Archive for the ‘Motorsport’ Category

Initiate Slowly, React Quickly

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Those are the words of advice I give myself and other race car drivers in tricky and challenging driving conditions, such as when it’s raining: “Initiate slowly, react quickly.”

Driving a race car on a wet and slippery track can be a daunting task, as the traction level of the tires is greatly reduced. Even more challenging, though, is the fact that the car’s tires tend to have grip… and then no grip in a fraction of a second. In other words, one can feel completely in control, and then a fraction of a second later be spinning out of control.

Sound familiar? Sounds a bit like business these days, doesn’t it? Many people claim the economy felt completely in control a few years ago. And then a day later it was spinning out of control and crashing.

When I suggest initiating slowly and reacting quickly with a race car, I’m specifically talking about the use of the steering wheel – the device you set or change the direction of the vehicle with. So, in terms of direction of a business, and handling challenging situations, one should be slow and deliberate in initiating a change in direction. And then, once the steering wheel has been turned, be prepared to make adjustments and corrections to the path you’re on – quickly.

Of course, slow is a relative term. Nothing on a race track happens very slowly. The initial turn of the steering wheel is not something a driver does too slowly. But in comparison to how quickly the driver must make a correction to control a sliding car, it is slow.

Same thing in business. I’m not suggesting that you take forever to initiate a change. In fact, often that is the main problem a business has – taking too long to make a change. But once faced with a change – a corner up ahead – make the initial change in direction relatively slowly. Ease the car into the turn; ease your staff into the change. Be smooth and deliberate. Keep the car (business) as balanced as possible.

But just like being faced with a turn in the roadway ahead, you have to make changes in direction at times. Ignoring the turn is not an option. You have to turn the steering wheel. But do it as gently and deliberately as possible.

And then, once you’ve turned into the corner, making the change in the business’ direction, be prepared to make adjustments and corrections – quickly. Catch the car’s slide before it becomes a big one, something you can’t catch. Too many people and businesses are too slow in reacting to problems. Catch it before you spin out of control.

Of course, whether driving a car or running a business, where you look is where you’re going to go. Focus on the problems and you’ll get them. Focus on the solutions and you’ll get them. Look where you want to go, and you’ll naturally steer that way. To react quickly, you need to change your focus quickly.

Practice this every way you can. Practice initiating your change in direction gently and deliberately, and then reacting and adjusting quickly. Look where you want to go, and not where you don’t want to go. Focus on the solution, not the problem. The more you practice this, the more quickly and naturally you’ll act this way in other situations.

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More High Speed Learning

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Entering a corner with the tires at their ragged edge of grip, the surface of the tires tearing away as they slip, grip, slip, grip… sliding across the track… Wheel to wheel with the number 6 car… Both of us striving to be the fastest through this corner and begin accelerating before the other to gain an advantage…

Number 6 driver turns into the corner and fights his car to get it to follow the line he wants – the ideal, or perfect line. Yeah, that’s the line that should result in the higher speed, all right. But you’ve entered the corner one mile per hour too fast to make it work. You’re not going to be able to make the car follow that line at that speed. You’ve got a choice… and you’ve taken the choice I hoped you’d make. You took the choice that’s going to result in you slowing down your exit speed. Rookie!

Me, I’m on the same line and that same speed. The difference is I take the other choice. I decide that it’s best not to force the car to the perfect line. I decide that in doing that I’d actually slow the car down. So, instead I compromise. Instead, I let the car run free, run a little wide of the ideal line. But in doing so, I carry more momentum through the turn than you. Watch this, rookie!

Driving a race car is much like playing music, dancing, painting a picture, or playing any other sport. Or like many other things in life. In the beginning you follow the rules. You copy the masters, trying to match their brush strokes. You play by the book – the playbook. You do as you were told, as you were taught. You do everything you can to do every minute, subtle technique and skill as perfect as possible. You’re a rookie!

With experience you learn to adapt, though. You learn your own style, not the style of the masters. You learn to improvise.

