Part two of a five-part series in which I explain how I became a pretty good high-performance driver.
Now that I’ve appropriated a suitable track car—in my case, the cheap and tossable FR-S—the next step is procuring large doses of “seat time.”
Seat time refers to the hours spent behind the wheel on a track. Obtaining such you come to know the strengths and weaknesses of your car. My stock Bimmer plowed through corners as if its name were Jethro, yet the erotic thrust of the turbo six and the unflappableness of the car at triple digit speed did make me feel as if I were in the pocket of the Almighty. In contrast, the FR-S attacks corners like jungle cat who has eaten in a week. Owing to the modest engine, however, there’s no heady and heroic rush of speed as I redline out of slow corners—just a gradual buildup of momentum (wait for it, wait for it) that I have to learn to maintain, if I want to be quick.
Seat time helps shed the fear of going fast. You acclimatize to speed. For instance, hitting 102 mph at the end of the straight becomes sort of normal the tenth time you do it, especially when you recall the Bimmer could hit 125. Of course, there are still many pucker situations—a faster car coming out of nowhere and overtaking you just as you are about to turn into a corner; the inexperienced driver whom you nigh sodomize because he unexpectedly lays on the brakes as you are looking ahead for a place to pass. Given enough seat time these situations are little bubbles of stress that rise up and pop in about as much time. On track, there’s little space for thinking.
Which is why, if you want to be fast, most of your inputs to the car need to be automatic, not the result of conscious effort. The same is true of any high-performance athlete. If you have to think much about when to brake or driving the right line, you won’t be fast for long. Things happen too quickly. And that’s the main purpose of seat time: to make high-performance driving behaviors automatic. I know this is true, because I have NOT made all the basics automatic, not yet anyway, and so am quick on certain sections of the track, langorous on others—for example, sharp corners following a straight. I still pretty much puss out on those. But I’m committed to learning.
Reading has helped, and is a cheap way to make track days more efficient. Ross Bentley’s Ultimate Speed Secrets provides a lifetime of tips. Also, Carl Lopez’s Going Faster, though less concise and geared more toward the burgeoning race car driver, has earned a permanent place on my bookshelf.
Procuring large and consistent doses of seat time makes plain that high-performance driving is a serious hobby. You need a car you can afford to track on a consistent basis. This alone may demand months of research and a re-arranging of priorities. You need to prep the car for the full days on track during which you are essentially incommunicado from all other meaningful relationships in your life. And then there’s the track fees and tires and expensive fluids you gleefully burn through.
These are the prereqs for becoming a pretty good high-performance driver. Good thing for me is that I’ve completed them. I’ve procured seat time, and a result know the strengths and weaknesses of car and driver. Now I need some professional help. Now I need some instruction.
Image Credit: Michael Nera