Driving Art

“…I really do consider fast driving as an art, an essentially twentieth century art, and one demanding as much theoretical study, natural flair, learning and practice as any of the classical arts.” Denis “Jenks” Jenkinson, The Racing Driver, p.21. (published in 1959)

I just completed a psychological assessment created to help professional and college teams select the players that will best fit their culture. The methodology is derived from industrial psychology. I don’t know, but can speculate that Denis “Jenks Jenkinson would have regarded this type of assessment as a useful tool for understanding what a driver needs to work on to be faster, and make better decisions in and out of the race car. I’ve done six or seven assessments in the last ten or so years. The results have varied by the context of what my role was at work when I did each of the assessments. Overall, I’ve learned about my traits and when to push back versus sit back within the context of my role and team. The latest had some nice things to say like that I have plenty of grit and am coachable, and that I need to work on accepting when I can only see part of the picture rather the whole. I’ve trouble with that aspect of working on a team in the past, but have been working on acceptance for the last twelve months and can see a difference that will enable me to keep pushing forward toward long-term goals. So as Jenks points out getting better requires practice at the things that we want to improve. Being stuck in one place means not accepting that we can change, i.e., being close minded versus having a growth mindset.

We don’t do assessments with track day drivers. Until recently we didn’t do anything except say, “Hi my name is so and so.”, when hoping into a student’s car in the pit lane. We have progressed to emailing our students prior to the track day to find out their motivations (Like, “I want to be a racing driver”), goals (Like, “I want to see how my car will perform.”), and learn about their circumstances (Like, “The brakes are a bit old.”) Sometimes we still have to just jump into working with a student out of necessity because the assigned instructor couldn’t make it to the track or a driver registered too late for the email communication. Deciding to go to a track is a decision that is driven by the heart rather than the head. In the space of time that we have to coach a driver we focus on the technical side of things for safety in the hope that we will arrive somewhere close enough to the artistic side that the students will want to come back and learn more. None of it is natural.

Coming back to consider the statement by Jenks and art, for the past several years it has been fashionable to bash the arts as not useful for the real world. Arts and academia of the ivory tower variety are bash-worthy and always have been, but really, studying the arts is about observing and thinking in different ways. Creating a fast car, executing a precise shift or braking maneuver, building a great app, baking a great cake, and so on should all be respected. Given the situation we are living in – a COVID pandemic with layer of exposing social injustice and systemic racism making the passionate decision to pursue a selfish distraction could be fairly hard to justify, but the world at the track is no different than anywhere else. Bias is sometimes overt, but a little bit of training in the art of gaining from someone else’s perspective can also take place anywhere, including the racetrack. So just as Jenks tried to make the case for driving as an art equal to great painting or writing which required passion and disciplined study, I think we can each work on assessing what our perspective is, how we can learn from other people’s perspectives, and what we are contributing to the air around us.

Be passionate, be mindful, and be courteous.