Mastering any activity is all about compromises. Listen to a musical group that is totally in the zone and you won’t recognize if and when they make a mistake. Why? Because they are very good at making them. So good that they improvise and adapt so that no one even notices.

Driving a race car at the limit is all about compromise. The biggest difference between rookies – even experienced racers who don’t win often – and champions is that the champions are better at making mistakes. They’ve made many more mistakes. They are good at making mistakes. Meaning, they know how to minimize the effects of the mistakes. And they don’t fret them. They don’t try to force their cars to do something that will negatively impact them.

How does this apply to you?

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My Turn to Perform

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I get to focus on my own performance this weekend, rather than other people’s. Okay, I suppose I do that all the time, but this weekend my performance will be a little more visible. I’m racing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race. Yep, driving for 24 hours. Well, not just me… I have three co-drivers. But as this is the biggest and most famous endurance race in North America (second only to Le Mans internationally), I better be at the top of my game!

Actually, I’ve been preparing for this race for the past three months – coaching myself (yes, at the race I’ll have my own coach). This being the 16th time I’ve competed in this race, and having won it once, I know what it takes… and yet I’m stupid enough to come back for more each year!!! I say that because it’s a brutally tough race to compete in – one that I’ve sworn I’d never do again a few times (why do I always forget that feeling when it comes time to do it again?!).

I’m racing a Porsche (can’t go wrong with a Porsche in a long distance endurance race) for the Bullet Racing Team (www.bulletracing.ca), which is based in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada (hey, I hear Vancouver has a little sporting event coming to town next month…).

There are two things that make this year’s race really special.

First, it’s an all-Canadian team. My co-drivers are fellow Canadians, all the crew members are Canadian, and the car is painted red and white with big maple leaves in the graphics. For any athlete, getting to represent your country is something special, and that’s how we’re feeling, being the only Canadian team at Daytona this year.

Second, we’re raising money for B.C. Children’s Hospital. For every lap we do during the race, we’ll be helping the sick kids. And yes, you too can help them by going to www.bulletracing.ca and clicking on the donate button and pledging your support. To know that no matter what happens during the race, we’ll win for the kids is an extra inspiration.

Preparation for a 24-hour race is not much different from preparation for any major event, sporting or business. Only this one takes a little more than usual because of how mentally and physically demanding it is. Preparation is not just one thing – it’s everything.

I have stepped up my fitness training considerably in the past three months, as well as my mental training. Building up my cardio stamina is important, but even more important on the physical side is muscle stamina. Not so much outright strength, but the ability to hold that strength for a long time. In 24 hours I will drive at least four separate stints, ranging from one-and-a-quarter to two-and-a-half hours in length. You may think that driving for an hour or two is not that difficult, but the physical strains from the g-forces will keep my heart rate above 160 beats per minute for the entire time. And just holding my head up straight, with the g-forces pushing on my head and helmet non-stop, is a challenge. Especially after going for 20 hours or so, with next to no sleep.

And then there’s the mental stamina… the mental strain. When I’m driving at speeds of up to 180 MPH with the car on the ragged edge of traction through the turns, I cannot afford to lose focus for even a fraction of a second. It’s unlike any other sport. The competition doesn’t just score a touchdown against us, or I miss the green with a chip shot. No, the consequences of the tiniest mistake are not pleasant. To keep that level of focus for that length of time is something that I train for.

I also prepare through mental imagery (visualization), for as many different scenarios as possible. For the past couple of months I’ve been imaging a variety of scenarios on the track. That does two things: If one of those scenarios occurs, I’m ready – in fact, I’ve already done it before, so I don’t even have to think about what to do. And most importantly, by mentally rehearsing beforehand, I just feel ready. I’m in a performance state of mind. When you consider that on the straightaways I’ll be covering the length of a football field in a second, you can see why being mentally prepared is so important.

There are many other mental preparation techniques that I use, too – techniques I use in my coaching, which comes from sports psychology, martial arts, neuro-science, and other disciplines.

