Your motorsport career is finite, and the 2016 racing season is winding down – which means you deserve some rest and recovery. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thinking about 2017. Whether you’re a hobby driver, pro-am, or pro, the best way to ensure a better racing program is to start planning right now. What you need are some real, tactical strategies to improve the season you’re wrapping up now.
Here are the 6 best tips for ensuring maximum effectiveness as you prepare for a new racing season.
My natural propensity has always been to go all in or walk away. Normally this doesn’t cause any big problems or disruptions in my life, but in the past I’ve been known to push myself until I burn out entire. While I accomplish a whole lot right up to the stopping point, the recovery time often counters the productivity. (Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime – Scientific American)
Take a few days (probably not more than two weeks, that’s when I start losing my fire) and just enjoy what you accomplished over your racing season. Did you get any wins? Attend every event? Finish top 5 in the points series? Did you complete your first event? Whatever your accolade is, spend some time letting it soak in while you enjoy some well-earned free time.
Appreciating your own accomplishments is an excellent way to stoke your motivation and strive for even greater things. (Why You Should Celebrate Your Own Accomplishments – Social Hire)
2. Reflect on the year.
Before you get too excited about the next season (I always do that) it’s very important that you spend some time pondering the season that ended. Improvements don’t happen on their own. If you want to have a better year in the upcoming race season you need to sit down and ask yourself the follow questions?
- What did you do right that you want to continue doing?
- Did you find things that didn’t work?
- What do you need to do next year to win?
Once you’ve extracted lessons from your last race season you can begin to shape the next one. The best strategies are built on facts and observation, which you can use to set reasonable goals. (A Guide To Goal Setting – Entrepreneur)
Many racers struggle when they begin to learn left foot braking. Because they’ve been braking with the right foot all their lives the transition feels clunky and unnatural. The result is unnecessary weight transfers under braking and errors when switching between left foot braking and heel-toe downshifting, where braking is done with the right foot.
If a racing driver wants to develop consistency in his left foot braking, they need to create a plan. A poor plan would be:
“I want to be better at left foot braking to be faster.” The desire to improve is there, but there’s no tactical strategy make sure it happens.
A good tactic for designing an actionable strategy for improvement is to:
- Pinpoint a weakness
- Figure out why you want to fix it
- Implement a plan to improve the weakness
- Affirm the result of the plan
A strong plan of attack would be:
“I want to perfect my left foot braking technique so that next year I can be more consistent and eliminate unnecessary weight transfer to add traction more effectively. I’m going to generate familiarity with left foot braking by using this technique whenever I drive on the road during the offseason. By race day I’ll be excellent at it.”
I’d highly suggest writing down your strategies to solidify them and revisit them every couple weeks or so. Highly successful people always make their goals and strategies as tangible as possible. (Why You Should Be Writing Down Your Goals – Forbes)
Repeat this process for each improvement you’d like to make for the following year. Get creative.
3. Plan for upcoming changes in your life.
Amateur racing is always a challenge because there is so little support. This means you’re likely going to fund your own endeavor. Normally this won’t be too much of a problem, especially if you’re an autocrosser (Racers HQ Podcast Ep. 002: Autocross IS Real Racing).
Even if your motorsport career is simply hobby driving (you’re still going to leave a legacy), make sure you’re thinking far enough ahead into the future – even if it’s just four months. There’s nothing worse than realizing Event #1 is closing in and you simply don’t have enough time or disposable income to get your season started.
With a little forethought, all this can be avoided. Consider what’s about to happen in your life. Are you thinking of changing jobs? Are you moving to a new area? When is the first entry fee due? What parts do you need to purchase to be competitive?
If something is important to you, you’ll find a way to fit it into your life.
If that means making a parts list and budgeting through the offseason to get your tires and new anti-roll bar, you’ll get what you want. A real, tangible strategy is the only way to ensure your success. (7 Secrets To Creating A Budget – Bank Rate)
Ignoring your needs and still expecting an optimal outcome makes zero sense. Waiting until the last minute and expecting to have enough money makes zero sense. Procrastinating on the purchase and shipping of your parts makes zero sense. Everyone else in the country will be trying to buy the same products you are. I’ve chatted with several autocrossers who couldn’t get their set of RE-71Rs because they waited too long and the model went on national backorder. If you’re serious about your motorsport career you need to get ahead of the game, implement a plan, and solidify your best odds for success next season.
Again: if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way to fit it into your life.
4. Itching to get into a different ride? Do your research.
Everyone gets the offseason itch. Mine always strikes with the desire to change up my racing program and get into a different racecar…even though the one I’m using is a proven points series winner. While there’s nothing wrong with that, you have to be aware that desire can cloud your best judgement.
There are a number of considerations to analyze if you’re serious about changing vehicles for the following year. (How To Choose The Best Autocross Car)
What class will the new vehicle fall into? If it’s stock vehicle without modifications, you’re probably alright. If you’re hoping to race in Street class (which I highly recommend), you can start shopping for 200 tread-wear tires immediately and expect to have a relatively competitive ride. Problems arise when you decide to buy a vehicle from an enthusiast. While cold air intakes, Brembo rotors, and ECU reflashes are pretty cool, they’ll instantly bump you into a modified racing class where your car won’t be competitive at all. Be very cautious when shopping for used vehicles, and always refer to the SCCA Solo Rule Book to figure out exactly where the car would end up racing.
