Recently, I found that I’ve stopped progressing as a driver. For years, my home track has been Buttonwillow Raceway Park and my lap times have not shown improvement for two years. Yes, I’m in a new chassis and learning how to drive the new car, but I also can tell that my performance has basically plateaued.
In an effort to fine tune my driving, I engaged in a series of conversations with my mentor Steve Stepanian, local hot shoe and the leader of the Spec E30 group in NASA SoCal. One of the major fundamentals we both agree needs work is my vision. Watching film and doing some lead/follow had shown that I slow too much for certain corners. While some of that has to do with learning the new car, the real issue is that I’m not looking far enough ahead.
It’s simple really — the farther ahead you look, the smoother your driving will be and the lower your lap times will be.
It’s simple really — the farther ahead you look, the smoother your driving will be and the lower your lap times will be. Additionally, you have more time to react to situations, and more time to set up properly for your braking, turn-in, and exit. The issue is, as speeds increase, human nature tells us to hold our breath and look in front of us. Carrying speed through a turn requires vision and breathing techniques we don’t often use.
One particular turn at Buttonwillow that causes me a lot of issues is Bus Stop. Basically, it’s a fairly high speed left-hander, approached at high speed. It appears much narrower than it really is, and catches many drivers off-guard. Simply put, it’s a left-hand turn that requires you to pucker up and haul the mail. Oftentimes, drivers hop the inside berm, which gives even more room at the exit and the ability to carry more speed. At the edge of track-out, though, is nothing but slippery silt.
Drop your rear tire, and you can spin perpendicular to the track, where other cars are approaching at high speed. Luckily you will leave a plume of silt one story high and everyone will see you spin. Unluckily, the silt hangs over the track like a dirt curtain, and the oncoming drivers have to guess their way through the darkness.
My most recent test day was spent working on vision and carrying speed through Bus Stop. When breaking down my actions through the turn, I uncovered some real bad habits had developed. My general pattern through Bus Stop has been:
- Approach the turn, looking directly down at the right-hand berm to site my brake zone and turn in.
- Hold my breath
- Look directly at the apex on the left-hand berm while I’m braking, and then point the car directly at the apex – maybe 20 feet away.
- Cross the apex and immediately look at my speedometer to see how much speed I was carrying, check that I’m still on track, then press on the throttle.
- Pat myself on the back or be mad at myself for being slow, then look up and figure out my entry into the next turn.
There are major problems here. I’m holding my breath. I’m not looking for my exit. I’m not paying attention to the car and am more focused on my gauges. I’m looking at my apex 20 feet in front of me going 75 mph or more. Bad habits, formed over years of repetition, without realizing I was doing so.
So what’s one part of the solution? America’s best remedy for any situation: DUCT TAPE, obviously!
First, I taped over my speedo and the top of the tach to prevent distraction. No more checking my exit speed. Then I taped my windshield to cover the bottom left where I look for the apex. I also put a line on the windshield, under which I am not allowed to look. This forces me to keep my eyes up and look farther down the track, even when it’s totally uncomfortable to do so. I must sight my apex much earlier on approach, and look farther down the track at exit, instead of the berms in front of me.
The result is that many of the turns on the track became brand new experiences. If I’m honest, the day left me frustrated, with Bus Stop being a bigger conundrum. I went off-track numerous times, then took the turn too tentatively other times. Unlearning a way of doing things to relearn it correctly is going to take time. But I know I’m on the right path here and it requires fine tuning and repetition.
Here is a compilation of my attempts at this turn throughout the day. Lots of dirt at the end.
The good news is, I picked up speed in other parts of the track where I had typically over-slowed. They kind of just magically came together due to my changed vision. I’m putting a tape line on my daily driver windshield too. Time to reprogram my brain to look farther down the road at all times.