Motorsports is a mental game, too

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
May 10, 2024 | SCCA, Autocross, Column | Posted in Columns | From the Feb. 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Dave Green

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

Our 2021 competition season–such that it is here in the sunny Southeast, where there are events 12 months out of the year–has come to a close. 

At least, that’s as far as “meaningful” events go. My final two events of some note were the Florida State Autocross Championship …

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Comments
APEowner
APEowner GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
1/10/22 11:02 a.m.

First off, I'm sorry about your loss of BeeGee.  It's never easy to loose a pet.

A huge part of Motorsports is mental and getting into the zone is critical to being able to perform at our best.   My race results have gotten worse since I became our clubs CDI.  Instructing others is helpful but I'm so busy on race weekends instructing and jumping from lead ca,r to right seat, to classroom that when I finally strap into my car for the feature I'm thinking of everything but my race.  It's generally two or three laps before I can finally focus on what's happening on the track.  By that time the field is spread out and there's no way to catch up with the pointy end of the field.  It doesn't help that I start dead last due to skipping practice and qualifying but I've done that in the past and I can usually dispatch that slow back half of the field in a lap or two when my head has been in the game .

One of the best books I've ever read on the mental part of Motorsports is Keith Codes The Soft Science of Road Racing Motorcycles.  My wife is a musician and we've found through discussion that a lot of the mental parts of racing are exactly the same as in music.  I haven't read it but it sounds like The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey could also apply directly to Motorsports.

Tom1200
Tom1200 UltraDork
1/10/22 12:54 p.m.

I like Motorsports specifically because it is a mental game.

Kieth Code books got me really in tune with the mental aspect of racing way back in the 80s when I road raced motorcycles..................................I now use those techniques with students at track days.

I make no bones about being the ADD poster kid but one of the joys of an ADD brain is driving at speed seems normal, it also grabs your attention making it all the more easy to focus. A friend marvels at how I can be pin ponging off the walls out of the car yet laser focused in the car. Note autocross is a bit tougher as there are more distractions between runs, this is why I stay buckled in the car.

The mental aspect is also why I hate unreliable / cantankerous cars, no matter how fast they are, it's hard to focus when you're wondering if it's going to break. 

My son is now learning why I have everything ready to go a week in advance of a road race weekend and why I like to be at the track early. It's all about focus, I want nothing in the way mentally.

 

65289Cobra
65289Cobra New Reader
3/11/22 2:50 a.m.

This discussion reminds me of the 4-minute mile track-and-field "barrier" which once existed..  Over the years, many talented men tried, but no one was able to get into the 3's until the late Roger Bannister did so in May 1954.

Once Bannister ran his sub-4:00, that mental barrier was broken and the floodgates opened:  soon thereafter, dozens of runners followed suit.  Now it's routinely done and I believe ~ 1500 runners have done so in the intervening 68 years.

I once had a PGA pro golfer tell me that, at his level, 90% of the game was mental.  I believe him. 

frenchyd
frenchyd MegaDork
3/11/22 8:20 a.m.

In reply to 65289Cobra :

When I'm really in the race I'm considering where and how to pass everyone starting ahead of me on the pre grid.  It's like playing multidimensional chess. You have to be thinking several moves ahead plus potential competitors coming from behind. 
  That's when it's fun.  When you're flat out and the race is going as you've planned. Here's the Corner Dave overdrives when pushed on the outside.  Tuck in behind the Corvette to get the pull down the straight where you can use your superior braking to pull ahead. 
etc. 

DaleCarter
DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
10/28/23 5:13 a.m.

Motorsports is MOSTLY a mental game. Spend a day at the track, whether track days or an actual race, and notice how exhausted you are at the end of the day. Setting up the car is mental. Improving your brain is how you get lower times in the same car.

You can buy speed, but you can't buy the talent to use that speed. The price for that is intelligence combined with seat-time.

DaleCarter
DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
10/28/23 5:18 a.m.

In reply to APEowner :

I was a gigging musician from age 12 to 50 (bass, guitar, drums) running my own bands and getting plenty of last-minute call gigs for shows and studio sessions, along with a LOT of songwriting. I started autocrossing at 50, road race schools at 52, endurance racing at 56 and instructing HPDE and road racing drivers at 57. The two are so similar that it is shocking. From pre-event preparation to mental discipline to subject knowledge to the rhythmic flow of a road course to timing the start tree at a drag strip to listening to the car telling you what is going on (engine note, trans harmonics, tire squeal, etc), there is enormous crossover.

DaleCarter
DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
10/28/23 5:21 a.m.

In reply to APEowner :

I was a gigging musician from age 12 to 50 (bass, guitar, drums) running my own bands and getting plenty of last-minute call gigs for shows and studio sessions, along with a LOT of songwriting. I started autocrossing at 50, road race schools at 52, endurance racing at 56 and instructing HPDE and road racing drivers at 57. The two are so similar that it is shocking. From pre-event preparation to mental discipline to subject knowledge to the rhythmic flow of a road course to timing the start tree at a drag strip to listening to the car telling you what is going on (engine note, trans harmonics, tire squeal, etc), there is enormous crossover.

I like using Joe Rogan's description of martial arts to describe motorsports - "High level problem solving with dire consequence".

theruleslawyer
theruleslawyer Reader
5/10/24 11:35 a.m.
DaleCarter said:


I like using Joe Rogan's description of martial arts to describe motorsports - "High level problem solving with dire consequence".

I get the same feeling on the track as I do in martial arts. There is this laser focus where the rest of the world just falls away. It's you balanced on a razors edge of oblivion. Racing is the same way mentally too where you practice the physical enough that it happens without conscious thought. It opens this mental space for you to focus on your opponents and strategy rather than just the business of getting the car around a corner or hitting your sparring partner. 

cmargosi
cmargosi New Reader
5/10/24 1:27 p.m.

First, sorry about your duck.  I didn't realize people kept ducks as pets or even that ducks made good pets, but man that sucks.  

Second, and more to the point, the absolute difference between a great race and bad race is mental.  One mental mistake can ruin a whole race (even if it doesn't result in an accident).  However, the best mental days at the track might not even result in a win or a PR lap time, rather it can be sharp enough to avoid a wreck when someone spins.

In both of my last two races I've had severe spins in front of me in high speed areas of the track.  One spin was a result of a mental lapse by the other driver on cold tires on a cold day.

Me being quick witted (and being a bit lucky that I held onto my own car on cold tires), resulted in avoiding a wreck that would have potentially hurt someone and definitely racked up thousands in damages.  I think mental preparedness is of the utmost importance.

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