Speed Secrets: Taking It To The Street
By Ross Bentley
January 24, 2017
Most everyone in our sport will talk about (and defend?) the fact that what we learn driving on the track makes us better street drivers. If managed the right way, there's no doubt this is true. Of course, it can be abused, too (but we won't talk about that, will we?).
But what about the opposite? What about what we learn on the street that can be applied to driving on the track. For that perspective, we turned to Chuck Hawks, driver coach, automotive education professional, and CEO of Teen Driving Solutions.
Actually, when we look at driving from the big-picture-perspective, street driving and track driving blends; one makes us better at the other, no matter which direction you go. Again, though, it depends on your mindset and attitude.
Enjoy! - Ross
So you’ve been to the track a few times. Maybe you’ve raced; maybe it’s an HPDE hobby for you. Either way, if you’ve had me or someone like me in the classroom for a given program, you’ve likely heard some ways to practice your track skills on the street... legally, I might add. But just charting a perceived most efficient pathway through a turn or practicing your braking and brake release technique are not the only things that translate to the street.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to keynote a TEDx event with a talk about the state of driving in the US. In that talk, I mentioned that I feel a hundred times safer on any track with anyone on any day than I do on any public street. And I truly mean it. Our public streets have become much more of a battle zone than our race tracks! Just think about it... At least if all is going as intended, on a track everyone is going in the same direction. And, even though there’s a competitive environment in racing and a progressive skills education model in the HPDE community, we are all still looking out for one another at some level. Our situational awareness is high and intentional.
On the street these days, it seems we’re lucky if half of those behind the wheel are even aware of their surroundings at all. Far too many are distracted by some other activity. So what are the benefits we gain from driving on track that we can continue to improve on the street – through continued practice – ultimately helping us be a better driver in both environments? And even more “out there”: what can we take from the street to be better at the track?
Look where you Want to Go...
To start with, when on track we generally actively seek to get and keep our eyes as far ahead as possible – at least we should be doing so. This practice provides more information than simply the line we want to drive – it gives us pertinent information on any threats that exist in and around our path. It gives us a greater sense of situational awareness. The sooner we know about hazards, the sooner we can prepare. And the calmer we’ll be when executing any needed maneuvers. And the smoother we can implement said maneuvers. Keeping us safe and hopefully inside the vehicles limits of traction.
Next, we develop a better sense of the car’s gross abilities. Over time that grows to reading more nuanced information from the car. We get more skilled at having something I call a “carversation™” – the 2-way conversation between driver and car when moving. Being able to speak, and more importantly – listen in our car’s language is something that naturally develops over time and street driving benefits greatly from this. Add to this the proverbial tuning of the “butt dyno” to create better quality decisions and minor needed corrections, when we’re using good judgement (not hot dogging, etc.)
We also gain an understanding of the geometry and dynamics involved in traversing an area of road effectively and (hopefully we’re always seeking) smoothly. That sense of strategy we develop, whether it be negotiating the best line through a series of turns or waiting for the best occurrence of that patterned mistake the driver is making in front of us – that can be fulfilled by deciphering and coexisting with others on the road. Predicting what their next move is, calculating ours if it happens, and evaluating accuracy of our prediction. In other words, outsmart the other guy, while cooperating with everyone.
Things as simple as 9 & 3 hand position – the optimal to keeping your face, arms and hands safe in an airbag deployment – give you the greatest range of motion on the wheel and maximum leverage in the case you have to go evasive. I teach everyone in every setting the same seating position. I believe that the optimal seating position is just that – optimal; not sanctified for motorsports use.
What do you think would happen if everyone on the street drove with the focus level you do in the heat of a really good moment on track? Do you commit to doing so yourself, if you don’t consistently already? It’s a battle zone; the space deserves it.
At the end of the day, driving on the street IS a competitive event. It’s just that winning looks different. It’s not how quickly you got there or how fast you went; it’s how well you did so, and the overall quality of the experience for everyone involved – collectively.
You WIN when you Arrive Alive Every Time You Drive© - period.
Here’s a list of tools that every experienced track-head driver should benefit from on the street:
• Hand & Seat Position
• Mirror Positioning (most still don’t get this... drives me nuts that it’s not default info)
• Smooth initiation and operation of controls – all of them
• LOOKING AHEAD – where you WANT to go
• SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
• Developing a calming and informative visual rhythm
• Locating and Planning Escape Routes
• STAYING FOCUSED
• Predicting & Preparing for the actions of others
• Executing a Plan when the above happens
• Formulating & executing (if not already formulated) an alternative if prediction inaccurate.
• Formulating and driving the most efficient lines you can... at all times
• Keeping an eye on your equipment, before, during, and after driving it
• Drive with a sense of purpose (Arrive Alive Every Time You Drive©!)
• Keep your ego in check. Nothing can catastrophically lose a race like an ego. The same is true on the street.
• Blend in with traffic instead of "working it" and help keep everyone safe. You go to the track for a reason – go to the street for one, too. Use your powers gained from track experience for good and look to prove nothing more than how safely you can operate among the chaos when on the street.
Remember – winning on the street looks like Arriving Alive Every Time You Drive!TM
- Chuck Hawks