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I know, I know, in racing circles, everyone is tired of the urbane sayings like “slow down to go fast” and “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. I’ve heard them from both sides now, as a beginner and as an experienced driver. The problem is, they’re true. When I’m on track, and I’m behind (which is often, actually) if I try to go faster, I end up taking bad lines, missing my braking zones, etc. that actually causes my lap times to increase. So the opposite becomes true for me. When I’m trying to go faster, I concentrate on the basics. I try to be smooth. I try to be consistent in my braking, turn in and track out. I focus on only giving enough steering input to get the job done. And guess what? My lap times decrease.
Ross Bentley recently did a post about having people drive 10s slower per lap to learn the “best line”. It’s a great thing to practice at the track to get better. That’s right, practice. I haven’t gotten good at anything in my life without practice. A lot of it, actually. Now, if you ask me how I got good at a certain thing, I will probably be very humble and explain that, “I got lucky,” but as our Chief Pessimist claims, “There is no luck”. He’s very Yoda-like in this. Remember Yoda and Luke on Dagobah and Yoda says, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”? It’s the same thing with luck and practice and expertise. Back to my point, how many people who are “hobbyist” drivers actually go to the track to practice getting better? Do you even have a plan when you go to practice? I have a bunch of plans. Sometimes too many, which can be just as bad. I think it was Malcolm Gladwell who popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in something. I know how much time I’ve spend at certain things in my life, and I can vouch for that number, at least from the “I suck, and I need much, much more practice before I’m good” viewpoint.
We all take driving for granted. If you ask someone if they are a good driver, most will reply in the positive. Yet, everyday, we all see horrible drivers all over the place. Those bad habits can and do get taken to the track, and they are very hard to break. I know, I have a few. So what I do is deliberately practice being smooth on track. I focus on my brake zones, track position, turn in, throttle application, unwinding the steering wheel to exit, etc. to be as smooth as I can. What I don’t do is go out and chase a number. Let me repeat that: I don’t go chase a number, I don’t try to go be faster. I’ve seen too many people make critical mistakes just because they lack the basics, and in the pursuit of a better track time, go off track, and do from minimal to critical damage to their vehicles. Luckily, not to themselves so far.
How does this apply to the Mustang 4 Series? Our cars are basic 4-cylinder street cars with overbuilt roll cages, compliant suspension, touchy brakes and quick-ratio steering. They provide a platform to safely learn the basics more cheaply than any other race car out there. They provide a solid basis for one to focus on becoming smooth, building good habits, which will translate to speed when the time comes. 10,000 hours is a lot of seat time. When I look at how our Chief Instructor and Race Car Driver, Emeritus got to be as good as they are, I know it’s because of an assload of seat time. Being relatively new to the sport, I have a lot of catching up to do to be on par with him. So do you, chances are, if you’re reading this. The good news is that progress happens very quickly. Like in all things, the learning curve is steep at the beginning, yielding great results, then after a decent amount of time, a plateau is achieved where one has to spend countless hours just to get minuscule improvements. But those improvements, in a spec series, are what separates the winners from the losers. Come check us out, and see for yourself how easy these cars are to drive, yet challenging to drive fast. The second Saturday of most months. We might take a break in August, but then again, we might not. Because, you know, race car and practice trumps heat and laziness.