So, it’s my turn to perform at my peak… in public. In fact, 19 of the 24 hours will be covered live on Fox and Speed channels this weekend. Or, online at http://www.grand-am.com/. And, feel free to follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/rossbentley) – I plan to tweet throughout the build-up to the race, and between my driving stints during the race.

Time to perform… I can’t wait… Watch this!

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Best Performance Award

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

The winner of last week’s Worst Performance Award is… me, for focusing on bad performance! So, this week I’m looking for nominations for the Best Performance Award. And just like last week, since it’s the first time I’ve done this, I’m open to any exceptional performance, no matter when it was.

I’m going to open the nominations with two of my own picks – the two most incredible performances I’ve ever seen in my life (and I was fortunate enough to watch them both live on TV).

The first is Franz Klammer’s gold medal winning performance in the 1976 Olympic Downhill event. He may have defined the term “on the edge” with this run. Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVMJKIx34SE to watch it for yourself. Desire and commitment are words that come to mind watching Klammer’s run.

If Klammer was the first to define “on the edge,” my second nominee made it a way of life. No one has ever driven a race car consistently on the edge like Gilles Villeneuve. And his performance in the 1979 French Grand Prix, in his epic battle for second place over the last couple of laps with Rene Arnoux is legendary. Arnoux was driving a Renault, which was a faster car than Villeneuve’s Ferrari, and yet Gilles’ pure determination, desire, commitment (and some would say his lack of fear) is no match. Click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr_6mA8Q2tI – if this doesn’t get your heart pounding, well I don’t know what will!

So, there are two nominations from the sporting world to get you thinking. Use the comment form below and send me your nominations for the Best Performance Award – from the world of sports, music, business, whatever. It could be someone you’ve observed, someone you know, or whoever. Since I’ve had so many Worst Performance Award nominations from the business world, I’d love to hear about an exceptional one – someone must know someone who performed well in the workplace?!

By the way, I’m still getting the odd nomination coming in for the Worst Performance Award, so I’ll keep the nominations open for another week. That gives you time…

Excuse me now… I’m going back to watch these two performances again… and again. They’re so inspirational!

Happy Holidays!

High-Speed Learning

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

In Car photo - smallImagine this: You’re driving a race car. It’s an open-wheel, open-cockpit car, like an Indy car or Formula One car. Bright red. Number 5 on the nose.

Scrunched down in the cockpit, held in place by six seatbelts, clutching the tiny steering wheel, you rush through Turn 1, a sweeping left-hand corner. The g-forces slam your body sideways in the seat, the vibrations rattle your bones, your ears are overwhelmed with the high-pitched scream of the engine, the steering wheel feels like it’s going to be ripped out of your hands at any second, your body is covered in sweat inside your fire-retardant driving suit from the physical exertion and heat from your car, your heart is pounding and adrenalin is flowing, and your vision through the visor of your helmet is a blur other than the point far ahead in the turn. You’re traveling at over 180 MPH, covering the length of a football field in about a second. The car is in a drift, a slide, with the tires slipping just the right amount, the sound of the tires’ rubber being torn away by the surface of the asphalt drowned out by the air rushing past the car. Your head, inside the helmet, is forced backwards from both the 180 MPH wind and the acceleration of the car.

You know that your ability to control the car on that knife edge between not being fast enough and being too fast – on that ragged edge, that if crossed by too much could mean disaster – is dependent on where you place the car as it travels along a pathway through the turns. The right “line” – the invisible pathway that you drive that allows you to go faster than your competition – is crucial. You drive an arc through the turn, maximizing the radius and allowing yourself to begin accelerating out of the turn as soon as possible. You begin this arc from the very outside edge of the track surface, sweeping the car down to the inside of the corner, to the apex of the turn, and then allowing the car to drift all the way to the outside edge of the track again. Outside, inside, outside, describing a large radius through the turn.

Miss any part of that fast line by mere inches and you could find yourself spinning off the track. Or worse, being slower than your competition!

