Race car drivers don’t get much time to train the way other professional athletes do. Expenses such as track rental and entry fees, paying team members to help, and hospitality logistics make it tough. Often, we don’t practice until the actual race weekend, when you’re lucky if you get to participate in a handful of 30-minute track sessions.
Yet, everything has to play out perfectly from the seat of my Lamborghini — one error can be disastrous at worst and cost you a strong finish at best. That means we have to get creative about honing our craft if we want to succeed.
The old adage that practice makes perfect is nice in theory, but in some industries, practicing isn’t always possible. It’s hard to practice skills when you’re expected to immediately execute on them.
Startup leaders, for example, must rely on themselves to wear many hats. They likely don’t yet have a fully-fledged team of people who have mastered their skills and are experts in their field. When a problem or opportunity arises, entrepreneurs must be able to learn fast and perform perfectly. There’s no time and less money, but the work has to be done and done well.
So how do you stay on top of your game when there’s no time for dress rehearsal or a rough draft? Here are a three things I’ve learned as a professional race car driver:
1. Research all you can
There have been times when I couldn’t gather data or in-car video of the race I was about to compete in. However, I could find a video online of a pro taking a lap around the track and make notes from that.
Feel like there are missing pieces in a project? Open yourself up to other resources. Seek out ideas that might not seem related at first. In the digital age, we can find just about anything online. You open many more doors to success and opportunity once you get creative about the learning process.
Part of your research should include talking to others who have been through similar experiences. If I hadn’t driven a track before but know someone who has, you can bet I’ll ask what the experience was like.
Focus on others’ experience, not necessarily on their advice. Learn what stood out to them, what help they wish they had, or what surprised them. From there, you can create your own solutions based on what you’ve already researched and learned.
“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” – Abraham Lincoln
2. Make sure your mind and body are ready to perform
The best thing you can do to aid in performance — especially if you’re called upon to act without the chance to prepare — is to commit to constant maintenance of your body and mind.
If you feel physically strong and your mental game is in tip-top shape, you’ll be that much more equipped to handle unforeseen challenges. Physical workout preparation is very important to my on-track performance. The temperature can reach 155 degrees, easily, in race car cockpits, and the physical toll of controlling the machine is no joke. Each brake application is equivalent to 150 to 200 pounds of strain on your body, and steering loads can reach up to 55 pounds.
Add to that the constant lateral and longitudinal forces pulling at your body against the harness, and you can see why race car driving is a sport. I once lost four pounds from sweating alone in one race. So I’ve learned to keep myself in optimum physical and mental condition. That way, I’m always ready for a challenge — whenever it might spring up.
Keep your body and mind in performance-ready shape by prioritizing sleep, hydration, and proper fueling. These practices keep you mentally fresh, concentrated, and happy. If you can’t practice, at least you can prepare yourself to jump on any new opportunity that comes your way.
3. Keep data on your past performances
Just because we’re not able to practice doesn’t mean we can’t stay engaged in our performance. Data acquisition is without question the fastest way to improve your driving — or any performance. For race car drivers, data logging is as vital as stock reports are for investors. It should be similar for any professional.
The reams of information that data systems provide can help a driver evaluate and identify areas to improve. Through the many channels of data, the system allows you to graphically see how much speed you carried into a bend, if changing a technique on a lap was helpful, or whether your throttle application is efficient. Once you have those insights, the key becomes finding out why certain strategies are stronger. This turns driver “feel” into science.
Investing time and resources into tracking data will convert into real-life application. Even entrepreneurs and business leaders need to be able to study their past performances, find out what worked, and look for areas where it’s appropriate to try something new. Tracking key performance metrics will help you filter what’s relevant and what’s not, allowing you to speed ahead to a worthy solution.
Whether race car driving or developing a new app you’re trying to get funding for, there’s more to it than “practice makes perfect.” And thank goodness for that! Performing when you haven’t had the chance to properly prepare is all about hustle, hard work, persistence, and putting yourself in the best position possible to execute flawlessly.