Speed Secrets: Racing In The Rain: Lessons from Enzo

By Ross Bentley

March 14, 2018

Racing in the rain. Drivers either love it or hate it. There are very few drivers who have a “take it or leave it” attitude towards splashing around a race track. And drivers who hate the rain think that drivers who love it are either weird or stupid – or both.

I love racing in the rain.

That means that, depending on how you feel about wet race tracks, I now know what you think of me. But that’s okay, as long as you don’t get in my way as I slip and slide my way around. Don’t get in the way of my fun, please.

To borrow a line or two from my friend, Garth Stein, author of the best-selling novel The Art of Racing in the Rain, “I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience...[it is also] about the mind! It is about owning one's body.... It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you.”

Hmmm… What does Garth know that will make you faster in the rain? Actually, if you’ve read The Art of Racing in the Rain, you know that it’s Enzo, the dog, who says this. And after many years of studying racing, he knows best. In fact, if he had had opposable thumbs, he’d have proven his point by getting behind the wheel himself. Bark, bark.

Having spent some time coaching Enzo… er, Garth, let me share with you a few of my favorite Speed Secrets for racing in the rain – or just quickly navigating your way around a wet circuit in any kind of driving event.

1. Initiate slowly, react quickly.

All of your inputs must be made as slowly, gently, and smoothly as you possibly can make them. That includes your steering, throttle, and braking movements. Did you notice I didn’t just refer to the brake application? That’s because it’s not just how you apply the brakes, but - perhaps even more importantly - how you release them. Same with your steering – your steering output (meaning, how you unwind the steering) is just as important.

So, your goal is to make every deliberate movement of the controls as slowly as possible, as this will make you smoother, increasing overall traction.

But, when it’s time to react to the car sliding, do it quickly. Don’t let the car get too far out of line, otherwise (as one NASCAR driver said years ago about why he spun out), you’ll get “behind in your steering.”

2. Make the car do something.

Years ago, when I played tennis seriously, I played at my best when I attacked. If I was hesitant, I lost. When I skied moguls, I had to attack them, otherwise I’d get behind and be reactionary rather than being proactive. If I’m hiking down a steep, rocky trail I’ve found it best to attack there, as well. If I’m holding back, trying to avoid slipping, I’m more likely to slip.

When I approach a turn in the rain, I enter just slightly faster than I think the car can handle, making it slide from the moment I enter the turn. If I don’t – if I enter at a “comfortable speed” – I spend the rest of the turn waiting, waiting, waiting for the car to start sliding. If it’s doesn’t slide, well, I know that I’m slow; if it slides, it can take me by surprise. But if I purposely make the car slide from the very second I enter the turn, I know exactly what I have. I know the grip level and I’m more than ready to deal with what’s happening.

3. If the car feels like it’s on rails, drive faster.

As I said, if the car is not sliding at all, then I know I’m slow. If I’m not sliding, I know I can increase my speed.

4. Relax your grip and breathe.

The next time you’re driving down the highway, grip the steering wheel as tightly as you can. Notice how much vibration you sense coming back through the wheel. Next, relax your hands, gripping the steering wheel lightly, and notice how much more vibration you feel. The lighter your grip on the wheel, the more feedback you get from the car. If you’re having a hard time sensing the limits of the car in the rain, I suspect you have too tight a grip on the steering wheel.

Next? Relax. Breathe.

When you hold your breath, you tend to tense your body, and therefore reduce your ability to sense the limits of the tires. When you tense your hands and arms, you tend to hold your breath, or at a minimum, restrict it. Which comes first? Holding your breath, leading to tense hands and arms? Or tensing your hands and arms, leading to restricting breathing? It doesn’t matter. What matters is relaxing your hands and arms, and breathing (or the other way around).

But something worse happens when you hold or restrict your breath: Your brain interprets it as fear and anxiety, and when that happens you kick into fight or flight mode, causing your brain to operate at less than its peak. By “less than its peak,” I mean that it processes information more slowly, and your vision tends to drop – you don’t look as far ahead. I don’t need to tell you that neither of these is good.

Deliberately practice breathing when driving in the rain. The more you do that, the more automatic it will be and the more relaxed you’ll be. If you’ve ever seen in-car video of Hans Stuck driving in the rain, you’ll see that he’s playing like a little kid jumping up and down in a mud puddle. Often, he would yodel! Perhaps that was how he made sure he wasn’t holding his breath.

Racing in the rain can be the most fun you’ll ever experience in a car, especially if you keep these four tips in mind. And more importantly, if you deliberately practice them you’ll find yourself “car dancing” in the rain before you know it. If you don’t believe me, just ask Enzo.

Ross Bentley

For more information about Ross’s tips, coaching, eCourses, newsletter, Virtual Track Walk videos, and other resources to help you drive at your best, go to www.SpeedSecrets.com