Paul Oberdorfer and “Inner Speed Secret # 20”
There are two important mental activities at work when driving on the track: focus and attention. In discussing attention, we are actually referring to focusing our concentration. When working on our attention, we are also attempting to leave our mistakes or weak performance on previous turns behind us, and forcing our minds to plan for the next event: a turn, straight, or, perhaps, a pass.
There are two types of attention, broad and narrow. Broad attention is being aware of everything around us, i.e. the track ahead, location of a bump, position of a flag station, or cars in our vicinity. Narrow attention refers to focusing on one specific thing, such as a turn-in point or braking marker. Controlling a high performance car on the track is a very complex task requiring a high level of multitasking ability. The complexity increases significantly in competitive driving. When driving a car at speed on the track by ourselves, we can rely primarily on narrow attention. However, when racing or on the track with other cars in a DE event, we must constantly switch back and forth from narrow to broad attention and do it rapidly. We must juggle the small details of our line, turn-in points and handling traits, as well as the position of other cars and the intent of the drivers.In considering the above, we must be relaxed when concentrating in a track car. Excitement or confusion will only limit our ability to handle the multiple attention levels required. There will always be the requirement to split our attention from inside the car (narrow attention) to outside (broad attention), at the same time, keeping track of other cars and track condition, aka, the big picture.
There is a limit to the amount of attention we can allocate to any given event and time. This is another reason why driving should be almost automatic, or subconscious (as tennis players put it, “in the zone”). If we are consciously thinking about working the shifter properly or our heel-and-toe technique, we’ll have little attention left for more urgent items requiring both broad and narrow attention, like grip, the line, and other cars around us. If we are processing things on a conscious level the speed and acuity of all required outputs will suffer.
There are many strategies to improve the second portion of this topic, focus, which we will discuss in the next issue. In the meantime I would suggest reading Inner Speed Secrets by Ross Bentley and Ronn Langford. This book contains many exercises to improve mental performance while driving. See you at the track!