I took this picture in the midst of my excitement building to a fever pitch. Nervous, sweaty palms clutched the 10-and-2 of a Porsche steering wheel as I escaped the pits, charged with the task of keeping pace with the instructor’s blue Cayman up ahead. As I exited the turn-one uphill exit of Sonoma Raceway, the blue Cayman sped off, and my right foot kicked the throttle pedal into the carpet. Thus began my first lesson in precision driving.
Lesson 1: Patience.
Lap 1 was a mess.
I couldn’t keep up with my own position on track, and everything I’d learned in briefing fell to pieces. The track felt wide at points, but soon narrowed as I was mere feet away from a concrete wall, scored with the mistakes of big-name egos. As I whizzed past tire marks on the asphalt, I felt like I’d forgotten the steps to a dance routine, and my Porsche dance partner did not appreciate my negligence. I was either too hot on the throttle, or I was stabbing at the brakes, or my steering inputs were shaky and unstable. I pulled into the pits and flung the belts off, bolting from the car frustrated. I took my helmet off as the instructor grabbed my right shoulder.
“I need you to breathe. We’re just goin’ breathe.” I did as he instructed. “You ain’t goin’ be fast as heck right out the hole. I want you to feel control. Don’t get caught up in goin’ fast, you’ll keep trippin’ over yourself if you try too hard. Try driving to the limit of your tire’s grip. If it’s screamin’, it’s tellin’ you to lay off the gas.”
I think patience is a virtue which doubly applies to driving fast on track. Experience has dictated that any scrambled inputs into the throttle, brakes, or steering of a car will often result in upsetting its balance. And an upset balance in a car not only leads to scrubbing speed and losing time, but it can potentially lead to a complete loss of traction. Rest assured, sliding down a racetrack in a cloud of smoke facing the wrong direction is not advisable. Therefore, keeping composure at speed, and at all times in a car (on track and off) is of prime importance to remaining in control of a vehicle. An attitude of patience at speed allows a driver to pace inputs, smoothing transitions corner-to-corner, instilling confidence as the lap builds to its eventual climax.
I climbed back into the silver 911, and followed the instructor’s Cayman out for lap 2. I focused on being fluid rather than fast. My toes rolled onto the right pedal as the Porsche flat-six behind my seats wailed progressively louder, yellow needle making its way up the tachometer. As I approached the brake markers, my left foot calmly guided the brake pedal down, and my left hand pulled the shift paddle to skip down the gears. My wrists and shoulders were loosey goosey, and my steering inputs felt implicit, so the tires whispered back rather than screamed as I clipped the orange cones set up on the apex. I may not have been fast on lap 2, but I felt in control. I kept up with my pace, and I could feel the 911 responding well. The instructor called through the radio, “good job, buddy. It’ll reward ya if you take it easy.”
I’ve raced go-karts, I’ve run autocross, I’ve driven tracks, and impatience in any circumstance is not rewarded. A body at speed does not respond well to being coerced with force; it has to be courted. It has to be gently reminded, and progressively lulled into changing direction with ease. Patience, in racing, brings poignant and practical meaning to the age old phrase, ‘the smoother you are, the faster you are.’