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Off-Track Musings by an Amateur #5

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Off Track Musings by Cameron Pankhurst, Aug 2022.

The 2022 track season has not unfolded as I expected. Last year I was on track fifteen days, completed MSF Level 2 Instructor Training, instructed my first student, and improved significantly in both preparing for track events and in on-track performance. I increased my understanding of the technical aspects of driving and began to appreciate the nuance of different driving skills and techniques. Heading home from Brainerd in October of 2021 I expected that when the snow melted and the M2 came out of storage in 2022 I would get behind the wheel and continue on the same upward trajectory of improvement I experienced in 2021.

My 2022 track season started early, the third weekend in April, with instructor development training with Nord Stern Chapter of the Porsche Club of America. Apart from the weather (cold with rain and sleet), it was a good weekend. My student was fantastic and when the weather was clear, my driving was good.

On Friday May 13th, at my next track events, Slowpokes and then Nord Stern Porsche at Brainerd, the weather was good, the car was running well, and friends I had not seen in several months were parked nearby in the paddock. My driving was going reasonably well until a few mental lapses led to a few physical mistakes which led to the M2 hitting the inside tire wall exiting turn 13 of the Competition Course. Nobody was injured and the car, although damaged down the driver’s side, was mechanically sound and, after removing some dragging plastic parts, could be driven home. But there was no more track time that weekend.

The first weekend in June was Sommer Schell with North Star BMW. The M2, still damaged, passed tech inspection and was okay to drive on track. However, my driving was not as good. My level of preparation was below what I usually expect of myself, and I was not in the frame of mind to really drive. My sessions were poor, and although the car felt fine, I was off mentally. Plus, I had two great students to instruct and my daughter’s new to her track car to be concerned about.

Sunday afternoon, another instructor rode with me, made a few observations about my driving, and when I made the suggested corrections there was the “aha” moment when the elements of driving came together smoothly, and it felt better. But even after Sommer Schnell, if I graphed my driving, to me the trajectory of improvement was a flat line with perhaps a slight downward slant.

So, when there was an opportunity to drive the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (which has been compared to a roller coaster) with roughly twelve to fourteen North Star BMW and Audi Glacier Lakes friends, I was interested, but not exactly enthusiastic. However, my daughter wanted to go drive and the other people traveling from Minnesota are friends, so I figured why not give it a go. And it was a fun, although wet weekend, driving a challenging track. I recommend a trip to Mid-Ohio at least once.

Driving a track I had never driven was “freeing.” I had no history at Mid-Ohio, no expectation of lap-times, or how the corners and surface would feel. I approached the track fresh, studying video and reviewing track notes from other drivers. I was able to just go drive, knowing I would make mistakes, but not caring because it was all new to me. It was fun and relaxing. I spoke about it with a friend, and he gently reminded me that it is good to approach an HPDE weekend with the mindset of a student.

About a week or so ago, Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets Weekly #482 popped up in my inbox with a guest contributor, Tom Roberts, who wrote about the Flow Cycle and the stages that make up the cycle of achieving a Flow State. I found the article interesting. Tom wrote that the first stage of Flow is Preparation/Struggle. There are a number of elements that make up the Preparation/Struggle stage, but two Tom discussed resonated with me.

The first was Expectations. Are they realistic? Too high or too low? It made me realize that if I expected 2022 to be just like 2021, I was mistaken. I had not accounted for the fact that as I learn more and progress as a driver and instructor, the potential gains become smaller, more nuanced, and require more work to achieve.

Kindness was the second thing Tom wrote about that resonated with me. Be kind to yourself. Eliminate the negative self-talk and don’t dwell on your mistakes. Honest evaluation is constructive, but prioritizing errors will only decrease performance.

Part of the training to become an instructor is to be positive, to coach in a positive and constructive manner. I had an instructor at Road America last year that nailed being positive. On Saturday it was rainy and wet, and we drove the rain line. Depending upon the track and the amount of rainfall the rain line is anywhere there is grip, which is generally not on the line driven when the track is try. Driving the rain line for Canada Corner (turn 12) at Road America means that typically you enter the corner from the middle of the track, not the left side, drive straight over the dry line, squaring off the corner and exiting it also in the middle of the track. I had driven Road America in the rain before and had a good idea of the rain line and for most of Saturday, avoided the slippery spots, looked for grip, and hoped the weather on Sunday would be clearer.

Sunday the track was still damp, but by late morning had dried out and we were able to resume driving the dry line. On one lap I exit the Kink, head down toward Canada Corner, enter the braking zone, brake hard, turn in, and proceed to exit the corner. As I am heading up the hill to turn 13, my instructor quickly praises me by commenting “great rain line.” Despite the track being completely dry, I had entered Canada Corner from the middle of the track, driven over the dry line, squared off the corner, and exited it from the middle of the track. Indeed, it was a great rain line. We were laughing hard through the next one or two turns.

So, my take aways for the rest of the 2022 season are to:

  • Be a student, to approach each event with fresh eyes, look for something new about every track, even those I have driven many times.

  • Set realistic expectations about my performance as a driver and instructor.

  • Be honest and constructive when evaluating myself, focus on the positive and don’t dwell on the negative.

  • Always have fun.

Cameron Parkhurst lives in St. Paul and wishes he had gone go-karting when he was five.

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