New Goal: No Goals

Normally I get a lot out of reading Gary Faules’ column, “First Gear” every month, but there was one he penned back in the beginning of 2015 that I must admit didn’t do me any good. He spoke of goal-setting in racing, that it was a healthy practice to set goals so we could have something to aim for and something against which to measure our performance at the end of a race weekend or the end of the season.

I don’t know if you remember the column, or whether you took it to heart, but I did, and I set some pretty lofty goals for myself for 2015, which were: win the regional championship, notch at least one race win — I have scored seconds and thirds, but never a win — and finish in the top 10 in the Western States Championships.

Anyone who has raced with me would know how patently absurd each of those goals were, especially this season, but I set them because Gary’s column was so inspiring I thought it would help. I suspect others may have benefitted from it, but in my case it was counterproductive.

As I have mentioned in this column a few times this year, my car wasn’t cooperating during much of the season and that didn’t help, either. Every time I’d have to drop out of a race with the temperature gauge pegged, I would think about my goals and how I wasn’t achieving them. Every time I made a mistake that cost me a position or two, I would think about the consequences in terms of my goals. And every time I fell short of goals I had set, I would mentally stagger through the doldrums of disappointment.

It took me a while to discover what was siphoning the joy out of something that is supposed to be fun. Ironically enough, it was the goals I had set, and it occurred to me when I wasn’t even thinking about it.

Between race weekends, I like to keep sharp by doing some karting at a local track, which has a great arrive-and-drive program. After a few drinks at a party one Saturday night, a friend of mine and I — let’s call him James — decided to do some karting the next day, tangible hangovers notwithstanding.

When we got there, we had the place nearly all to ourselves, so we anted up for five races. There were no goals at stake, other than to keep our reflexes in tune, drive as fast we could and have fun. Boy, did we.

Of course we checked the time sheets to see who was fastest, and we queued up an inverted grid and asked the guys working there to flag us for a race. We raced against each other hard, with the friendly taps from behind and point-by’s that make it fun. We raced again and again that day, and I even learned a thing or two.

By the fourth session, we were racing close and competitively lap after lap. I was having so much fun and laughing so hard I could barely keep the kart under control. When we were done, we both had taken over the top two spots on the time sheets for the week. James beat me, but I didn’t care. My time was the fastest I’d ever driven there and James only beat me by less than .050 seconds. I’ll get him next time.

As I drove home, with sore shoulders from wheeling the kart and sore cheeks from smiling, that’s when I understood what racing is supposed to be about. For me, from here on out, I won’t be setting any more goals in racing. Well, maybe new goals: staying sharp, learning as much as I can, driving as fast as I can and having fun.

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