Closing Your Eyes While Driving? Try It, You’ll Like It.

My high school football coach used to say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

That came to mind as I sat in my study staring out the window. I told myself I really should be doing something rather than just sitting around. Realizing it had been a while since I ran, I thought, what better time than now, so I began pumping myself up. “Hell yeah, I’ll go running! I can do this! Yeah, baby!” As I changed into my running gear, tied my running shoes, I continued to hype myself up like a high school football coach during halftime. “Now get out there and show me what you got!” But before I leave, I thought, I’ll turn on some music to set the pace. As “Chariots of Fire” (theme song from a movie about two 1920s Olympic runners) began playing I asked myself, “Who am I kidding?”

I kept remembering my coach talking about getting tough during times like this, and I realized that all of us racers should be taking this time to pump ourselves up. There was a doctor from the University of Chicago that conducted a study of “visualization” with basketball athletes. He had them close their eyes and visualize shooting baskets for 30 minutes a day for 30 days. The end result showed a 23 percent improvement.

Lanny Basham, my Olympic mental training coach, was an American marksman who won a silver medal in the 1972 Olympics, was invited to fill in for another athlete who was unable to compete in the 1976 Olympics, but Lanny had not even picked up a rifle in four years. Accepting the challenge, he began “visualizing” shots without even picking up his rifle until a week before competing. Not only did Lanny do well, but for the next six years, he dominated his sport, winning 22 world individual and team titles, setting four world records and winning the coveted Olympic Gold Medal in Montreal in 1976.

Lanny taught me how to build a “mental toolbox,” which includes techniques like visualization. Just like you do when you build a racecar, when you want to perform a certain job, what do you do? You reach in your toolbox and pull out the correct tool. If you don’t have the right tool, you work hard to earn it then you keep it in your box until you need it. The more tools you have, the better you become at fixing things. A mental toolbox helps you fix things like doubt, distraction, frustration, knowing when to apply gas or brakes and more, because you can visualize every scenario.

How many times has your driving instructor said, “Learn to use all of the track.” I have to laugh remembering all the times my driving instructors said things like, “Don’t lift!” or “Don’t brake!” and the best one, “You know, Faules, if you’d stop letting off the damn gas, you’d be faster.” And I would reply, “But you just got through telling me, slow in, is fast out!”

Another way to practice visualization is to take advantage of sim racing, something we’ve heard a lot about during this pandemic. This method of getting behind the wheel is as real as it gets, and it allows you to see just how fast and how far into the corner you can go without losing control, or how much sooner you can get back on the gas, and all this without fear of wrecking your car. You can virtually experiment any track situation imaginable.

It seems a bit confusing at times, but when all is said and done, the instructor’s words should resonate in your head. Why? Because returning to fundamentals always works.

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