As you power through the turn just before you reach the apex you recognize, through the blur of your peripheral vision, that you’re going to be six inches away from that apex. That conclusion has taken micro-seconds for you to come to, and yet you know the consequences – and they’re not pretty. Instinct begins to kick in and you start to turn the steering wheel more, in an attempt to bring the car closer to the inside edge of the track, to the apex. But if you do that at this speed you will be asking the car to do something it’s not capable of doing. At this speed, with the tires already at the limit of their adhesion, you can’t ask more of them. If you do, they will give up completely, letting go of their grip on the track surface, and you’ll spin off the track.

This is where your years of training and experience come in. This is where you fight your instincts. This is where you let the car go where it wants to go, for there’s no use in trying to force it to do something it can’t.

You’ve made a mistake. But you made it a long time ago – fractions of a second ago, earlier in the corner, where you didn’t turn the steering wheel just quite enough. Does trying to fix the mistake right here and now help? Not in this case. No, the only thing you can do right now is manage the mistake, minimizing the effect of it, and make sure you don’t make that same mistake next lap.

As someone who made his living driving race cars for nearly thirty years, and now makes it helping individuals and teams in business and sports perform at their best, this is an all too familiar situation. I’ve experienced it myself as a driver. And I’ve experienced it when coaching others. In the corporate world, I see someone make a mistake, and then focus all their attention on fixing it right then and there, when in so many situations it’s best to just minimize the effect of it and move on. It’s better to make sure it doesn’t happen “on the next lap” by learning from it, but not to get so focused on it in the moment that it distracts them from where they’re going – down the track and towards the next corner.

Most people who have spent time driving a car on a race track learn this valuable lesson – a lesson that applies to many things other than just the track. If you make a mistake, learn from it, minimize its impact, and then focus ahead on what’s coming up next.

So, heading towards Turn 2, your right foot flat to the floor on the gas pedal, you shift up to sixth gear. Then hard on the brakes to set up for the right-hand corner…

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Success Lessons From The World Of NASCAR

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

nascar.600A recent edition of USA Today (November 6, 2009) ran an article about the consistent success of Hendrick Motorsports’ NASCAR teams. Some would say domination is a better word than consistent success, given that they are closing in on their fourth consecutive NASCAR championship (perhaps taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd). The article is titled, “Happy in the Workplace – Hendricks Motorsports’ people skills key success,” and it provides some lessons that any organization, whether in sport or the business world, can learn from.

General Manager, Marshall Carlson says there are four keys to their success: “Talent, unity, speed, and focus, and all four are about people, not technology or widgets.” Where some teams look to cut costs on hotels and food for their traveling teams (consider that these teams are on the road for at least 36 weekends per year), Hendrick Motorsport “views booking quality hotels and catering healthy meals as essential as top-notch equipment.” In other words, looking after their people.

While most race team managers come from within the sport, Carlson came from Hendrick’s auto dealership empire. He views the running of the race teams no different from running of a car dealership. “They’re a lot less different than you’d think, because the culture is very much aligned.”

“A lot of car dealers put the customer first. At Hendrick Automotive Group, the employee is No. 1 and they’ll take care of the customers because happy customers keep the manufacturers happy. It’s same with the team. We feel if we have smart and talented people happy to be there, we’ll run well. If we run well, the sponsors will be happy. Even in a sport where the technology is very important, the difference is the human capital.”

“Anything that touches people takes precedent, whether it’s food, travel, uniforms, working conditions or health insurance,” he said. “That’s contrary to how some organizations work.”

Hmmm… Happy employees. Ensuring employees are happy is the number one priority, assuming that if they are, they will make sure the customer is happy.

How many companies claim that people are their number one resource, and yet don’t back that up with their actions. In fact, having facilitated strategic planning sessions for companies, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard senior management make that claim, and yet heard from employees that it’s not true. Leaders claiming that employees are most important, and yet acting as though they are really a distant second – or third, fourth, or worse – to anything that leads to short-term financial results seems to be the norm and not the exception.

Let’s go back to what Carlson said were the four keys to their success:

1.     Talent – A happy employee who does not have the skills and knowledge to do the job will not lead to consistent success. What he doesn’t say is that, for the most part, skills and knowledge can be acquired.

