Driving your conventional 4-door sedan may not seem to have anything in common with the experience of driving a . The former is for average folk, while the latter is for the exceptionally gifted drivers out there, and it’s fair to assume all racing skills are only useful for race tracks.
But they’re not worlds apart.
In fact, there are a number of driving techniques you can learn from a race car driver, that will help make your daily drive to work or those summer road trips better. Not only are they good for improved performance, they’re actually great for your safety as well.
Here are some of the proven techniques used by actual race-car drivers on track that you should practice every time you get behind the wheel. They’ll make your soul-sucking commute more fun AND make you a better driver — then maybe you’ll put your phone down for two seconds and stop being a menace to society.
1. Don’t focus on the car in front of you
If you keep your eyes glued to the car ahead of you, that’s a big no-no. There’s a ton of reasons this is unsafe, primarily because you’re more likely to do whatever that driver does. On a race track, that might mean taking a bad line (aka, following another driver and putting your car in a bad position).
In the real world, it can be a bit more deadly. Do you really want to trust the texting teenager in front of you? Of course not.
2. Use your eyes like a camera
Let’s start with your eyes and brain here. On the track, a race car driver uses his or her eyes like a film camera, capturing different “shots”, primarily focusing on what’s far ahead of them or where they want to go. They’re not fixed just on what’s directly in front of them.
This is an important skill for you as a driver. Too many people fix their eyes on the car ahead of them, rather than the flow of traffic in the distance. For a race car driver, doing so means putting yourself in a bad position. For you, that could mean ending up in a serious or fatal accident.
Keep this in mind: your brain needs time to process the road conditions ahead, and you can only do so if you have time to see what’s taking place beforehand. That calls for looking into the distance, not the foreground.
3. Weight Transfer
Probably one of the lesser-considered factors by many casual race fans, the principle of weight transfer is rooted in just about every aspect of the car’s performance; it doesn’t matter how powerful your engine is if you can’t apply that power effectively when and how you want it. Whether transferring forward, rearward, to the side or a combination thereof, weight transfer affects the amount of grip each tire will offer you.
Understanding how to manipulate this will assist your proficiency with other maneuvers and allow you to manipulate the car’s rotation with throttle and brake inputs. Although it may be less exciting than other concepts, it’s essential for maintaining positive vehicle control and driving to the limit.
4. Smooth Driving
Speaking of the importance of weight transfer, smooth driving plays a role in it as well; in essence, if weight transfer affects most of your maneuvers including something as simple as straight-line braking, it can be said that smooth driving affects your overall ability to drive.
Related: 7 Simple Ways to Improve Gas Mileage
Now, the first time we ever got behind the wheel of something very powerful, smooth driving was probably the last thing on our minds (or the last thing on my 16 year old mind anyway). All I wanted to do was slam through all the gears and make as much noise as possible. Smooth driving as it pertains to racing, however, should be one of the most important areas of improvement for you before trying to get all crazy, there will be plenty of time for that.
5. One move at a time
For some odd reason, a lot of drivers think the busier they are behind the wheel, the better their driving skills are. They believe the constant steering, braking, accelerating and shifting of gears makes them more skilled since they’re able to multitask so well. They are mistaken. Watch a race one day – the occasional dash cam footage will show a level of stillness you may have not noticed before. The driver is usually focused on turning the wheel.
They maintain this focus to avoid losing control of their cars. Anytime they accelerate, brake or steer, there is the potential of breaking traction, which isn’t always desirable. A loss of traction is something you certainly don’t want as a driver, especially when the roads are slippery due to rain or ice. Unless you have refined chops as a racer yourself, you’ll want to maintain a smooth and steady drive by focusing on one thing at a time, without steering or braking/accelerating too hard.
6. Focus on where you want the car to end up
Hand-eye coordination is a wonderful thing. By focusing your eyes on the spot where you want to be, and not where you think you’re actually going, you’ll unconsciously adjust your hands and feet (the wheel, brake, and gas pedal) to help get the car to the right spot.
7. Grip the wheel…and pull
Here’s a strange tip: don’t just grip the wheel, pull it. Race car drivers practice this weird little hack to gain superior control of their steering. So if the driver has to turn left, for example, they’ll pull down with their left hand (or if making a right, they’ll push down with the right) as if this allows for more dexterity and as a result, more control (although some recommend pulling down and pushing up with one hand).
For both race car drivers and yourself, more dexterity and control means a better driving experience. In terms of safety, you can weave around obstacles such as potholes, or distracted drivers instantaneously. Also, sharp turns that require plenty of stability won’t faze you.
8. Brake with your left foot
Many of the world’s best race-car drivers brake with their left. On an automatic, you can use it 100% of the time, and on a manual, you can use it whenever you don’t need to shift.
By keeping your left foot hovering above the brake pedal (not on it, unless you want your brake lights on all day, which is obnoxious), you’re seriously reducing the time it takes to start slowing down in an emergency.
At highway speeds, that can mean stopping 50ft earlier for the average driver. Thats… a lot.