You've always been told to "be who you are," and not to pretend to be someone you're not. Wise words, indeed. But if you are a second-rate driver, it's probably worth pretending you are a five-time champ like Jimmie Johnson, instead.
At least until the race is over.
Racing is part mental, part ability and part ballsiness. Working on your ability is fundamental, and attempting to enlarge your testicular girth is paramount, too. But an often-overlooked attribute is the mental game. And if it's overlooked, then it can be exploited.
A positive mental attitude can do wonders for your driving. It can elevate you to levels your talent suggests is unobtainable, and, at the same time, make you braver. Yes, the brain is a powerful instrument. Extrapolating that untapped potential is primarily left to dangly-eared African tribesmen, but that doesn't negate us from bidding to replicate their success.
If your resume happens to boast multiple championships, then, in all likelihood, you will be pretty self-assured. But presuming that is not the case, then perhaps a little role play might be in order. You don't want to enter a race with your lowly statistics ringing in your head: "Best Finish" or "Sixth Place at The Glen," where all but three cars crashed. (If everyone crashes again, maybe a top five is on the cards.) That doesn't inspire confidence. In fact, it reminds you how lousy you are and induces thoughts akin to, "Why am I even bothering? I am rubbish."
Hardly a recipe for success.
Instead, picture Jimmie. Rich, affluent and successful. Trophies littering his 20,000-square-foot mansion. Fans desperate for a glimpse and journalists devoted to winning one of his precious signed hats (ahem, Travis). (I try to win one of his hats each week on Twitter. I haven't yet. It's frustrating. - T.O.)
When he enters a race, he knows he is the man. He doesn't have to pretend. But you probably aren't the man. So you do.
When I was 10 years old, racing Karts, I used to close my eyes on the starting grid and picture Senna. I'd imagine demolishing the opposition like he would, crossing the finish line first for victory. I'd attempt to feel the sensations of winning the race. I'd even prepare my victory celebration. Rarely would I ever get chance to use this, however, as by my own admission I was useless at this age.
Nonetheless, whenever I entered a race feeling like a better driver than I truly was, I'd perform more like the driver I imagined being. The problem is, we aren't all great actors. Even the pros occasionally do a miserable job at portraying their characters. Case in point, David Arquette in every role he has ever played.
But, even though this evidently doesn't work for David, practice usually makes perfect. If you enter a race in the wrong frame of mind, you have lost. Plain and simple. To begin, you must pretend. But after time, you will believe. It's like telling a lie. If you tell it for long enough, you eventually think it true. And, of course, the more you improve, the more the results follow, the easier it will become to engage that confident, Jimmie-like demeanor.
For many, self-love does not come easy - especially when we don't technically deserve it. But before a race, it is imperative you shower yourself with praise. Surround yourself with people who embody a similar positive attitude. Those who will only lift your confidence, rather than deflate it. Then, after the race is over, return to earth. Be open to critique, and act like the chump that you are.
This is all part of the game. Like a boxer attempting to get into his rival's head, and, more important, not allowing that opponent to infiltrate theirs. Unlike a boxer, however, there is no need to voice your internal power. Keep it as you own. Its primary use is to ignite your inner fire, not to extinguish theirs.
If you chose to inflict your newfound confidence on your competitors while you are still a useless driver, then expect copious amounts of pointing and laughter. See, we are told to be who we are. So pretend to be you. All the while, believe you are Jimmie.
About the author: @Alex_Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He's competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice and the Indianapolis 500 four times — placing fourth in 2010. The native of MADchester, UK began racing karts at age 8, open-wheel race cars at 16 and finished second to Formula One World Champion - and close friend - Lewis Hamilton, in the 2003 British Formula Renault Championship, followed by a stint representing Great Britain in A1GP and winning races in Formula 3000. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Samantha (also from England) and three young "Hoosier" children. He also enjoys racing in triathlons and is rather partial to a good old English cup of tea. But not crumpets.
Photo Credits: Getty Images