What class do the local hot shoe drivers race in? Will your new car put you in that class? I know it seems counterintuitive, but one of the best strategies for improving yourself as a racing driver is to find where all the toughest competition is and then go there.
It sure sounds like more fun to find a class with weak drivers and then win all year long, but I promise you won’t be improving. By racing against the best talent around, you’ll be forced to rise to their level or remain at the back of the pack.
Some pretty serious studies have been done about challenging yourself and setting high standards. The bottom line is this: more you expect from yourself, the greater your results will be. (You Only Live Up To The Standards You Set – LifeHacker, How Standard-Setting Can Set Your Life Alight – Art Of Well Being, Successful People Have Higher Standards – MSI College)
Consider your budget and actual level of commitment. A lot of us love the thought of planning a build, shopping for all the best parts, and maxing your ride to the rulebook allowances. If you can afford to do it, that’s great. But if your motorsport career is still at the hobby level you need to make sure you have enough time.
Building a full-on racer is going to soak up at least three months of your free time. Your weekends and nights after work will all be gone. And if you don’t stay on schedule you won’t be ready for Event #1 and the entire project will have been a waste if you want to compete for a championship.
Like I said before, Street class is the way to go. You can have a nationally competitive Street entry for about $5000 with minimal time invested. If you’re new it would be smarter to spend your free time studying crucial concepts that will make you think like a racing driver. If you don’t know anything about neutral steer, tread squirm, or traction ratios, you’re unlikely to be competitive.
Remember: a fast car doesn’t mean fast times. The driver is the key component in any racecar. If you’re not investing in the driver, the car will never be quick.
5. Fitness and general health.
I talk a lot about motorsport fitness. Not only because it pays dividends in mental processing power (13 Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise – Huffington Post, The Exercise Effect – American Psychological Association), but because it has radically improved my own quality of life.
I’m fit, healthy, and ready for anything. And while it’s easy to brush that last sentence off as a cliche, being healthy will make you more efficient, wittier, energetic, enthusiastic, and happier. You’ll also feel more awake, alert, responsive, and more attractive. The offseason is the perfect opportunity to change things up and make yourself better. (How Motorsport Fitness Boosts Your Credibility As A Driver And How You Can Get Started)
If you’re not a gym person, there are still some incredible things you can do for yourself in your own home. I’m a huge fan of the Beachbody programs like Insanity, T25, Max 30, and Asylum. I’m not affiliated with any of them, but my personal results have been absolutely incredible (which you can see here).
Try reinvesting your time away from the track into your health. I think you’ll love the way it feels.
6. Sim racing for your motorsport career.
I know there’s an ongoing dialog about the effectiveness of gaming and driving simulators. Here’s my official take on them: they can’t make you any worse. I believe that any extra seat time is time well spent for both driver and tuner. Many professional racing teams use iRacing to test new setups to their vehicles. (How Travis Pastrana Uses iRacing For Real Racing – Motor Authority) Because iRacing is based entirely online the driver and team can work together remotely, massive amounts of time and money can be saved.
Professional racing drivers also like iRacing’s hyper accurate track feel. (Professional Racing Driver Testimonials About iRacing – iRacing.com) Because every map is modeled using lasers and GPS, each track is exactly the same down to cracks in the pavement. This makes the sim very handy for learning new tracks on the fly or working with the team’s new potential tuning set up.
I’ve personally been using iRacing for a few months and it’s an absolute blast. Is it as good as going out and actually racing? Of course not. But it keeps my mind in the proper racing mode between races and allows me to experiment with hyper realistic driving and tuning at my local racetrack.
I’ve been particularly pleased with how it’s boosted my understanding of finding a vehicle’s balance. While setting up the new MX-5 Cup car for Lime Rock Park I spent about two weeks playing around with the suspension. I was able to find a setting that allowed the car to rotate on corner entry without being unpredictable through the rest of the corner. That exercise in technical thinking was very productive and helped lower my lap times into the fifty-nine second range. It also allowed me to find a setup that meshed with my driving style and generated consistency in my times.
The offseason is coming, so get prepared.
Completing an entire race season is a huge accomplish, at any level of motorsport career. The healthiest thing you can do for the next two weeks is simply relax and enjoy whatever accolade you earned over the season. The key is to take a short break and then jump back in refreshed and ready to go. After you’ve recovered, figure out what tactics you need to implement, delete, or modify.
Make sure that your new strategies account for any big changes that are coming up in your life so you don’t get caught off guard and miss out on doing what you love most. Your new plans should also include ample research into whichever club and vehicle you decide to go with in the new season.
Now that you have more free time, you have a great opportunity to reach the next level of your motorsport career by getting to a great fitness program (and to look amazing for spring time, right??) and staying sharp with a great simulator.
The season next doesn’t start at the first event. It starts right now.
Get to it.