Thursday, August 31, 2006

Zen and Driving

HPDEs are very Zen activities. I'm not sure one can define Zen easily. I know what it feels like, but I thought I'd seek the wisdom of the Internet for a definition. I Wikied Zen and found a pretty good one: It's a belief that enlightenment can be achieved via direct intuitive insight. It's a Buddhist belief system, so ego is a barrier, desire is undesirable, etc.

When you drive, it's a direct challenge to the ego. You see it driving to work in the morning, when folks either MUST pass that next car, or MUST get to the light first, etc.

On track, it's much the same temptation, but more focussed. The mindset of the RACEtrack is that one must be in front. Thus, to get there, you press the right pedal down and make sure you're passing folks. Or so it would seem. The reality of it is, that at my level of expertise, going faster doesn't happen when you try to go faster. You have to let go of the idea that concentrating on the leading car will let you catch it. I do my best to ignore the leading car until I'm very close, because the next few turns are generally much more interesting. I pay a little attention to it, just enough to see it if there's a skid or incident. The main focus is driving smoothly. When I do that, I can catch many, many cars.

It feels like magic. You just have to let go of the whole competition thing and drive the car. The better you feel the tires' grip, and the engine RPM and the brakes, the better you will be able to drive the course, and the closer to the edge you can be.

Of course, where I drive, the car in front of you may not be willing to let you by. There's no passing at HPDEs unless the leading car allows it. Thus, you have to stay behind the lead car until he sees that you're faster. If you're the lead car, you have to admit, to yourself, that the car in your rear view mirror is faster. If you have too much ego, that'll be hard to do. That's the letting go part of it, too. In a race, you'd just find a way around the slower car somehow.

I used to be quite bothered by this, but I found that if I'm behind a slower car that will not let me around now, I just keep on keeping on. It is, in fact, the same thing as catching anyone. You just let go of it, and drive the best line you can. I've had folks apologize to me for not allowing me to pass, after leading me around for two or more complete laps with me a foot off their bumper the whole way. Letting go of it is easier.

This is the hardest post I've written so far. I'm finding it hard to explain this without sounding like Captain Obvious, so I'll stop now. I'll close by saying that I think about the only thing that will let you make good decisions in the extreme chaos of a real race would be a core of calm that I believe zen teaches. Thus, I'm very interested in it.


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