Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Zen and the Art of Driving Fast

(Editor's note: I wrote this in 2007 in response to someone saying my driving fast-even on a racetrack-was irresponsible.)


The ears are overworked with wind noise, road noise, engine and exhaust noise.  Only the wind can be ignored.  The road noise tells you that the car is stable.  When you hear a whine is when you worry.  Engine and exhaust noise tell you the engine is healthy and when it's time to shift.  There's no time to watch the tachometer so you must rely on your ears and experience.

The eyes are sweeping.  The pavement coming at them at over 100 miles per hour is ignored.  You know this sheet of asphalt like you would know a lover's body.  The eyes are looking for visual cues to turn-in, apex, and exit of each corner.  Here it's the blue part of the stands, there it's a wooden structure called a "turn station" and there it's a telephone pole.  Being a class there are cones demarking these things but due to hills and weeds, they are not always visible.  But the eyes are also watching the other cars.  While looking through them to find the corner markers, it is watching them for sudden unexpected moves and slowdowns.  Here as nowhere else do you  dare be this close to another car at highway speeds.

The inner ear, felt in the ass, tells you the car is tacking straight and the  tires are not sliding over the asphalt.

The right foot is planted against the firewall, the left hovering over the clutch.  Both hands are on the steering wheel, probably at "nine and three."

Your brain is processing all this information.  The baud rate is enormous and the limited bandwidth of your brain becomes selective.  The itch of your nose, the discomfort of the helmet, the cold of the wind coming in the window all fade away.  Your mind is completely and utterly concentrating on its task, on piloting a powerful car at speeds over one hundred miles per hour around a track that twists and turns seemingly at random.

Your mind has reached "speed nirvana."  Gone is everything other than driving, other than moving your body to make the car move as you wish, observing, listening . . .


Not commuting, not "operating a motor vehicle," but DRIVING.  The skills were acquired in years of back-roads speeding and days of track training.  Talent plays a role, the ability to process the information coming in fast enough to react.  To hear the screech of tires and know you need to look for a car sideways in the road.  To smell brakes and know you need to slow down and give your over-heated pads a break.  To run your eyes over the instrument gages on straight aways to make sure the beast under the hood is not suffering.

This is driving.  This is speed nirvana.  Gone are the worries of work, relationships, money, whatever.  It is you, the car, and the pavement coming at you at 220 feet every second.


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