Drawing Parallels

When you first have children, you imagine all the things you’re going to teach them, but it’s less obvious in the beginning how much being a parent is going to teach you. It can be humbling at times, and enlightening at others.

I’m sure everyone reading who is a parent is nodding their heads at this point. What’s most interesting is how what you learn from your children has parallels in your own life.

The realization hit me, yet again, a few weeks ago when I was working the high jump pit at a track meet where my son was competing. I competed in high jump when I was a kid, and the complexity of it all came rushing back.

There’s the approach, the takeoff and clearing the bar, and within each of those three elements there are a number of other complex gross and fine motor skills that all must come together with impeccable timing to make for a successful jump. You have to measure your approach, plot your steps and remember to thrust your arms upward, leap up, rotate, arch your back and tuck your chin, and finish with a kick to clear the bar. It’s a lot to assemble within a second or two.

I watched the student athletes give it their all to clear increasingly higher heights till eventually there is only one jumper left. What struck me is that even though a kid jumped, say, 5 feet 9 inches in practice, or at last week’s meet, doesn’t mean he can clear it again here and now. He has to put all those elements together perfectly to clear the bar — every time.

The parallel here, of course, is that the same thing is true for high performance driving, Time Trial and racing. To run that perfect lap, to set that personal best time or take the win requires putting together a lot of elements. I would argue that the elements in racing are far more numerous and variable, and that’s just on the human end of the equation.

In high jump, the bar doesn’t change with heat like a racetrack does. It’s no different if it rained the night before or if it hasn’t rained in months. All those things change grip levels, which changes a lot of other things you have to do to run fast laps.

Those temperature swings not only change grip, but also the ability for your engine to make power. Here in Southern California, most of our tracks are located in areas where big temperature swings are common between qualifying and race time, and if you’re racing at night, the delta is even wider.

I’ve watched my son at meet after meet and it seems to me he likes the high jump because it’s difficult, because each new jump is a challenge to get everything right. I can identify with that because that’s what makes racing so engaging. The challenge to get faster is constant and variable.

My days of high jumping are long gone, but there’s still a chance I can get my son interested in racing, and the learning curve will begin anew. Maybe he’ll see the parallels, too.


  1. Not only the race track changes with heat, etc. The grip of the tires changes with heat. Initially, you gain 30% more grip when the tires heat up. But if they get too hot, they get greasy. Then there’s the tire pressures. If you start out with too high a pressure and use the brakes hard on a track that’s hard on brakes like Laguna or the short(old Nascar) version of Sears Point, you can balloon the pressure and start losing grip. You can also overheat the pads and fluid if the brakes aren’t up to the task. I’ve done both at the same time in a modified BMW 135i street car at Sears Point running the old Nascar track in Group 4. Then you just have to dial it back and cool it down.

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