When I first started autocrossing, a guy at the event had a T-shirt that said “If autocross were any easier it, they’d call it road racing.” After many autocross events, I went to a track day. I got out with an instructor and he asked what my experience level was. “Oh, I’ve autocrossed a bunch,” I said timidly, expecting a scoff. His reply surprised me: “Oh, good, then you’re comfortable with a car completely out of control.”
I went to a winter driving school and tried to keep up following an instructor around a small course. When we came into the finish, I noticed that he was driving on worn all season tires, while I had brand new winter treads. “How can you go so fast on those tires?” He told me, “I’m just comfortable with the grip.”
Later, I got the chance to try ice racing on a frozen lake in New Hampshire. I spent I don’t know how many hours trying to control a car on the ice. I brought one of my friends to check it out and ride along. On the way home, we were traveling briskly on a highway with an inch of snow on it. It suddenly dawned on me that I was going fast enough on the highway to make my friend nervous, and after spending a day trying to find grip on frozen water, plowed snow on pavement has a lot more traction. His perspective was definitely different from mine.
Finding perspective is good. It keeps you grounded and allows you to focus on what matters. Figuring out what’s important and what’s not, makes you a better player. As the Director of NASA Rally Sport West, I have guided quite a few teams through their first event. It always amazes me what new drivers feel is important. Things like hydraulic handbrakes, vinyl wraps, and fancy data logging and cameras. It always delights me when they finish their first event and let me know things like: A $12 tie rod almost ended their rally. Instead of spending any time at all prepping their camera mount, they should have reconsidered their skid plate mounts, which they dragged through the last two stages.
Getting started in something new, considering a change, or taking your racing game to the next level? I suggest hanging out in the pits, the service park, or scrutineering of whatever racing or class you’re considering next. What’s important here? What level of preparation is required? What are these racers doing to be competitive? Talk to people: “Hey, how did you get that Bilstein sponsorship? How is that fuel cell attached?” This will be a lot different from a post-session interview where they made it look easy, and everything went great. Focusing on the right things to be successful instead of what you see on social media.
So, when I tell folks that I spend my weekends driving 90-plus mph down dirt roads with my navigator — who also happens to be my wife — hitting jumps, rocks, and hopefully not trees, from their perspective I’m absolutely crazy. From my perspective I’m doing what I love, challenging myself, and having a blast!