Blind Spots

This is a map of the New Jersey Motorsports Park Thunderbolt Racetrack. It looks flat in this two-dimensional map, and it more or less is flat in reality too. Thunderbolt is located in southern New Jersey on grounds that were a World War II fighter pilot training airport. The track has been sculpted so that there are two blind spots. Turn 2 is a medium speed corner leading onto a high-speed section that includes a blind spot where the course dips a bit about three quarters of the way between turns 3 and 4 before the braking zone for turn 4.

We refer to the apex of a corner as the point at which a driver starts to exit the corner. In usage away from the track, the definition of the word apex refers to a point that is elevated like the top of a summit, or peak, but at the track , apex is a reference in a two-dimensional space. Think-switching from two to three dimensions is part of the fun and part of the challenge of coaching at the track. And how quickly someone is willing to drive on a track is related to how much of the course they can see with their eyes and how much they need to see in their mind’s eye. The confidence to drive by what they trust they see in their mind without a lot of experience is related what sort of mindset they bring to the task.

In the context of a promotion versus prevention mindsets the student who is less worried about outcomes would be considered to have a promotion orientation and will often need to have a coach reign them in bit. The students who are concerned about avoiding a negative outcome like crashing are exercising a prevention mindset. Starting with one mindset or the other does not determine how good a driver will be. What is important is being flexible and open to learning. A coach should be able to discern what mindset a student is using through conversation and observation of how the student performs. It is not uncommon to have a coach complain about a student being too wild or being too timid. What is needed is better training at the coach level so there is more emphasis on how to develop their student’s potential.

When the students are not in the car they spend time in the classroom with me trying to make sense of what they were learning while driving. In addition to covering all the rules that are in place to keep them safe I make sure to remind them that it is their day so they get to choose how aggressive they want to be on track as long as they are not impeding others or being inconsistent. The last thing we want is to put pressure on our students to take more risk than they are comfortable with in terms of speed no matter what anyone else is doing.

In practice I am provide more information than most of our students can absorb in the short amount of time we have with them. Being filled with anticipation about getting on the track can be like having a set of earplugs in so at Thunderbolt I ask them to see what they see so we can talk about the that before addressing how to navigate the blind spots. The most interesting response I’ve gotten in a class session was when a student said that they needed to take it on blind faith that the track was clear when they approached the fast blind section before turn 4. This student was definitely in a promotion-oriented mindset.

Rather than dampen the student’s enthusiasm I pointed out that even though we can’t always see through a corner or over a hill there are signs and guides to help us. At the track we have corner workers with the flags that are used to communicate whether it is safe to fling one’s self over a blind crest. The same thing applies when a student is telling me that they are afraid of overdoing it by going too fast into a blind section. Both students need to learn to read the signs and use the tools available. It takes slowing down and thinking twice in the blink of an eye. It only happens with experience and the help of coaches who can keep their student safe as well as see beyond the limited assessment that their student is timid or wild.

Whether we are on a track or not, it’s easy to create a blind spot and miss a sign when we hurry to be quick.