Published: February 3, 2014
Sometime around 2012 I was at an HPDE track day... and I suddenly got bored.
By then I ran a few time trials and quite a number of HPDE events. I was probably an upper intermediate to lower advanced driver. I probably drove around 8/10. I was not even close to being an instructor, and I have not yet won any championships.
At the time, my reasoning went something like this:
I just ran X:XX for lap time. That's pretty good. I could go out and drive more. But why? This is an HPDE day, not a time trial. I am not competing. I won't win anything. Nobody will recognize how awesome I am. Why should I go and burn fuel and tires driving around this track?
The answer I eventually settled on, and one that motivates me to this day, is:
I drive so that I can be a better driver.
If you have that as your honest goal, then you will never be bored, and you will never run out of ideas for things to try at track days. This is because this goal is not practically achievable. If Formula 1 drivers can get better, so can you. Anyone who thinks they cannot improve any further is delusional.
The flip side of this goal is that it is incredibly broad. While typically "better" means "faster", this is not a requirement. For example, someone who can run half track at 110% of full track lap times can be considered a "better driver" than someone who has never done half track exercises and would drive at 130% of full track lap times. This applies despite half track lap times are higher than full track lap times.
Another useful property of this goal is it reduces the importance of having a particular car. A given class might favor a certain car to the point where other cars are hopelessly uncompetitive, but if you are trying to improve against yourself it does not matter what type of car you drive. Similarly, it does not matter who else is on the track. While sanctioned competition like time trials and races provide for formal winners or other recognition, you can still extract improvement from seat time in HPDE environment.
You love new tracks because they provide lots of opportunities for improvement rather than hate them because you do not have setups or strategies developed for competing on them. Same with cars - you welcome driving new cars and platforms you are less experienced with.
You enter wheel to wheel competition, but not because you like being ahead of everyone but because you recognize that you cannot experience and practice driving side by side with someone in an HPDE environment. Your wheel to wheel milestones are not so much race wins as battle wins due to superior racecraft.
You recognize that instructing makes you a better driver because you instruct from a different perspective than you drive, and instructing requires its own set of skills. You enjoy instructing for itself and don't just do it to get reduced price for track time.
As you see, with the "being a better driver" mindset most everything can be turned into an advantage.
Since the day I was bored doing an HPDE I personally have achieved the following milestones:
- Learned about trailbraking and got faster everywhere as a result.
- Became an instructor, which gave me much better access to other instructors (informal rather than formal) which in turn continues to provide me with ideas for how to be a better driven.
- Bought a front wheel drive car which I love and intend to be fast in.
- Started wheel to wheel racing on road courses. My car is not very competitive but I expect to spend at least a year learning to race wheel to wheel, for which the competitiveness of my car is irrelevant.
And to think that I believed I had most things figured out one day back in 2012!