Sixth post to NASA Speed News; seeing is believing!

 When I began developing short post for HPDE drivers that would appear in issues of the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) magazine, Speed News, I was under no illusion about my own skills. As someone entering the sport much later in life than most other participants, there was no easy way for me to play catch up. The focus had to remain on the basics as over time so many bad habits made themselves apparent each time I entered the track. Not to worry, I always said, I will figure it out. However, before any confidence could develop the most basic question had to be addressed. Could you see out of your car so that you knew exactly where you were headed?

Physics play a big role in getting any car to perform on track. To this end nothing maters quite as much as getting the center of gravity as low as possible; being top heavy is no way to approach any corner. On the other hand, sitting so low that you cannot see the front corners of your car isn’t going to add to your weekend’s enjoyment of time spent laying down laps. In the post below I relate how the expression “seeing is believing” makes a more compelling statement. Where you look your car will obviously go, but if you cannot see everything laid-out in front of you, it will be hard for you to steer your car and place it where it needs to be.

For the past two months Margo and I have been touring the country mostly on business. Part of our enjoyment of getting back onto the country’s highways after being cooped up for so long has been the sheer joy of driving. As we have recalled in recent posts to this blog, we have enjoyed the backroads and lesser travelled highways just as much as the interstates as they provided ample opportunity to throw the car around, just a tad. By this we don’t mean taking a careless or indifferent approach to our passage across the blacktop but rather, focusing on where the road was taking us and maximizing our sheer joy of being able to drive with confidence no matter how twisty the road became.

On the other hand, when it comes to sheer joy, being among friends out on a road course, all headed in the same direction (mostly) and being able to drive the car you brought as fast as you can, nothing quite matches the smile it will bring to your face. For many of our family and friends driving is simply the act of getting from point A to point B and for them, just as importantly, with as little driver engagement as possible. After all, driving is a chore, right? 

The most important considerations for many today is the ease with which you can hook up Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or whatever. For Margo and me, once we press the start button (or turn the key, if you like) it is an opportunity to distance ourselves from all else happening in the world and to take in the panoramic vista that happens to be on display right in front of us.

When your read the short post below, I hope you get a sense of what first-timers venturing onto a track for a twenty minute or so dash around the tricky turns experience and in so doing, understand the importance of developing the habit of watching everything unfold in front of you. Seeing may be believing even as it is often a case of understanding what driving by your pants adds to the occasion but either way, there is no discounting just how important it is to see the corners of your car at all times!

Establishing Habits of Good Vision

I have to admit, as I look back at some of my driving experiences on and off the track, there have been moments when I was completely taken by surprise, lost my concentration and taken my eyes off the road. Those experiences taught me the importance of vision, of looking where you want to go.

For more than a month now I have been down under sharing time between Australia and New Zealand, and it’s hard to ignore all the hype surrounding the Aussie V8 Supercars or that, as of 2019, the switch to right-hand-drive Mustangs and Camaros will take place, ending the generations-old battle between locally built GM and Ford sedans. The police forces in both countries always used Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons as regular old patrol cars. However, when in full flight, these V8 Supercars were renowned for the way they attack corners, oftentimes hammering the rumble strips so aggressively that they become airborne.

Their drivers can do this because they are confident in their  abilities even as they are far less prone to distractions despite all the chaos unfolding around them. They have established good vision habits, among other traits.

While in Sydney, digging around in my friend’s library, I came across a book by racer Ben Collins “How to Drive: The Ultimate Guide From the Man Who Was The Stig.”  I wasn’t many pages into the book before Collins drilled home the message of sight, together with just how you should sit in your car. It proved to be informative for me because Collins explained how it’s best to drop the seat down as low as you can while making sure you can still see the corners of your car. Sitting low to the ground and close to the center of gravity of your car translates to your butt getting a lot more information.

Seeing all four corners of your car, for better placement in the road corners, is just as important as being as low in the car as you can be, of course. This may lead to a compromise for HPDE drivers like myself, lacking in the height department, such that easing the seat back up a little may be in order. Point is, before you brake and rotate and aim for corner exit, you need to see it all laid out in front of you. Guessing is good for games, but it has serious limitations on the track when it comes to braking and remaining straight for as long as possible — unless, of course, your name is Jamie Whincup and you can do the unimaginable behind the wheel!

There is a reason why we say, “seeing is believing.” As you start to understand how to drive, you realize your car will go exactly where you look, and that is perhaps the most important message of all for any new driver starting out in HPDE1. If you have a clear view to where you are going, you will believe you can make it through to the exit of the corner and much more.

Vision and consistency are always a good place to start when working on improving your driving. And yes, seeing it all and becoming consistent is the foundation for confidence, which is why we return to the track again and again.


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