"You need to be smoother," mentioned my friend who'd taken out the Lancer. I couldn't concentrate on it. I was in such a whirling hellhole of self-pity, worry and doubt that the only way I could semi-cheer myself up was to stop thinking and hoon my way out of it.
Several weeks ago, I was having one of the worst weeks I'd had all year. I decided I should spend a little quality track time in the Lancer, since this could be the last time I would be able to do it for a while. I had been unexpectedly let go from my day job—the one that pays all of my bills on a regular basis—right in the middle of preparing the 944 for a trackday and the November LeMons race. Any planned upgrades to the car were now in limbo, along with any plans to pay bills, buy food and avoid living in a Porsche down by the river.
The Porsche, predictably, was having some issues. The exhaust had broken off and was just dangling on the hook, and I couldn't remember if I had the old car's exhaust laying around somewhere. The 944 kept throwing alternator belts off because the alternator pulleys were out of alignment and and the unit itself was not charging anything anymore. If I couldn't find my spare alternator, a new one was going to be at least $150 or so that I didn't have. Surprise!
To say I was a little down in the dumps would be an understatement. I'd basically retreated to my apartment for a week, struggling to find the energy to do much.
Confession time: it's hard for me to feel as if I'm actually good at anything. Sure, I can bounce around and stick Fluffy Bunny into a Lotus air intake, but there's always going to be a better photographer who'll get a great angle on Fluffy's snout that I never would've thought of, or a far more eloquent soul who'll explain the historical significance of what Bunny's butt is squeezed in far better than I could.
There are activities like driving on a racetrack where I realize that I'm new at it and can feel better knowing that given my lack of experience, I'm doing fine. I have trouble coping with the rest, though. I often feel unwanted or like I have nothing to contribute because I'm not a standout at much of anything. I've struggled with depression in the past. It sucks, and it gets worse when I'm stressed.
Let me put it this way: savasana is the yoga pose I suck at the most. That's the one where you're just supposed to lie down, free your mind of thoughts and just be there at rest. I can never slow down my stupid head for long enough to get the intended relaxing effects of that pose. Stress is a major, ongoing issue for me.
Knowing that nothing ever good comes of me staying at home to wallow in self-pity, I signed up to help with a trackday that weekend. I have to force myself to get out of the house where I can't cry, mope or otherwise be completely unproductive.
Afterwards, there was a bit of extra time where the trackday sessions had ended, but those still lingering around could go out and play. One of my friends who'd been instructing mentioned that his car was down for the day, so I said, "Drive my Lancer."
"Don't bin it because I can't really afford to fix anything right now, but I'd really like to see how someone who knows what they're doing drive it."
So, off we went. Immediately, I noticed that he was a lot smoother than I was, and was carrying more speed over the bump at turn nine. I'd been lifting off there because of a dip that had formed on the apex of the turn. I'm sure I'd heard from drivers of stiffer cars that the bump was big, bad and horrible, so I wasn't hitting it at speed lately. The bump falls under the wheels that aren't loaded up with weight in that turn, though, so there doesn't seem to be any reason why I'd lift there.
We came in, and I went back out in to drive my car, trying my hardest to make smoother inputs. I couldn't concentrate on that. I came back in after a little while, annoyed that I was unable to quit worrying about stuff for long enough to get some simple track time.
One of my friends had been timing me. "You ran like, a 1:44."
No. No. No. No. No.
This car does a 1:37 when I run it on a good day. Now I was just mad. I stewed a little bit in anger before going back out. Forget concentrating on being smoother with turn-ins or braking. I'm just going to hoon it like I usually hoon it and have as much fun messing around as possible.
I laid down the angriest set of laps I've ever done. Better.
Why did I ever lift at turn 9? Going flat over that bump is hilarious! This car's so soft that the bump barely affects it.
And turns 1 and 2? Usually I lift before 1 in case there's any traffic coming down pit-out, but there was no one left here at that point. Wailing through the left-hand turn 1 and catching the little slide to make the sharper, right-hand turn 2 is one of the best things ever. Getting these two turns right is what I think of whenever I have to find my happy place.
I came back in when it was officially time for the track to go cold and couldn't stop laughing. I had a complete 180 from when I had gone out in the car, angry with life, the universe and everything. All I could talk about was hooning the car: not stress, money, jobs or failure, but just going out and enjoying my vehicle.
So, I wondered if this was actually a healthy way to manage stress. My mood went from "I hate everything," to "that was the most fun I've had on a racetrack in a very, very long time" for the rest of the evening. Even the next day wasn't as bad. I am Stef. I hoon Lancers. I have to do something productive today.
I Googled it a bit, not going to lie. Sure enough, finding time to do activities that aren't related to a job search is recommended as a means to avoid falling into that all-consuming abyss of woe and uselessness. The Mayo Clinic recommends both connecting with others as well as physical activity as means to alleviate stress. Both of those can be found in the inherently social environment of getting in some track time. (Don't step out of the car all sweaty and try to argue that it isn't physical. It most definitely is.)
Furthermore, positive experiences that bring gratification and joy, like pounding on my Lancer for a little while, create what psychologists call "positive affect." Positive affect cues the brain to release dopamine and endorphins that help you counter the effects of stress.
So, there you have it: track time is good for you, provided that it's something you actually enjoy. I recommend getting more of it.
Photo credit: Thomas Endesfelder (top)