Having just returned from several weeks in Ireland, having humbly served as ambassador, one of my most memorable moments was standing at the rental car return with the realization that my rental car still had both rear-view mirrors.
Now, don’t laugh. Unless you’ve driven in a country where not only are you driving a right-hand-drive vehicle while doing so on the wrong side of the road, the majority of which are narrower than the sidewalks here in the U.S., and if that’s not challenging enough, they are lined with stone walls of zero forgiveness. Add to all this the fact that there’s virtually no straightaways in Ireland, Whoopee! To say it’s a bit daunting at first would be putting it mildly. It wasn’t until I began telling myself this was no different than running in a NASA race that I found myself able to truly enjoy the race, er, I mean to drive relaxed.
In the beginning of my drive throughout Ireland, I found it interesting that while driving from the right side of the vehicle it was difficult to get an accurate feel for exactly where the edge of my vehicle was in relationship to the rock walls, the edge of the cliffs — oh yeah, lots of cliffs— other cars, sheep, etc. I must admit, the first time my passenger side mirror whacked the mirror of an oncoming car while we were both doing about 50 miles per hour, caused me a bit of tension, but fortunately only resulted in a black stripe on my white mirror.
I began to reflect on something I heard NASA NorCal’s chief HPDE instructor Al Butterfield teach a classroom of students years ago, “Do you know where the edges of your tires are at all times? Do you? How sure are you? Find a rock on the side of the track and see how close you can come to it until you finally feel your tire touch it. Another way to learn is by seeing how close you can come to those divider reflectors between lanes on the freeway. And remember, if you aren’t using all of the track, you’re not doing it right.”
What I didn’t take into consideration at the time was how much more important knowing exactly where the edge of your car is than I realized. Knowing exactly how close I can comfortably be in relation to the door of a competitor’s racecar at speed is one thing, but knowing how close I am to a rock wall or a cliff is entirely another.
These differences made me realize what gives us comfort in one situation may be misguided or misleading in another, thus giving us a false sense of comfort. If you watch professional drivers on circuits like the Circuit de la Sarthe or NASCAR drivers at places like Talladega, making passes on corners while at speeds of 200 miles per hour, while less than a couple of inches between vehicles, there’s little doubt that these professionals know “exactly” where they’re at during any given moment.
While most NASA drivers will never race at speeds previously mentioned, I still propose every driver should make it a point to not accept just being comfortable with where they are on the track. Rather we should all make it one of our highest priorities to know exactly where we are, because you owe this to every other driver, be they pros or rookies alike. When I race at speed in a pack of cars, I want to know they “honestly” know exactly how far they are from my car, and not just guessing. “Knowing” makes racing that much more fun!