Hunkered down, hiding out from the Coronavirus, I have been watching a lot of my old race videos. In addition to chiding myself, stomping my right foot on an imaginary pedal, saying, “You should be flat! Get back on the gas!,” I came to the realization that driving fast on a racetrack is a bit like golf, only faster. Stay with me, here. I think I can make it make sense to you too.
Early in my journalism career, I worked at a women’s golf magazine. As is the case for so many of the magazines I once worked for, it no longer exists, but its purpose was much the same as it is for Speed News. We exist to help readers enjoy their passion more.
While I was there, I was bitten by the golf bug pretty hard. Despite my wicked slice, I went to the driving range a lot, and we had a little nine-hole course just a few miles from home where a buddy and I could play a round after work and still be finished before dark.
When you play golf, you have to play each shot “where it lies.” You’re not supposed to kick the ball to a better spot. No fudging your lie when no one’s looking. If one of your shots is off target, your next shot needs to correct it in pursuit of dropping the ball into the cup.
Of course, there are always distractions such as your buddy’s score, or the heat, or your mood, and on and on. The best golfers can put all those distractions aside. Every round is just them against the course. They play each stroke as though nothing is on the line and no one is watching.
The same mental game unfolds as we drive a fast lap on our favorite racetrack. Each corner exit affects the entry to the next. During qualifying, we focus on executing each turn as perfectly as we can, and if we turn in just a bit too early, we need to correct it on the exit and hope it doesn’t affect the next turn.
The challenge lies with setting those same fast laps when you’re dicing with 20 other cars on track during a race. There’s a lot on the line and everybody is watching, and there are other cars between you and your pursuit of a different kind of cup. That doesn’t happen in golf.
Just like in golf, the best drivers put all those distractions aside. They drive unfettered by the cacophony and chaos around them. They drive with a focus on the task at hand. The best drivers thrive under the most chaotic conditions, which I suppose is where the analogy of golf and racing comes apart.
To an outsider, golf and racing can look easy, but anyone who’s ever picked up a club or tried to turn a fast lap on a racetrack knows better. As we sit out the spread of the virus, we all might stand to learn a few things from some of our old videos. Maybe I’ll work on my swing again, too. I wonder if I still have that wicked slice.