Keep your head up, better vision equals better driving.
Welcome to the new driver tips and techniques column – Off-Track Musings by an Amateur! This column is a collaboration among HPDE students and instructors. Essentially, it’s a column from the perspective of someone at the beginning of developing high-performance driving skills and what to do when more seat time isn’t available.
Why me? (because I’m interested and willing ~!) I’m newer to HPDE events. Though a long-time enthusiast, my first HPDE opportunity finally came in 2019. I dove into the deep end in 2021, with 15 days on track at HPDE and open lapping day events. I also completed instructor training through the Motorsport Safety Foundation, giving me a greater appreciation for all the instructors that have ridden with me, answered my questions, and shared their love of high-performance driving, motorsports, and teaching, with me.
I worked with my first student in October 2021 at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR). In writing my first feedback for a student (we both survived!) one of my responses was that he, like all of us who participate at HPDEs would benefit from more seat time. My next thought was, what if more seat time was not an option? What additional resources and advice would help us make our time on track as productive as possible? What I write about here is distilled from all who have taken the time to share their knowledge.
So, in the coming months, look for discussions about track maps, what to do with the scribbled notes you made about different corners (you do take notes, right?), car preparation, braking, smooth inputs, understeer, oversteer, HPDE events as a family activity, and almost anything else that comes to mind. But for the first column...let’s talk about vision.
Why vision? Because better vision equals better driving. Because the more visual information you can take in and access while driving, and the better the quality of that information, the more that information will help you as a driver, on and off the track.
Why vision? Because your hands follow your eyes and where you look is where your car will go.
Why vision? Because it is one of the easiest skills to develop off track and improving your vision will pay off on the track. When an instructor talks about vision, they generally mean looking ahead, getting your eyes up, and looking beyond the car in front of you. Seeing through that car to the cars beyond it, seeing down the track to the next corner. Not fixating on the turn-in point of a corner, but turning your head to see past the apex, to the track-out point and beyond.
The acronym CLASP is used to define a driver’s skill set. Control, Line, Anticipation, Smoothness, Passing. A driver needs to look and think ahead. The more you can anticipate what will happen when driving the more time you have to react, or better yet be proactive about your driving. At 90 mph a car travels 132 feet per second. Breaking anticipation down by seconds means that at one second, everything is just a reaction. At two seconds there is barely enough time to react. At three seconds there is time to assess and react.
So, what can we do off-track to improve our ability to take in more and better-quality visual information?
1. Be intentional about improving your vision.Every time you get behind the wheel, consciously think about keeping your eyes up, avoid fixating on the vehicle in front of you, look through and past that vehicle so you can see what traffic ahead of you is doing. Look down the road and increase your awareness of what is around you, the flow of traffic, changing road conditions, and what you cannot see.
2. Give yourself more time to make decisions and act when conditions change. Get your eyes up and look ahead into the distance. Does the road elevation change? Is there a corner coming? Can you look through the corner and see what comes next? Keep your eyes up. See the deer by the side of the road, the children playing, or the car backing out of a driveway. So, practice looking far ahead. Improve the amount and quality of the visual information you can access. Make it a habit to keep your eyes up. And I look forward to seeing you on track at BIR during Sommer Schnell in June 2022.