Mind Over Gravel

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It has been two weeks since the “trophy” below was presented to me.

A “memento” from my first race ever at the wonderful Summit Point in WVA.

I had no expectations of being on the podium.

But I did have the expectation of staying on track.

Most of us know what it is like to go to the beach and have sand everywhere seemingly forever.

It never occurred to me that I would visit a “beach” in WVA  . . . still harnessed in my SSM Miata in full race attire. Nor was it evident to me what a lasting impression it would leave.

Even after 2 weeks and 10 hours of towing (through the Poconos and the hills of Litchfield, CT), I am still finding gravel in the recesses of my race car.

As with sand from the beach when it takes up residence in a towel, lessons can embed themselves and surprise you unexpectedly.

It didn’t start as such, though. It started with disappointment – I had been having a blast, realizing a new level of race-craft that I had not experienced before (another topic for another time!). I didn’t want it to end. And when it did, in a corner so familiar to me in that it reminded me of one of the corners at my home track of Lime Rock Park – a corner I take flatout – I was supremely disappointed. And nagged by the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” chatter.

On top of that, I had a 7 hour drive ahead of me, alone, back to my home in Connecticut. Way too much time to spend with my thoughts.

I made my way back to the paddock to start packing up my rig. Dazed by the stifling humidity, searing heat and unrelenting disappointment, I prepared myself to make the journey.

As I climbed into the truck, I noticed something on the dashboard. Hmmm? Looks like granola in an emptied water bottle? How nice of someone to think of the fuel I would need to make the drive.

But on closer inspection, this was no granola I had ever seen before. Odd, smooth consistency. No raisins. Instead, carefully harvested from the recesses of my front grille, it was my “trophy”, inscribed as all trophies are, with the date, the locale and the recipient’s name. A one-of-a-kind testament to what I had accomplished that day – despite my not finishing the race and feeling quite defeated.

My “trophy” was given to me by my dear friend and coach that weekend: Jake.

Jake went on to sum up what he had witnessed that “weekend of defeat.” And I share Jake’s words with all of you out there striving for your wins, whether on the track or in life.

Thank you, Jake, for your patience, wisdom and generosity.

Racing [Life] according to Jake:

1- I thought you showed one very important thing at Summit: Constant improvement.  [as compared to another contestant]: Good driver . . . been in a SSM for years . . Summit is [the] home track. . . . a top 10 [racer], and your race time in only your SECOND time there was faster than [the other racer’s] qualifying time.

2-[in response to my initial reaction that I was not going to race again until I schooled myself to “perfection” on the autocross track and skidpad] I was an autocrosser: it doesn’t teach you how to . . . handle a 100MPH slide, and NOT lose not only the car, but time. Nor does it teach you how to be IN the car, concentrating 100% for 40 minutes. It’s not as physical. And . . . it’s  . . . lacking in racecraft, drafting, passing, protecting your line and the entire third dimension of racing.

3- A criticism I might have of you is that you don’t spin enough. 😉 .  No amount of classroom . . . skidpad spinning is going to teach you car control in a racing situation. It’s DIFFERENT.

4- I feel great drivers are adaptable. Good drivers are rote drivers. They hit their marks the same every lap. And they go fast. But great drivers CAN hit their marks and go fast, but when the track changes, there is debris down, or oil or the cars got an issue, they adapt instantly, adjust their line instantly, and lose nothing. They know how to drive FAST OFF line, and can chose where to do that where it won’t cost them, then they use that to pass. They search out rain lines. They handle traffic well, knowing how to control their pace to hit traffic when it suits them. They know how to GET passed, where THEY want to, so THEY lose little time. They get this by being open minded, conniving, and good problem solvers as much as they do from car control. Experience in varied conditions is the best teacher.

5- sounded like you tried to make a move and it didn’t pan out. Maybe it was a low percentage move, or maybe not . . . . But, I think, if we had the time to debrief . . . I would have suggested a different strategy. I think maybe a better method would have been to set up the pass. Back off a bit between 9 and 10. Then come into 10 storming, closing the gap you opened. Carry that speed thru 10, catching them at the beginning of the straight. IF you had more speed thru there as you said you did, you’d now carry that speed down the whole straight, enabling a pass of a bunch of them.

6- Things like that need to be planned and executed. Sometimes it takes laps of trying to get the timing down, as it’s a dynamic situation. And it’s different at every track, at every corner, in every condition.

So you went off. Ho hum, big deal. 😉 It happens! And especially when you’re trying hard, expanding yourself, and learning.

KEEP going to new and different tracks, you’re growing far more than you realize. You’ll learn far more from that one mistake and this trip in general than you would in a hundred skidpad and lapping days, seriously! 😉

Like life itself, sometimes the best lessons are those that come from one’s mistakes.

And what did I learn from my trip to Summit Point? Find out when we post the results of our July 2nd race at Lime Rock Park.

One response to “Mind Over Gravel

  1. Hey Steph!~

    I just want to make sure that “the weekend of defeat” is certainly not my view of it. I bet you a hundred bucks I can go to my car right now and find some gravel from that very same gravel trap! AND, I did that while leading, and had set a lap record just three laps previous. I totally misjudged a car I was lapping, and he stabbed his brakes at the apex and I swerved left to avoid, and off the track I went. The gravel knocked the wiring to the fuel pump off, so I made it to turn one after my bouncy and sideways venture before the car ran out of gas…with one lap to go.

    “Things” happen.
    I didn’t get the little trophy that day, but, no matter, I learned a good lesson.
    You’ve got a great attitude, so don’t let a little set back bother you in the least.

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