Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Decision Making: Are Racer’s Thoughts As Fast As Lightning?
Engine’s are firing up for racing on the west coast as the Formula Pro USA gets back on track in June. This series, headed by Brent Morgan of Exclusive Racing, was created as the ideal entry point to open wheel racing. Appropriate for all ages, the schedule includes Sonoma Raceway and Leguna Seca in Monterey California. A single season offers the chance of a lifetime to experience these iconic tracks or find yourself in front of a headliner crowd at Formula1 Grand Prix weekend.
TREADLYFE spent nearly two seasons following Formula 4 racing, it’s apparent driver’s skills are what is being put to the test against competitors as all entrants have the same equipment which can only be slightly modified for aerodynamics and suspension. Powered by the same engine you would find in any garden variety Honda Civic it propels a lightweight chassis made by Ligier down a track quite briskly, making it the perfect transition from go karting to the full size version. Like choosing the right college or best company culture the training one receives gets them off onto the right foot for career success. The difference between driver training and driver development may mean the gap between a winning mindset or only winning one race. What would you want to invest in at the beginning of your career?
Calculating Faster Than Lighting
Moving electrons stripped of their molecules and charged in the atmosphere create bolts of lightning. All which occurs within a few milliseconds, but our brains can also do some pretty advanced calculations in rapidly short times too. Neuroscientists find the brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds. In the blink of any eye this rapid-fire processing may help direct the eyes. Which shifts a racer's sight three times per second to their next focus according to MIT Professor of cognitive sciences Mary Potter. “The job of the eyes is not only to get the information into the brain, but to allow the brain to think about it rapidly enough to know what you should look at next. So in general we’re calibrating our eyes so they move around just as often as possible consistent with understanding what we’re seeing,” she says. A thought can be generated and acted on in as little as 150ms depending on several factors like complexity and neuro characteristics. Considering how fast thoughts spin to action it may be easy to mistake those for instantaneous occurrences, but turns out we can be very poor judges of when our actions actually happen. Although we're aware of the thoughts and resulting action, there's a several millisecond disassociation judging the onset of our movements instead of the actual time. Leaving us with questions about our control and agency when it comes to our reactions in a split second situation. Psychologists have debated that a high processing speed in the brain is a vital asset of intelligence. Responses slow when people suffer certain psychological disorders like depression. This is why building a thought process and healthy confidence is so vital in the long term success of a racer whether it's reacting to near wrecks or carefully fielding the objection of a sponsor. Our perception of the situation has more power over our actions than we may initially realize, leaning on our processes helps automate those millisecond decisions into using the knowledge we’ve gained.
Neurons in the brain often join together into smaller networks, which then link to one another with very few long-range connections. This formation needs less wiring than other arrangements and thus shortens the distance signals would need to travel to relay information. This can be sped up by practice. A neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, Rene Marois, demonstrated by having people perform a basic multitasking test. She asked people to identify which of two possible faces appeared on a computer screen while responding to one of two sounds cues. Within two weeks of this exercise of 8-12 sessions, test-takers had down both tasks with incredible accuracy when done simultaneously, better than they had initially done the tasks individually. With residual practice Marois believes the neurons in the brain’s regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, require fewer signals and less time to produce the desired results.
What's crucial about perspective in driver development is that it sets the speed for how fast one's going to learn. Or how fast they can go. It's about adjusting the thought processes that control our most automated responses, including the ones associated with fear. When your temperature rises, your heart beats faster or your hands start to tremble, those are all reactions to a neurochemical process happening inside the brain. What reflects in the body started from the top down. While it seems impossible to control and only dependent on external threats, racers prove that this is entirely negotiable between the brain and body when repeatedly rushing into a death defying situation lap after lap after lap. It's training their thoughts not to evoke the response.
What's the difference between driver training and driver development?
"Driver Training" and "Driver Development" aren't exactly the same thing even if reasonably the two sound interchangeable. "Driver Training" usually refers to a hands on experience where basics to advanced car handling are taught on the track or skills course. Track by track, corner by corner it's more akin to coaching someone through a set of instructions. Nothing inherently wrong with learning this way, however to advance to the next level consider something in addition to your learning experience. "Driver Development" is the description of an overall process taking a rookie driver to the critical thinking level of a professional racer.
Formula Pro USA series is backed with industry professionals who have been in the race support business for over 25 years, the team at World Speed Motorsports in Sonoma California pairs racers with pros from IndyCar, IMSA, NASCAR and leagues throughout the years to go over video, telematics and driver inputs between sessions. Instructors discuss planning and thought processes throughout the days leading up to race weekends with their students. It's much more than a class. It's about constantly bringing in new perspectives and developing the mind capable of handling 150+ mile per hour decision making.
World Speed dedicates time to methodically getting down the concepts that can be applied to situations the racer is going to likely face on many other tracks besides the one they’re working on today. Homework is involved, printed out in workbooks. Driver development goes beyond the physical training to be a racer, it encompasses the knowledge basics of any great racer who can go even beyond the limits of those who trained them. All starts with a thought.
What It Means To Turbo Charging Your Everyday Life?
As racers in Formula 4 are applying their new thought techniques to the tarmac it’s shortening those neuroconnections, creating faster and faster neuro pathways to decision making and using this science drivers can systematically shorten their times lap by lap. Driver Development is much like engine tuning, just for the brain. Is it time to accelerate your thinking to compete with lighting?
Though nowhere nearly as deadly, meetings with potential sponsors can cause the same autonomic responses of a physically dangerous situation. Public speaking could be compared, by some, to be a lion's den. It's the mere perception of a threat whether real or imagined. In sports, “choking” is defined in the dictionary as “the failure of a sportsperson or team in a game in a situation where maintaining their performance is highly important.” It comes from the concept of feeling the loss of oxygen when the expectation from self or others creates a mental state so paralyzing that physical manifestations cause the athlete to not reach their peak ability. It is because physical factors like norepinephrine are playing a role in impacting focus when an event is categorized by the brain as stressful. The brain’s categorization process helps the body to quickly shortcut to knowledge in a fight or flight situation which can save a driver from a threatening situation. Neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine, are substances mostly made of amino acids from sources such as the foods you eat and they act as neural-messengers sending signals between cells. Powerful enough that when injected it can save a life from shock.
Even the fear of embarrassing oneself is enough to cause transmitters to start flowing, muscles to tighten, breath to shorten and the loss of working memory within the circuitry of the brain's neurons. Neurotransmitters generate those butterflies in the stomach too and there is a way to better control it all by taming the “ego”. Instill confidence. It helps to avoid what can end up being a distraction by focusing back to familiar skills. Skills gained over time through practice and developing that process, much like what is done on test days circling the same patch of track over and over and over … and over again until car control becomes intuitive at higher and higher speed. Compare it to how many times that speech might need to be recited at home in the mirror before delivery in front of a crowd. It’s a matter of building the right neural network for the task. They say that practice makes perfect, but perfectionism is it’s own curse of psychological stress and it’s the precision we actually seek.
Out of the over 70,000 thoughts you’re going to have today think about how you’re categorizing yours. What neural pathways are you building? Fear can be unlinked and threats no longer paralyzing. Set your automation to race mode and be surprised at the results.
For more information on driver development, visit: https://www.worldspeed.com/