Speed Secrets: What Makes a Great Driver?

By Ross Bentley

June 06, 2018

What makes a great driver? And don't say, "Greatness!"

Before I begin to give you my answer, I want dispel the myth that great drivers are born great, that they popped out of the womb with natural driving talent. If you consider the hundreds of millions of years that mankind has evolved, and think about the fact that the automobile has only been around for a little over a hundred years, it's kinda hard to imagine that our DNA has adapted much to the art and science of driving, let alone performance driving. We may have developed the ability to run from saber-toothed tigers (and the more modern-day versions of that type of danger), but I find it hard to believe that our minds and bodies have evolved in a way to keep up with our cars.

If we had, we would have three feet so we didn't have to use one foot to do two things during heel-and-toe downshifting! In fact, we've adapted our cars faster than we've adapted our bodies, building cars with semi-automatic (with automatic throttle blippers) to make up for our shortcomings with downshifting.

Our vision hasn’t evolved to drive cars, either. I've read that humans are designed to process information visually at no more than 12 MPH. See? When was the last time you traveled at only 12 MPH on a racetrack?

I would suggest that one of the things that makes a great driver (especially what I'll refer to as a performance driver - anyone who appreciates the art and science of driving, and especially participates in sport driving activities such as autocross, track day events, HPDE, and racing), is how they use their vision.

The keys to performance driving vision are:

  • Looking far enough ahead.
  • Looking where you want to go, and not where you don't want to go.
  • Having the ability to process visual information that is coming at you a whole lot faster than 12 MPH.
  • Having the ability to mentally see what you want to see, when you want to see it (even if you can't physically see it).

Perhaps the most important attribute of a great driver has little to do with a physical ability, and more with a mindset or attitude.

After thirty-something years of racing, instructing, coaching, writing about and talking about performance driving, the attitudes of drivers still amaze me. To sum these attitudes up in the most succinct way...the best drivers know they have so much more to learn, and the worst drivers seem to think they know it all.

I love it when I meet someone who has a strong belief in themselves. This confidence is a strong predictor of how successful they will be. The Henry Ford saying, "If you think you can or think you can't, you're probably right" comes to mind. Without a strong inner belief in oneself, it's unlikely you'll ever be as good as you could be.

But there's a fine line between having a strong belief and having an ego that's getting in the way of learning and being as good as you can be.

Great drivers have an open mind to learning. More than that, they have a burning desire to get better; they love to improve their performance. If I had to pick just one thing that separates the great from the not-so-great, it would be this open mind to both learning and constant improvement.

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