By: Gary DeRoy (GTX_SlotCar)
Before we get started, let me tell you that this article is not about how to enter a corner, what line to take or any other technical driving skills. I'm assuming that you know you have to practice if you expect to win races and that you know you will require certain driving skills. That doesn't mean this article only applies to those of you who are already fast. The right attitude can help beginners and advanced drivers to win more races.
Because I have a long background in slot car racing, I may make occasional references to it, but for what is presented here it doesn't matter. Racing is racing. Whether it's F1 cars or pop-up toasters, this will apply.
It wasn't until a good friend pointed it out that I realized how I'd been using psychology to help win races. Since then I've thought about it a lot. I've found that I go into a race with a deliberate frame of mind. From the time I get to the track or online race room, I think about what I'm doing and how I'm behaving, then I watch how others are acting . I've found that I set certain rules for myself. They are (in no particular order):
Be humble, helpful and sincere. Be humble and don't brag. If you're a fast driver or have a good setup, people will notice on their own. This isn't to say you shouldn't share your enthusiasm over a great pass you made in the last race. Just choose your words carefully.
Be helpful. Share your setups and driving lines with those who ask. I can't even count the number of times I've helped someone to set up their car before a race, even when it meant that I'd have to give up my own warm up laps. It's good for the sport, good for the guys you're helping, and good for you. When you've helped someone before a race, they're not likely to forget it during the race. The novice driver who may be a little out of control on the track will probably be extra careful around you. The experienced driver you just helped may decide he doesn't want to slam you into the wall to make that final pass. You see, being helpful and friendly can be contagious.
Be sincere. Help everyone who asks for it. Don't decide who's worthy of your help. Being humble, helpful and sincere is part of a good, winning attitude, and people will perceive you to be a confident and competent person.
Remember what you're here for. This really ties into the previous paragraph. When you raced last night, did the winner take home a $25,000 purse? Probably not. I only know of a couple online races where there has been a big prize. Usually you're just here to have fun and to win the race. Chances are you're not going to lose the mortgage on your house if you don't win, so keep things in perspective. Learn to relax before the race starts and take a deep breath. If you're wound up tight, you're probably not going to drive as well as you could. Here's a couple tips that will help you get into the right state of mind. First, resist the temptation to yell at someone for doing something you didn't like. It certainly won't help you to relax, and it would be a shame to ruin a good online friendship because of one angry outburst. Part of the fun in online racing is talking to, and sharing experiences with, your friends in the forums and newsgroups. Let's face it, most of us can't expect our wives to get exited about our racing. Next, concentrating on the race is good, but it's okay to smile, too. And finally, blink. That's right, don't be so uptight that you forget to blink once in a while during the race. If you don't, your vision will blur and it'll be harder to drive.
I've met a lot of good racers, but the best ones are always poised, relaxed and good sports. They're here to win, but they're also here to have fun.
Don't complain before the race about racing conditions. That's right. Keep your mouth shut. Everyone else may be complaining about too much lag online or a spot on tonight's new track where a tree's graphic isn't aligned properly so you can hit it even though you're 2 feet away. Or maybe you can fall through a fence or some other imperfection with the track. In slot car racing it was often a seam in the track or a braid that would cause the car to jump out of one lane. Let them complain themselves into a frenzy if they want, but don't (YOU) admit there is a problem. If they ask, just say it's okay or it's not too bad or you don't mind. Shrug it off. First, there's no point in joining in. If ten guys complaining about the same thing doesn't change it, eleven won't help either. Second, if that spot is going to bother you, it's going to bother them. You all have to drive over it, so no one has an advantage. Just make sure you adjust to it. Third, and most importantly, if they think you don't mind, it'll bother the hell out of them. They'll think you have some kind of advantage - and if they think that, you will have. This kind of psychology is a great tool.
Expect to win. This doesn't mean to brag about it. It's a personal optimistic or reassuring feeling that somehow you are going to win the race. Of course, the more you win, the easier it is to have this feeling. I race with a friend that's a very good driver. In warm up laps he's generally faster than I am and when we've raced together as a team (in slot car endurance races), he does as many laps as I when it's his turn to race. But, when we race against each other he usually finds a way to lose. Technically, he's probably a better driver than I am, and he probably even knows it. He tries to win, but expects to lose. And when we race against each other, he usually comes in second.
The best way to get even. If you've been racing for any length of time, here's something that I'm sure you've seen. I guess you could call it 'virtual road rage'. I've seen it online, in slot car racing and at my local race track. A guy gets mad at you and spends the rest of the race trying to take you out as many times as he can. I hope you don't fall into this yourself. It's obviously not a race winning attitude. In fact, I'll admit that I don't understand the rationale behind this behavior at all. My guess would be that these guys never expect to win the race to begin with. They're certainly not having a good time and I can't imagine why they even want to race. Regardless, he may take you out once or twice. If you really want to get even with him, I've got a little secret. Don't go after him. The absolute, best way to really get even is ....... to win the race.
