The Tao of Patience

Circling Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, Calif., during the warmup lap, I formed a strategy for the race in my head as I slashed left and right to clean the tires and stabbed the gas and brakes to get everything up to temperature.

Because I had never been to Chuckwalla before, and because the first turn is a strange, narrow and fast left-right bend with little room for error, let alone multiple cars, I decided to be patient at the start for Saturday’s race. I was going to take a wait-and-see approach. Having only two sessions on track and never having started a race there, I felt there might be some, uh, difficulties in the first turn.

The patient approach didn’t work out at the start. I lost a few spots. A few cars did go two-off at the exit of Turn 2, but the melee I imagined never materialized, and the field took off.

For Sunday’s race, we were driving in the opposite direction, counter clockwise. The first turn in that direction is the inverse of Saturday’s race, a narrow and fast right-left transition. At the start, I got a good jump off the flag and picked up a few spots before I got to Turn 1. As soon as I turned left after the right kink, the melee I envisioned the day before took place and I had to give up all my gained spots so I could avoid several other cars.

That is the Tao of patience in racing. According to Google dictionary, Tao is “the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order.”

Throughout Saturday’s race, though, patience worked to my advantage. Through a combination of race craft and the benefit of yang, I was able to catch and get by the cars that passed me on the start. I was back where I started, staring at the back of the car that was a row up on me at the start. I waited patiently for a mistake or a passing opportunity that never came. I badgered him the whole race, but I never could get by, but it was so much fun. We were both all grins in the paddock afterward.

Sunday’s race embodied the yin. Because I had lost so many spots in the first turn avoiding the melee, my patience evaporated. I immediately set out to get back as many spots as I could as quickly as I could. Too quickly, as it turned out.

I was driving as though I were escaping a nuclear blast. I was making the car dance. I had to advance my position. A lap or so in, I was on the bumper of another car, badgering him for a pass. I got my front wheel to his rear wheel before turn-in and I presented to the inside to see if I could goad him into giving me the corner, and there was contact. By any measure, it was my fault, and in hindsight I can see everything I did wrong. I was DQ’d and suspended for one race.

The principles of yin and yang in racing are easy enough to understand. After this weekend, I can’t help but think that finding harmony with the natural order is more important — and more difficult.

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