The Quest for Quicker


Like stories like this? You’ll see every article as soon as it’s published by reading the print edition of Grassroots Motorsports. Subscribe now.

story by e. paul dickerson • photos as credited

E. Paul Dickinson firmly believes in the artistry of racing, but he also knows how to translate philosophy into real-world speed. Along with six SCCA Solo National Championships, he has more than three decades of driving instruction experience under his belt.

If I were to ask, “What is the most important turn on the course?” everyone would have an answer. And, for the most part, we might be able to come to an agreement. Many would answer, “It’s the turn preceding the longest straight.” However, a reliable argument could be made that the most important turn on course is the one giving you the most difficulty. In other words, it’s the turn that provides the most immediate opportunity for you to become quicker.

While each turn on track is an adventure, never doubt that every one is also a test. They are tests of your current and evolving judgment and skill. They are complex tests that need to be taken in earnest and should be viewed on a higher scale than just pass/fail.

It makes no difference how fast the car can go. It’s how fast you can go.

What Builds Quicker?

Racing at speeds exceeding 100 mph and approaching a car’s limits through turns is one of the highest-stress classrooms on earth. Just staying on track requires maximum effort. There is no time to think, or capacity to learn, when the mind is so absorbed with just staying on course. How do you expect to learn and progress to quicker driving skills under those circumstances?

Do you feel you came away from your last race more developed as a driver? Did you learn anything new? What would you do differently with just one more lap? Make a list with these and other questions. They define a stepladder of improvement opportunities. They provide focus on what you do not know, as well as what you do not know well enough. The list diagnoses your impediments to going quicker.

Get in the habit of formulating questions to ask yourself. Challenge your current concepts by explaining them to yourself. Try explaining a concept to someone who isn’t familiar with it. See if you can make it make sense to them. This will reveal your own knowledge gaps and identify concepts you don’t understand clearly. If your concept is flawed, your on-track execution will always be flawed.

When you’re searching for the answers to going faster, recognize the hard parts. They are the keys to capturing the elusive secrets of speed and safely getting there first. You know the difficult parts and where they are: These are the ones you want to skip past quickly so you can move on to the easy parts. Investing more and more effort into getting better at the easy parts is not the answer that achieves quicker.

Peak performance comes from concentrating on the present while staying focused in the future. Attention reserves, not attention deficits, make quicker laps.

What Prevents Quicker?

A buddy with comparable skills gets in your car and goes a second quicker. What does it prove? Embarrassing, yes, but probably shrugged off. More than likely–and more to the question–you are too familiar with your car and consistently overdrive it.

A pro gets in your car and goes 3 or 4 seconds quicker. What does that prove? It would be more productive to ask yourself, “What does he do that I don’t?” rather than dwell on a defensive thought like, “What do you expect? He’s a pro.”

This sort of “he’s a pro” reasoning is a means to a predetermined end–justifying our preconceived ideas, our existing concepts. We give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and we try to debunk or refute that which we find disagreeable.

What prevents quicker? You do!

We all have “right disease.” We all believe that how we do or see things is the correct way. We become so emotionally invested, we bend driving beliefs to support our theories. Unwilling to realize flaws in our understanding, we believe in what we have come to trust.

Our expectation of a particular outcome forms our confidence in it. We trust the knowledge, however flawed, with which we have come to our current understanding. This conviction becomes so ingrained that we believe our misconceptions more than fact.

We cite the actual course of events as proof of being correct. It is like a placebo effect. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a belief that comes true because we are already acting as if it were already true. We behave in such a way as to create the outcome we believe.

If you believe your car cannot go through a corner more quickly, you will not allow it. Attempting to go quicker only increases anxiety. The result of progressively increasing anxiety is fear. Fear, the primordial fight-orflight reflex, brings involuntary panic inputs, and involuntary panic inputs are always wrong.

Yes, the fight-or-flight reflex also applies to on-track experience. Our rapid-fire emotions can chart a course of thinking that is highly biased. We push threatening information away. We pull friendly information close. It explains our bias, how easily we ignore actual facts and perpetuate our ingrained but erroneous concepts.