2.     Unity – This is all about teamwork, all about people working together as a unit.

3.     Speed – When one hears a person in motorsport talk about speed, you can’t help but think he’s talking about the car. But in this case, Carlson is talking about people. Having spent years around high-performing race teams (and some low-performing ones), I know that he’s talking about how having the right systems and processes in place, good people will perform quickly and efficiently.

4.     Focus – Happy, talented employees, working together within great systems will not perform well if they’re headed in the wrong direction. Well, duh. Focus is critical.

But here’s the point: Talented employees, working together as a team with great systems, and focused in the right direction will not perform consistently well if they’re unhappy. I can think of one specific race team that I was involved with where this was the case. They had incredibly talented people. They worked well together, as a team. They had fantastic, well-designed systems and processes in place. And they were very focused on what was important and what needed to be done. But it was not a “happy workplace.” And they under-performed.

Lesson learned.

Racing as a Laboratory

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

I’m fortunate person.

I’ve spent over 30 years, now, driving race cars. Wow, have a learned a lot in that time. Just imagine the things I’ve learned about racing in that amount of time, especially since I’ve been able to compete at some of the highest level of the sport: Indy cars, prototype sports cars, Trans-Am, road and oval racing. But, you know what? I’ve learned more FROM racing than I’ve learned about racing. Racing is an amazing laboratory.

In many things we do in our lives, and particularly business, things happen slower than they do in racing. If you make a change in how you perform a skill in the workplace, it may take weeks, months, or even years for the affect to fully be seen. If you change a process or technique, the same is true.

In racing, if I change the way I perform a skill, process or technique, often I know the affect it had within seconds; at the most, within a minute or two, or by the end of the race in a couple of hours. From a scientific testing point of view, this is great – a controlled environment where you can try many variations and observe the results in a quantifiable way within a short period of time. In fact, that could even be a definition of racing: a controlled environment where you can try many variations and observe the results in a quantifiable way within a short period of time. Nah, I’ll stick with calling it “racing.”

This is how I’ve been able to learn so much about performance. I’ve exposed myself to a huge number of performance-enhancing (all legal!) techniques and strategies, and then been able to test them in a relatively short period of time. I’ve learned what works a lot, what works a little, and what doesn’t work. I’ve used myself and some of the drivers I’ve coached as “lab rats.” (I don’t feel bad about using my driver clients as test subjects, since they’ve always ended up benefiting from it).

When I say racing provides short-term answers to performance questions, I’m not suggesting that the sport does not have long-term issues. In fact, one of the things that separate the most successful in the sport from the rest is their ability to plan and strategize. That’s where racing and business is no different: the consistent successful performers plan for the future.

I wonder how many other activities have similar laboratory attributes as racing – what other things can be used to test methods for enhancing performance, like racing offers? I wonder how many other activities can be thought of, and used for, “learning labs”?

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Many race drivers drive in the comfort zone. None of these drivers are champions. Champions spend very little time in the comfort zone – at least not the comfort zone that most drivers would define. See, champions’ comfort zones are actually uncomfortable. They feel comfortable being uncomfortable. They feel comfortable pushing the limits. They feel at home just slightly over the limit.

I think successful business people are the same. They are most comfortable when they are pushing the limits of what others might perceive as “not possible.” When the common approach to a business issue or challenge is presented, they ask, “why?” Just because it’s been done that way in the past, doesn’t mean it has to continue that way. They’re always looking for a new and better method – they’re pushing the limits of perceptions. When faced with a “limit” – deadlines, revenue numbers, growth, etc. – they push into what many would feel uncomfortable doing. They are most at ease when they feel slightly stretched, slightly uncomfortable.

Notice I never said, “beyond the limit.” That would be out of control. That’s beyond being uncomfortable – that’s stupid! Great business people, like great race drivers, can balance on that edge – in fact, hanging just over that edge, but not falling off.

So, why are successful business people more comfortable being uncomfortable than the less successful? The same reason champion race drivers are comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s their programming. But where did the programming come from? That’s the real question, for if we know that, we should be able to replicate it.

