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Old 10-23-2007, 04:33 AM
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Default Driver Thoughts (October 2007)

Organized by Hollis "hollis3" Lee


What role does fear play in your driving? Have you overcome fear, tolerated fear or have you always been the fearless driver?



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Long before I started road racing in cars, since my early teens, I raced motorcycles in the dirt. As a young dirt biker I would have to manage my fear each time I lined up at the starting line.

All animals including humans have fears. They trigger a "fight or flight" response initiated by the sympathetic nervous system. It's fear that puts the squeeze on the adrenal gland, releasing adrenaline into our bodies. It has been said that adrenaline/epinephrine, is more powerful and addictive than heroin to some people, hence the term "adrenaline junkie".

Actors and actresses refer to stage fright as "butterflies". When you're lining up at the starting line for your first few times with the racers on dirt bikes, elbow-to-elbow, or in cars, fender-to-fender, the "butterflies" seem more like giant condors. When any normal human starts a new extreme sport that can have life-threatening implications like racing, skydiving, snowboarding the half pipe, etc, fear is a normal condition that one must learn to manage in one's mind. I got into a race car because I was sick of breaking bones every year on my dirt bikes. After 20+ years of sliding on dirt with my motorcycle sideways on two wheels, being in a race car with all of this safety gear on my body, 12-point roll cage, and a fire system, sliding around turns on four wheels in a sports car seemed so much more safe to me. It was almost surreal, like I was playing a racing video game.

With experience, seat time, and conditioning, fears fade away to a manageable calculated risk and general concern that the smart racers can use to channel into positive thinking, proper preparation of all equipment, mind, and body, and staying safe. Competition at any top-level sport require both mind & body conditioning. Fear eventually transforms into focus.


Brian "theBlackBrian" Black (NAMCC)

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For me, "fear" has never really been a factor while racing. However, anxiety is always present before a race or important session. It seems to dissipate quickly after the start, when my mind switches from thinking about what is going to happen to what is happening.


Waylen Hunsucker (NAMCC)

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I really have to say that I don't think of fear playing a part in my driving. It's more of an adrenaline rush. I don't fear when driving on the track. I am usually too focused on going fast and concentrating on making that next turn; getting that shift. I don't have time to be fearful. During a race there are times that you think, when maybe you can have a fearful thought, such as getting close with another car in a tight corner, or getting slightly off-track, or on two wheels.

I know I was a little fearful the first time I drove on the track, but that went away with the nerves. As they say, practice makes perfect. Practice can also ease those fears. I think fear can be a person's limit and, as long as they drive under that, they will be in control and have that same rush.


Brad Strom (USTCC, BMWCCA)

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On the racetrack, I almost always have a baseline level of fear. It goes something like this:

"Does this person see me on the inside?...Am I braking enough to make this corner?...Am I staying off this curb that would throw me into that tire wall?...Where is the hazard that yellow flag is warning me of?...AND WHY THE HECK IS THIS GUY IN FRONT OF ME GOING SO SLOWLY AND DRIVING ERRATICALLY???!?!?"

I fear not only for the expense I would incur if I were to be involved in an accident, but for my safety if I were to go off the track (or into a wall) at over 100 mph.

The thing about the fear I experience on the track is that it's not an overriding and blinding fear that limits my ability to respond to the conditions around me. Rather, it causes my body and mind to react to the stimuli on the track quickly. I'd like to think that it increases my situational awareness and reaction time.

I accept this fear as a normal form of self-preservation, and allow it to make me a better driver. It pushes me to develop my driving ability (through education and improving my coordination), and to ensure that my safety equipment is always appropriate and in good condition. Those two items - driving ability and safety equipment - serve to ensure that my fears are never realized.


Jerry "Siddhartha" Bradbury (NASA)

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"Fear is not a stupid thing. Winning is not a question of courage, but of faith in oneself and in the car. A car is like a creature that lives, with its own emotions and its own heart. You have to understand it and love it accordingly. I knew many drivers more courageous than me. They are dead now." -Juan Manuel Fangio

Non-car people ask me all the time how I can bring myself to strap into a high-performance car with an unknown novice driver and ride around a race track at speed. The answer is I set limits for my student and make sure he does not exceed them. If he gets sideways in a turn, I can reach over and help him straighten it out. If he spins, I can tell him what to do to come to a stop safely and then resume. If he goes off track, I can combine those two techniques to get us back on track safely. I have skidded, spun and been off so many times in so many cars and motorcycles that I don't even think of it as aberrant behavior anymore, just a part of learning. It doesn't bother me.

When I am driving, I try to make myself one with the car, to feel the suspension moving, hear the tires working and visualize what's ahead even if I can't see it. Fear is generated by the unknown, but because I know what's coming next, there is no reason to fear it. I keep my mind on the solution to the track's puzzle, on my goal of successfully solving that puzzle, and on my performance.

You can't drive a race car consciously; things happen just too fast to consciously perceive them, decide on them and act on them. Fast drivers drive subconsciously and are always mentally out ahead of the car. I trust in the ability of my subconscious to instantly make any adjustments necessary to ensure a safe and fast lap, and if I go off, it's no big deal. I just dial it down some next time around.


Randy "Rsstopper" Smalley (Grand Am Koni Challenge)

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I certainly do not consider myself a fearless driver. I, like any prudent person, have a fear of injury, and I have hurt myself a few times while racing. My injuries all happened on motorcycles in an earlier racing life. They were relatively minor but painful. I still suffer the ill effects from those crashes today: tender knees and a sore shoulder, among others. I've scared the wits out of myself on a bike more times than I care to admit!

That being said, fear (in a traditional sense) really does not play a role in my driving. I feel very secure in a properly prepared and equipped race car. I have lots of faith in the driver's safety equipment. A well-fitted helmet, Hans device, fire suit, and a 6-point harness form a nice security blanket. Having all of the vehicles traveling in the same direction, and with no intersections, helps a bit, too.

Prior to a race there is always apprehension. In that context, there probably is fear. However, the fear is more about driving performance than injury. Many people go to a lot of trouble to get you and the car to the grid. Fear of failure and disappointment is a part of this sport.

So, I guess the answer to the question is that fear (aka adrenaline) is an integral part of racing. If the butterflies were removed from the equation, we probably would not do it.


If you are an active driver in sanctioned events and would like to participate in future Driver Thoughts columns, please send an email to hollis3 @ We would love to add your thoughts. µ

Last edited by hollis3; 10-23-2007 at 10:01 PM..
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Old 10-23-2007, 10:29 PM
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