Reasoning and deliberation come later and work slowly–often so slowly that misleading information has already become deeply rooted. Subconsciously, we ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our opinions. This habit leaves our conscious effort with every opportunity to validate the flawed go-fast skills we’ve grown to trust–and with which we are unable to go faster.

Protecting our sense of self often makes us highly resistant to changing our beliefs. We actively seek out information to confirm our view–a confirmation bias. We gravitate to people who reinforce outcomes we’ve set ourselves up to believe. It’s easy for us to assume our views had to be true from the outset when we seek out those who validate them.

If we open ourselves to thinking, “Maybe we’re wrong,” then we have to look at change. Change requires new ways of thinking and doing. Change is uncomfortable because self-defined success is not always immediately assured.

Good decisions can have bad outcomes. Of course they can–they are not yet well practiced. Bad outcomes from good decisions serve to reinforce our old ways of thinking and doing, in which case we resist attempting the new way again.

Resistance to change is a normal reaction when it threatens established beliefs. The more familiar we become with something, the more we resist change. Change causes us to feel risk. So we vigorously defend our point of view to protect existing beliefs with which we are comfortable. We become risk averse–opposed to taking risks, or only willing to take small risks. The only real way to manage risk is to develop greater knowledge and skill.

Much of our knowledge and skill evolve invisibly. You do, unknowingly, outgrow what you think you know about driving. As your driving knowledge matures, skills assume new levels of importance. Mistakes can easily result from continuing to apply improved skills to lesser knowledge, or lesser skills to improved knowledge. Mistakes are so ingrained, it’s hard to think about why they are mistakes.

When that equally skilled buddy who drove your car a second quicker says, “You can go through that turn faster. I did!” you say, “No, I can’t. I’ve done it 50 times. It’s as fast as I can go.” The friend continues to encourage, so next time you up the speed.

Since increasing speed is the only change you make, most likely the outcome is not a positive one. After that one experience with change, will you look for new techniques and fresh knowledge to try again? Or will you allow the prophecy of “No, I can’t. I’ve done it 50 times. It’s as fast as I can go” to be self-fulfilled?

What Improves Quicker?

How is it that exceptional drivers seem to have all the time in the world when their cars are at the limit? The answer: quicker assessment. Quicker drivers have less need to rush and more time to choose when to rush.

The way to achieve quicker assessment is to develop a richer, larger and more efficient bank of experience in your memory-of-motion. Memory-ofmotion includes your brain’s arsenal of very fast, unconscious, automatic driving shortcuts used to respond to different stimuli on track.

If you respond the same way to five different stimuli on track, you’re relying on a less effective, broad-brushstroke solution. However, becoming aware of even subtle differences will help you develop a much richer set of stored solutions from which to choose, optimizing memory-of-motion.

The purpose of practice, on-track or mental, is to increase your knowledge and experience so you can develop more driving responses. It’s critical to successful outcomes that your memories-of-motion are optimized. Knowledge grows exponentially. The more you know, the greater your ability to learn, and the faster you expand your knowledge base to reduce lap times.

Driving at speed can be a self-created emergency. Less-skilled drivers working with fewer appropriate response sets require as much physical and emotional strength as necessary to continually snatch themselves back from disaster time and again. Better-skilled drivers choosing from a larger base of optimized decisions can afford extra time in the response sequence before they need to make further corrections.

Optimizing memory-of-motion slows time, increases concentration and generates confidence. Confidence is the ultimate tool for getting control of timing. More interesting is what control of the time sequence within a movement does for skill. Change the time sequence within a skill, and different arcs or portions of arcs within a series of motion can be moved with brilliant results.

Constantly doing the same thing at the same place within the same pattern is simply repetitious practice. To learn something new, change whatever you are doing now. That means you will, along the way, be making mistakes–deviating from your norm. If you are not deviating from your norm, you are not using practice time productively. You are not learning, or at least not learning enough.

When you’re on track, practice driving off-line, braking early, braking late, and placing turn-ins, apexes and trackout target points both earlier and later. When you’re off the track, mentally examine your performance and identify areas where you’re not succeeding as you wish you were. Search for unproductive circumstances that keep cropping up over and over again.

