Race Car Cockpit Thoughts

Dear Topspeed,
What goes through your mind as you are zooming around the racetrack?

Shafina A. from Brooklyn, New York

Hello Shafina,

When I am competing in a race, a million things go through my mind such as: Where should I eat for dinner? Did I leave the lights on at home? Do aliens have space ship racing? Just kidding. Inside the race car cockpit, I am completely focused on the task at hand and that task is to drive as fast as possible and win the race. Going the fastest and winning the race are actually two separate things but I’ll save that for another column.

There are many factors I must continually consider during a race such as the condition of my tires, the condition of my brakes, the condition of the track surface, how close my nearest competitors are, the balance and handling of my race car, how much time is left in the race, and quite a few other things that I must keep secret for professional reasons. In general, race car drivers are very good at multi-tasking. During any given race, we make thousands of calculations involving countless, ever changing variables and make split-second decisions under the harshest of conditions. All while driving a cramped land missile at ridiculous speeds within inches of other speed demons.

An example of multi-tasking that drivers often engage in goes like this: at 150 mph, we downshift five gears with our right foot on the brake and the accelerator, our left foot on the clutch, our left hand on the steering wheel, our right hand on the shifter, and our eyes on the side view mirror. Then we successfully negotiate a difficult turn without spinning or crashing into our fellow driver. Somewhere in the process, we remember to breathe and we’re already thinking about the next turn. Mind you, most experienced drivers do not concentrate on doing these things; they do not focus on actually driving the car. This happens subconsciously and automatically. Our conscious thoughts are devoted to things of immediate nature such as avoiding an accident on the track, making passes on our competition, monitoring the condition of our race car, communicating with our racing team, pit stops and so on.

It is possible to have random thoughts during a race but history has shown that even the tiniest lapse in a driver’s concentration often leads to disastrous and even fatal consequences. Alert and focused driving should be practiced by all drivers, regardless of what they drive. It can only benefit everyone.

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