“To achieve anything in this game, you must be prepared to dabble in the boundary of disaster.” — Sir Stirling Moss
As if it were just yesterday, I vividly remember that day on October 15, 1964, when Craig Breedlove went to Bonneville Salt Flats with Spirit of America, which was the first of the modern record-breaking jet-propelled cars, and pushed the record to 526.277 mph, a record that stood for almost two weeks. In setting the new record, at the end of his second run, the Spirit lost its parachute brakes, skidded for five miles, through a row of telephone poles and crashed into a brine pond at around 200 mph. Soaking wet but uninjured, Breedlove climbed out of the cockpit and shouted “And now for my next act, I’m going to set myself on fire.” This feat earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest skid marks.
In my young and idolizing eyes, Breedlove was a god of sorts. Some saw the crash as failure, but the rest of the world saw it as I did, as something unbelievably awesome! As I reflect on my many years as an Olympic shooting athlete, I remember that I missed many more moving targets than I hit, especially in the early years of training and competition. I remember joking with those who seemed impressed at my accomplishment, telling them that if they missed half as many targets as I had, they too could be world-class skeet shooters.
What this all means is that anyone attempting to take on the challenge of becoming a competitive racecar driver should realize early on that making mistakes or failing isn’t something that should take away from one’s confidence. In fact, failing should be welcomed and accepted as part of the challenge. When that time comes and rookie drivers take a bad line and end up doing some agricultural sightseeing or spinning out, they shouldn’t be upset or lose any self esteem, but rather they should have a big grin on their face and say, “Oh yeah, now I know what the edge of the envelope looks like!” These are the times they should not be feeding their minds negative thoughts. Instead this is when they should be replaying what just transpired over and over in their minds so they can relive those last feelings they had in the seat of their pants just before things went awry — so they don’t do it again.
Have you ever watched a pro golfer when he makes a bad shot? Did you notice what the best golfers in the world do when that happens? The really great ones don’t act like fools, but rather they stop and relive the moment, playing it over and over again while it’s still fresh in their mind. Watch them next time as they stand in the exact same spot and take a few more swings to see what they felt and understand what not to do next time.
Making mistakes in any sport is, in fact, part of the journey, but the truly important part of the journey is learning from those mistakes. So the next time you’re on the track, don’t be afraid to “test the waters.” Be smart and be sure to listen to your NASA instructors, but learn to push yourself and find your edge. The will to do so is inside all of us, but if you don’t take the time to examine yours, you will never truly know how good you are nor will you fully develop your talent as a driver.