Remember, the fact of trying something, even if it doesn’t work, often opens doors that otherwise would have remained closed. Finding the mistakes leads to incremental improvements. Each successive iteration improves the next, honing and polishing until a new skill is obtained. There is such an emphasis today on instant gratification and being a winner that we often forget the valuable lessons we learn from getting it wrong.

The most important lesson in all of mistake-making is to trust that, while mistakes are inevitable, you are constantly challenged to examine your ability to change. The key is to make more mistakes than the competition, allowing yourself to learn from more experiences and become better than them.

Quicker assessment is translating the laws of speed back into their original language, which is thought–making decisions and then changing those thoughts back into actions. A concept always precedes a driver’s action. If the concept is flawed, the execution will always be flawed. Your line, after all, is merely your current thought. It can be changed!

What Summarizes Quicker?

We all prevent our own greater quickness because of our experiences and the beliefs we formed from them. It becomes as hard to imagine creating new techniques in support of fresh knowledge as it is to modify or discard old ones. Fresh ideas and new techniques do not occur naturally. If whatever you’re doing isn’t working, you cannot keep doing the same thing hoping for a better outcome.

Once drivers practice a skill to their own satisfaction, they often stop looking for improvement–a plateau. Our society tends to be expert-centric, and experts do not make mistakes. Success becomes driven by a self-image requiring us to be experts rather than learners.

As the expert, a sense of embarrassment– combined with the inevitability of making mistakes when attempting new things–explains why many people plateau, become frustrated with progress, accept a lowered expectation of their true capability, or give up.

A learning plateau is a mental concept. Recognize you are making progress; it just doesn’t feel like it. Accept that slower progress is normal with evolving stages of car control skills. Improvement is there for the taking only if you invest the effort.

The limits to your performance are most certainly a great deal higher than you might accept as true. Your potential is virtually limitless, provided you have sufficient motivation to reach it.

We tend to resist changes even when they represent growth. If we are to become quicker, resistance to change is inevitable. But quicker can only occur with change.

Things get quicker and more difficult as they progress. With higher skill levels, drivers must also change strategies to compensate for their increased knowledge and abilities. Learn from your mistakes; don’t continue to practice your mistakes.

It is fundamental to identify problems and correct mistakes, like missing the apex in Turn 3 or struggling with braking into Turn 7. The most commonly practiced solution, “Fix a mistake turn by turn,” does not get to the core of the learning problem. It’s a long process to fix, individually, every problem on every turn on every track each time you’re there.

Identify and correct mistakes at their root level and you resolve multiple problems at once. More than just curing individual problems, you have then cured the whole class of problems that applies to different corners at different tracks, allowing performance levels to rapidly leapfrog well beyond that of basic car control.

The root strategic error is indiscriminate speed–not knowing where to slow down and where to speed up. Practice is for slowing down, building skill, experimenting with fresh ideas and new techniques. Practice at 5 mph or even 10 mph under your maximum. Create the time to develop changes, form better thoughts, and establish the foundation necessary for progressively increasing speed. Quicker is the byproduct of applying optimized skills.

The root tactical error is not allowing enough mental practice. Stretching the mind prior to competition raises confidence. Imagine perfect laps until they become fluid. The brain makes little distinction between visual and thought images. Building and continually refining a mental track model is important for processing the abundance of real-time information produced by increasing on-track speeds.

The quality of your mental model is more important than your technical skills. No matter how careful you are, most incidents are due to a lack of decision making, not a lack of skill. On track, by the time you’re aware of the mistake, it’s too late to change it. Accurately perceived and kept up with, a well-internalized mental model of the track can be used to anticipate. Anticipation immunizes against incidents.

What is the difference between a good amateur and a good pro? Good amateurs practice until they get it right. Good pros practice until they can’t get it wrong.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
Our Preferred Partners
lBmIjtnpz0u3ZlCxff5KAkBmLEitrOlzflM3r9tIoEPHz0t0bPOndYRr22ZY3SRp