Driving fast requires extreme skill and technique. But no matter how talented you are, if you can't overcome the fear, then you can never take a car to its absolute limit. You'd have to be a complete idiot to do that.
Taking a car to its absolute limit this requires you to become what regular people describe as "idiotic," and switch off the part of the brain that dictates fear. Perhaps we "pros" are simply missing that part. Or perhaps we are just born idiots.
Either way, you need to become an idiot like the pros, if you want to drive like one.
Let's take an example of a 120 mph bend that has a barrier just feet away from the exit. Here, there are two types of driver:
Driver one is the Idiot. He enters the corner thinking, "I am going to attack this corner at breakneck speed and the car will stick and I will control any handling deficiencies that present themselves."
Driver two is the Reasonable Man. He thinks, "if I get this wrong, I will crash and I will most likely die."
Of course the Reasonable Man is the smart one with a fully operating brain. The Idiot is, well, an idiot. He is clearly missing a large portion of his brain, presumably beaten out of him as a child by a vicariously-living, overzealous father. But is this really the case?
Well, no, actually. See the Idiot is thinking like a man with confidence in his ability and faith in his machine. Of course, if the Idiot were driving a 1980's Jaguar, then he would indeed be an idiot for having faith in that machine, but presuming that is not the case, then the Idiot is actually a driver who is ready to take his car to the edge and, more importantly, knows he has the skills to handle it there.
If he actually does NOT have those skills, then he is of course a complete idiot.
If you clearly do not have the skills to drive a car at its upper limits, then please continue to act like the Reasonable Man that you are.
Accidents can and do happen. Things outside your control can occur anytime. But that is the risk of pushing yourself and machine to the edge. You can only know your true limits once you have exceeded them.
That is the risk you must take to win. If you don't want to win that badly, then know your limitations and stay safely within them, and just have fun. That is absolutely fine –- and should be the case for most drivers. But if winning means more than words could ever describe, and you have the experience to actually achieve it, then you'd better start looking at how you too can become an idiot and lose the fear.
Back in 2008 I got my first chance to race in the legendary Indianapolis 500. After a week of solid running we arrived at "Fast Friday," when teams and drivers reduce downforce to a point that the car is on an absolute knife's edge, but produces its maximum amount of speed.
As we hit the track on the lowest downforce setting possible, a mistake was made when my mechanic was adjusting the front wing and, despite my confidence in the racecar, I entered Turn One at 233 mph and the car immediately broke from under me and I hit the wall –- receiving a head impact of 236g. I was stretchered off the track for three days of "sheet-time." The concussion, however, lasted more like a week. A week was all I had until I was due back in the racecar.
The day had come and it was time to strap back in. I lowered my visor and took to the track to repeat the run that had hospitalized me just days earlier. We had no time to build up to speed gradually as qualifying was right around the corner. Once again, I entered Turn One at 233 mph.
I never lifted. And I emerged safely out the other side and was back in the game.
Was I nervous? Of course. Was I scared? No. There is a difference and when racing starts to scare you, it's time to hang up your helmet. Was I an idiot? No. I knew my ability and I knew my machine.
To truly be the best, you must ignore the thoughts of "what if." Again, you must take all precautions and trust in your own ability. But remember that simply being fearless is foolish. Rather we must master the fear through bravery and talent.
That is the key to victory. Naturally, after something has gone wrong this can be tough to achieve. But if you want to win you must get back in the car, squash the negative waves and drive like nothing had ever happened.
I don't condone driving recklessly or stupidly. Racing is very dangerous, as I witnessed first hand last year when I was in the middle of the horrific accident that took the life of my friend Dan Wheldon. But if you are experienced and know what you're doing on the racetrack, have a little extra faith in yourself.
During a practice run keep going deeper and deeper into the turn, bit-by-bit. Don't rush it, but demand you keep venturing toward the next level. Once you get to this new level, you'll realize you did it in a way that was not idiotic at all. Of course, a track with a large run-off area is crucial for drivers to develop this attitude, prior to challenging themselves on a more treacherous racetrack.
Driving like an Idiot does not mean you are suicidal or crazy. It's channeling experience mixed with trust that allows us to achieve things the Reasonable Man can only dream of. The Idiot is astutely aware of the limits and is one with his machine. And from a fan's perspective, watching from the grandstands, the Reasonable Man appears to be the slow idiot. Whereas the Idiot powers by like a legend.
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 good old English cup of tea. But not crumpets.