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All Sports Are the Same

My buddy Cliff recently discovered autocross. He decided it was time to spend a few bucks on a performance car, went out, and bought a brand-new Challenger R/T (with a six-speed, so he got that part right). Shortly thereafter, he found himself at the Central Florida Region SCCA’s season-opening Solo event at Sebring.

I know Cliff from one of my non-automotive pastimes: a discipline known as action shooting or speed shooting. I’m an active, enthusiastic competitor with an organization called the United States Practical Shooting Association. Some of you may be familiar, but for those of you who aren’t, a USPSA event is basically a gun autocross. You negotiate a set course containing several targets, and your speed through the course and accuracy are paramount.

I’m moderately skilled, but Cliff is pretty accomplished. His ranking is in the top 10 percent in his division nationwide. In autocross terms, he’s like one of those guys you constantly see in the top four to five trophy spots at the Solo Nationals.

Cliff asked me to help him in his autocross endeavors by accelerating his learning process, which is something I’m glad to do. But as I’ve been giving him little hints and tips for his next time behind the wheel, I’ve noticed that they pretty much apply to any sport–which is why I’ve come to the conclusion that all sports are basically the same. Here are my observations:

1. Smoothness is always good, not just when it comes to Scotch and soul singers. Whether you’re clipping an apex or swinging a golf club, smoothness will pay dividends. Every motion you make with a steering wheel creates friction at the contact patch, and friction slows you down. That means every adjustment you make once you’ve set a cornering arc is wasted effort, lost speed, and another chance to make a mistake.

Imagine deciding mid-golf swing that you want to open or close the clubface, or move your point of contact forward or back. Too late. You’d be lucky if you didn’t embarrass yourself at that point. One club arc, one turn-in, one apex, one track-out: These are your goals.

2. Efficiency is the first cousin of smoothness. I used to fence. No, not install pine panels in people’s yards to keep their dogs from running away, but fight other people with swords. In fencing, you learn really quickly that efficiency of movement is essential to success. Every twitch of your wrist is magnified at the tip of your foil, and every one of your movements is designed to provoke a certain reaction from your opponent. Wiggle your sword around like Errol Flynn (who was an accomplished fencer, but hammed it up on screen), and you’re just wearing yourself out and giving your opponent opportunities.

Sawing at the wheel mid-corner? Jumping back and forth from throttle to brake several times during cornering? That’s hardly efficient, is it?

3. Your sports equipment is almost invariably better than you. Practical shooting offers a perfect example. My primary competition gun is what’s called an Open-class pistol. It’s the pistol equivalent of an A Mod car: heads-up optical sight, recoil compensation through ducted gas ports, multi-spring doodads to reduce recoil. It’s designed with few compromises to shoot fast and accurately. Cliff shoots primarily in the Limited division: iron sights, no blast compensation, more restrictions. Yet he routinely beats me, because he’s simply a more skilled shooter.

Likewise, on the weeks when I shoot my Limited gun, I sometimes find myself going faster and performing better than I do with my Open gun. It’s likely because I’m focusing more on my technique than my equipment.

A car never makes any mistakes. It’s only when a driver gets behind the wheel that stupid things start to happen. Think that way about your approach to speed.

4. Victory is as much about recovering from your mistakes as it is about excelling. In the very first play of this year’s NFC Championship, the San Francisco 49ers stripped the ball from Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and recovered deep in Seahawk territory. But instead of that being the first domino in a Seattle collapse, the Seahawks held the 49ers to a field goal and went on to win the game–and the Superbowl.

We’re all going to make mistakes at one point or another. In the entire history of recorded motorsport, probably no one has ever laid down a theoretically perfect lap or autocross run. There are simply too many variables. But success will come to the competitor who can best leave those mistakes behind and continues with the business at hand.

I’d love to hear other parallels you’ve found between your motorsport activities and other sports–or even more mundane activities. Anyone who’s ever found the most efficient lines around their yard on a riding mower knows what I’m talking about.

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