Don't hot lap. This shouldn't even have to be mentioned, but I've seen fast, experienced drivers do this during a race. In an MTM2 race, there were 3 of us in the heat. A little mishap at the beginning quickly put me about a second behind 1st place, and the last place driver pretty much out of it. I'd raced this guy several times before and he was fast. Very fast. On this narrow, slippery track, he was about 1/2 second faster than me and passing was very hard. I knew there was nothing for me to do but stay cool and hope he made a mistake. Coming around the last corner in lap one, he swung wide and made a run at the starting line. What's he doing? A mistake? I don't think so. Good for me, I closed the gap. Next lap on the same corner, he goes wide again and makes the same run at the line. Same mistake twice? Not likely. Wait, could he possibly going for a hot lap? I bet he is. He's making a straight run at the start line to get in a hot lap so he can brag about it in the chat room. Now I'm right on his tale. Next lap, same corner and there he goes again. And here I go, right inside for the pass. He taps me half way down the straight after the start line, but the track is slippery and he can't go around. Through the next 4 tight corners he's over driving trying to get around me. Now I have a comfortable, 1 second lead. His frustrated attempts to catch up lead me the the finish line 2 seconds in front of him.
I suppose there's no need for a recap as the moral is obvious. Don't hot lap, and watch for those who are. They'll give you golden opportunities.
Study the other drivers. Continuing with the last paragraph. If you study the other drivers (especially the good ones who are consistent) for a few laps, you'll often see where you can pass them. If they're not consistent, it's good to know that you've got to give them plenty of room when you go around them. You'll seldom be in a race where all the drivers are good, so it's nice to know where you stand. It was easier for me in a slot car race. If I didn't know the driver standing next to me, I'd chat with him as I closed in on his car. If he wouldn't talk back, I'd give him plenty of room and only set up a pass on the straights. If he talked back to me and still maintained good control of his car, I'd figure he was a competent and consistent driver. It's a little harder when you're racing online. I suggest just pressuring him for a couple laps and see how he reacts. Crowd him, but don't touch him. A good place to practice studying your opponents is on a Nascar oval. If the guy goes in tight and drifts out (as he probably will), adjust your line to start wider and exit tight. If you take your time and set it up right, you'll probably pass him on the exit and can protect the inside in the next corner so he can't shoot by you again. In MTM2 there are at least a thousand tracks and we raced a different one every week. The track would be announced 3 days before the race. For someone like me who has a job and a real life besides online racing, that often meant only about 3 hours of practice to learn a new track. I'd spend half that time learning a fast line that would hopefully keep me in front if I should get there, and the other half racing the AI drivers. These guys made me learn alternate lines and prepared me for emergencies. Many of the guys I raced against never practiced with the AI, but I'm convinced it's helped me to win races.
Never give up. It was my first slot car race at a track in Rochester, NH, about 40 minutes from my home. Part way through the race one of my car's motor wires came off. I lost about 3/4 of the heat doing repairs Although the part of the heat I missed was riddled with accidents, I was still 10 laps behind the leader when I reentered the race. The track owner also announced the races to the spectators and drivers. With 3 laps left and me about 10 feet behind the leader, I could hear him. "Unbelievable! This is the best example of 'Never Say Die' I've ever seen. This guy obviously wants to win!" And win it I did, by about 3 feet (2/10's of a second).
If you've read through this article to this point and still think there is a time in a race when you should just give up, you simply don't want to win badly enough. And obviously, you don't expect to win.
You can only go as fast as you can go. Okay, so you've gotten a little behind. Now what? All you've got to do is go faster, right? Well, you'd be surprised how many people think so. But the truth is that you're already racing to win. That is, racing as fast as you can. You can only go as fast as you can go. You can't make up time. I generally post my best lap times during the race, not in practice. The pressure and excitement of a race makes me drive better. I know this isn't the case for most people, but it doesn't really matter. The point is that I still don't expect big speed gains. If your best time at a track is 1 minute and 11 seconds, you're not going to be able to run 1:07s for the remaining 10 laps necessary to win. Resist the temptation and don't even try. You'll only get deeper in the hole. What you can do, however, is race smart. You don't have to be the faster driver in order to win. This is the time to believe that you'll somehow win this race. Drive smart and don't make mistakes; wait for the leaders to do that. Look for opportunities and be ready for them. In the end you'll either win or lose. There really is no 2nd place, is there? Second place is really nothing more than 1st loser.
At times you'll find that you've simply been out driven. You did everything you were supposed to do, but the other guy did it better. You will only know this after you've crossed the finish line, not before. There are no excuses. His race was just as difficult as yours. He had traffic and pile ups just like you, he simply handled them better. Congratulate him, and win next time.
A winning attitude has to be exercised and practiced, just like racing. When you enter the race room, ask yourself if you've got your winning attitude with you. Be conscious of it. Remind yourself of these things. Most of us know them anyway, we just forget them in the excitement of a race. While you're practicing your laps, don't forget to practice your attitude.
February 25, 2001