top of page

What Does It Mean To Be Fast? | Shift-S3ctor 2020

Updated: Dec 17, 2020


Introduction to the full length vlog/podcast on The Science of Speed, first episode featuring Shift-S3ctor recapped from a previous live stream on the Miss Maserati channel.



/ (spiːd) /


A scalar measure of the rate of movement of a body expressed either as the distance travelled divided by the time taken (average speed) or the rate of change of position with respect to time at a particular point (instantaneous speed). It is measured in metres per second, miles per hour, etc

That’s a mouthful or it could merely be defined like this….

We discuss science and its relevance to motorsports frequently in the community. There’s so much theory crafting and learning to be done because force is an abstract concept. Defined in physics as any interaction that will change the motion of an object when unopposed.

Measurements that stand out are the measurements of horsepower and torque, two of the most important numbers anyone would want to guess when about to face off head to head at Shift-S3ctor.

The power produced by an engine is called its horsepower. Torque is the expression of a rotational or twisting force. For race cars, horsepower means speed. That torque part though, that’s the thing that pushes you back in the seat and takes your breath away. Torque is more representative of the strength in an engine. The relationship or distinctions between these two might be obvious to car people, but for the average individual it’s simply just, “the car goes.” Intertwined these two result in the rate at which a car is going to haul ass down a track.

However, as much as we can predict what might happen according to science in any given race, I’ll go back to a reminder that force is still an abstract concept, making prediction slightly more tricky. Other factors involved include the aerodynamics of downforce and drag, but perhaps driver mod still matters most of all. How fast is the human being that’s behind the wheel? No matter what wheel they get behind.

The Mental Skills of Speed: Perception & Translation Mechanisms

This is where we circle back to neuroscience in racing and just how much might be happening inside the brain in the quite short time that driver’s are flying low down the runway. Since the brain is dependent on stimulus information from the senses, that input is most of what’s available to process a situation and create micro decisions while executing a race, but also included was existing knowledge from a racer’s past experience. It’s perhaps what many may refer to as “instincts”.

Visual speed is a completely separate process than how a driver decides what to do with that visual information, and it happens in a separate region of the brain that must coordinate in order to save one’s tuckus from sudden wreckage or launch within fractions of a second. Light passes through the eye and travels down the optic never before reaching the occipital lobes located at the back of our brain, this is where our minds attempt to translate reality for us back into an image and although this seems like a simple mechanism, it involves complex processing in the brain as a human reconstructs a version of the world inside their head. Because of this, we may not be seeing a direct translation but rather our own interpretation, this can lead to errors in perspective.

No light, no prep either. All conditions which have to be calculated into the equation to get from point “A” to point “B” intact.

This is where the work of cognitive ability comes in, defined as the time it takes a human to do a mental task. It's relational to the speed at which a human can understand and react to the task, hands falling means “Go!” One might wonder if this factor is related to intelligence but the two are not interrelated, a high IQ would not predict faster processing but rather cognitive ability affects the speed of completion. The adaptive skill can become the hinge point for the race no matter what horsepower and torque numbers govern the cars involved.

This interpretation speed is laying the groundwork for what physical sets of muscles will be enacted in order to achieve a launch or a shift. All of this is happening within a split second inside the brain as the different regions chain together the kind of responses we rarely break down into it’s quite complicated process. From here the nervous system is transponding the signal by way of the motor unit, which transmits an activation signal and transforms it into contractile activity. Contractile properties of muscle comprise its force capacity (strength and power), the rate at which it can develop force (contractile speed) is much like concepts behind power generation in cars for horsepower and torque.

What does it mean to be fast?

In the chain of what happens from watching the hands fall to moving one’s foot to the accelerator there are links that are also trainable skills since perception is not a fixed ability. It’s something that can be highly impacted by even a temporary frame of mind. “Instincts” can be broken down into the categories of genetic memory that comes pre-installed at birth versus those which can be managed by emotional resilience over time. The differences here can be illustrated in the common evolutionary fear of spiders as a trait that comes natural to many, while some phobias can be attached to previous negative experiences, such as developing a fear of dogs after being bitten. The latter is conditioned. Others can have more nuanced thoughts attached to them like fear of tests after several failures. In driver development the point is teaching conditioned responses to potentially dangerous situations that will avoid wrecks while accounting for the situational factors involving speed and force in those precious split seconds. This is not an innate skill in humans but one that is concreted over a lifetime of how the individual handles general life circumstances. Their emotions and thought processes will determine how fast they can go.

Environmental Factor:

Events like Shift-S3ctor provide a unique context for testing the human limits of speed. The competition here is pretty friendly and the mood quite casual. There really isn’t much around for miles as this event takes place in Coalinga, California. Never heard of it, right? Exactly. This small but functional airport has been commandeered by clever event planners to create a scene straight outta Forza Horizon. And while it may seem once in a lifetime, this magnificent occurrence usually happens a couple times a year. Racer’s typically book accommodations at the historical Harris Ranch, the only luxury suites found in close proximity while offering up some of the best BBQ in California to round out the experience. Poolside relaxation available if needed.

It’s got that Cars & Coffee vibe around the grid, everyone’s just sort of wondering around checking out cars and chatting with each other in the new awkward socially distanced fashion. Friends, family and crews were limited but still it was a vibrant and bustling paddock filled with the flashiest of cars. TREADLYFE has attended this event year after year and this weekend felt like a step back in time, as if nothing has changed in the ever changing world around us. If this was a shared feeling then the little bubble of bliss is a welcome relief from the week’s stressors.

In attendance was BBI Autosport with a 997 GT2 putting out 1430 wheel horsepower and a McLaren 675LT at 950, which would go on to break a record in the ½ mile for the McLaren 3.8 liter at 187 miles per hour. That is still the point even if this is casual fun, go fast, break records. Head to head or some trap speed action, it’s a great way to see what your car can do even if you might not think you’re in record territory yet, there are wonderful folks from the companies involved around to walk you through how those numbers can be achieved on your vehicle.

Kuttek Wraps provided the built in rally line up with beautifully done highlighter vinyl. Can’t forget to include the awesome folks at Gintani for sponsoring this event for everyone to enjoy.

After a short trip down the taxiway we arrived at the cars already getting locked into their lanes before take off in this sort of street racer, no prep style down the runway with a number of conditions to take into consideration from surface to temperature and wind speed. It’s rarely considered but jumbled amongst those instincts referenced earlier.

The perception was that hours were passing faster than usual even though we know they’re the same measure, it’s the fun and excitement that was accelerating time. Hours can fly by while some seconds tick down with antagonizing length. If you’ve ever encountered this phenomenon, then you realize the power perception has over how you experience life or that you experience won’t exactly match that of someone else. What you process will determine how fast you can go from seeing the hands fall to getting your foot to the pedal.

The Recipe is Right for Speed:

A well rested, relaxed driver whose downed proper nutrition and that’s feeling confident piloting machines tuned to perfection are all the right seasonings to the recipe for speed. The setting at Shift-S3ctor is a good foundation, bring your best tunes and an A-game, you’ll have a great time here!

Visit: for more information.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page