the turn and up the hill, arcing the car to the right, up and over the crest… Oh-oh, a little fast! Lift the throttle. Whoa. Wow, did that rotate the car! Hey, that was awesome! I lifted when I thought I was going to run out of room, and the car rotated, or turned more. Yeah, I guess that’s what it’s supposed to do when I change the balance – I transferred weight to the front and away from the rear, making the car oversteer, changing its direction by what I did with my right foot on the throttle – and not with the steering wheel.

I guess I made a mistake back then in Turn 5, but I learned something. I sure did. I learned just how much I could change the balance, and therefore the direction of the car with the throttle. That wasn’t my intent, but it sure was cool. It may not have been fast, but I learned a great lesson.

Since that time I’ve kinda considered mistakes as “learning-takes.” Too many drivers fear making mistakes so much that they rarely learn from them. Okay, mistakes can sometimes be costly in our sport, but there is always something to be learned.

Successful people in all walks of life, especially the best drivers, are really good at looking for the solutions – not the problems. They look where they want to go, not where they don’t want to go. They’re so focused on what they’re doing, they don’t have time to even think about the possibility of making a mistake.

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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