A Winning Strategy

People who don’t race consider racing an extreme sport. In fact, the word extreme as it applies to sports is even defined in the dictionary as, “denoting or relating to a sport performed in a hazardous environment and involving great physical risk.” But that definition falls a bit short, doesn’t it?

We all know there is a segment of people who are attracted to activities with a high degree of risk, such as bungee jumping. But racing requires something more than mere acceptance of risk. Racing requires skill, which is what makes it so extreme — and so engaging.

In racing, so many things can happen that are not under direct control of the participant. Racing is multidimensional, with innumerable things occurring each second that can lead to a positive or negative outcome. However, I don’t think most racing drivers are attracted to the sport because of the risk. They are in it because of the amount of effort it takes to master the sport. So, for us lucky participants, we define racing as extreme not because of the risk involved, but for the skills required to become adept at it.

Anything that requires a high degree of skill takes considerable time to master. Racing presents a lifelong pursuit in the quest to improve. For me, it is motivating to know that each visit to the racetrack offers a new learning experience and a chance to improve. Because of that continual learning curve, racing becomes more about the journey than the destination. The bigger the class, the more competition, which statistically provides less of a chance to win. To be sure, racing is about winning and the desire to be the best, but it also should be about the journey toward continual improvement.

Think back to your first track day in HPDE1. No doubt you had a great desire to go as fast as the car would allow, only to learn in your first session that you did not have the skills to make it happen. Today, with a few years of experience under your belt, you can run very consistent lap times, so a new stage of learning is underway. Perhaps you are focused on suspension tuning, which can yield great improvements, but takes a considerable amount of time to find the optimal settings. At some point in the journey, many of us embark in a test phase to swap out parts, try different tires, experiment with aerodynamics, or use technology such as data acquisition to bring a more scientific approach to improvement.

As much as all of us want to excel at this extreme sport and to win, I suggest to you that quest is less satisfying than the journey to learn and improve. After all, if your entire focus is simply winning, the mental zone one truly needs to perform at your best is hampered.

It might sound contradictory, but think about it for a bit. How many times have you been relaxed and focused on something other than driving your best lap and turned in your fastest lap time? Now think about the time when you were leading a car and looked in your mirrors, and made a mistake because you were so focused on protecting your line. Stress is a distraction, and it’s why I believe that you shouldn’t focus strictly on winning.

There can be only one winner in a specific competition, but we all can be winners when we focus on the journey of learning and improving.

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