Where does most of our programming come from? Experience – things that have happened in the past. That’s where most of it comes from. If you read about the careers of champion race drivers, you’ll find a common thread amongst most of them: A desire or passion to succeed combined with some period of time that just plain sucked. Few, if any, champions had a perfectly easy time on the way to the top. They had a childhood filled with struggles; they had a season or more filled with struggles; they had some length of time where things did not go well. But, where some would have accepted the situation, they pushed through – their desire and passion forced them to push through. And, in doing so, they enjoyed the feeling of living on the edge. Understand, this living on the edge may have been for a period of years, or for a few fractions of a second. Whatever the length of time, if you asked them today to describe it, they could in great detail. And that’s the difference between champions and everyone else – it’s what they have done with that time of struggle, that time just over the limit. They’ve used it to build their programming.

Successful business people are very similar. They’ve been through a “hell and back” situation at least once, and then used that to build upon their programming. Less-successful business people may have been through a similar situation, but it’s what they did with it that made the difference. The successful ones learned from it. I know, you hear that all the time about successful people – it’s what they learn from their experience that makes the difference. That’s almost a corny cliché. But remember what learning really is – it’s programming. It’s not being able to recite the “lessons” learned from the past. It’s having programmed those experiences. And I think that’s a differing factor – less-successful people can recite their lessons, while the successful ones have made it a part of their programming.

Successful people – whether in business, racing, or whatever – replay their uncomfortable experiences in their minds over and over. They not only see themselves pushing through it, but they feel the emotions of it, they feel the feelings they had, and they feel themselves enjoying it. They program feeling comfortable being uncomfortable. Less successful people may replay those same situations, but they feel themselves being uncomfortable – they program being uncomfortable being uncomfortable. Is it any wonder they like to stay in what it usually considered the comfort zone?

So, what’s wrong with feeling comfortable – what’s wrong with performing in your comfort zone? Your perceptions and expectations play a strong role in developing this comfort zone, and rarely are they going to match reality all the time. No matter how much experience and knowledge you and others around you have, things will not turn out exactly as planned. And guess what? You will rarely, if ever, exceed your perceptions and expectations. If you do, it’s more a matter of luck than anything else.

Golfers prove this all the time. They have the expectations of shooting an 85, for example, and then start off hitting the ball really well, playing “like magic.” In fact, they are playing so well, that if they kept it up they’d end up with an 82. Of course, you know what happens. Around the 14th hole (or earlier), when they realize what score they could end up with, they begin thinking about why they are playing so well, and stop relying on their programming to hit the ball. As soon as that happens, they hit the ball into the water, in a sand trap, or into the trees. They are lucky to end up shooting an 87, and they walk away thinking, “If only…”

If you’re comfortable only performing in your comfort zone, as soon as variables make it look as if you may have to operate outside that zone, you feel anxiety. You feel uncomfortable. And do you perform better or worse when you’re anxious, when you’re uncomfortable? The ironic thing is that you could still be in your comfort zone, but beginning to feel uncomfortable thinking about having to be outside that zone. In other words, you’re uncomfortable being comfortable, when you should be feeling comfortable being uncomfortable!

Do you have a past experience where you were a little over the edge? If so, replay it in your mind, over and over again. But see and feel yourself enjoying that feeling. You may have to give your imagination a real workout to get it to NOT feel uncomfortable being uncomfortable, but it can be done. If you can use your imagination to the point where you feel yourself get edgy – your blood starts pumping, your heart rate speeds up, your palms get a bit sweaty – then you’re really there. Imagine that – what a great feeling it is to be slightly over the edge of comfort, but you’re controlling it. You can stop it at any time, but you don’t because you’re enjoying the feeling of being slightly uncomfortable. You’re pushing the limits.

When you look at what you’ve committed to – deadlines, workload, revenue numbers, margins, expenses, processes, learning, etc. – are you slightly beyond the limit, or just at the limit?

Are you comfortable being comfortable right now?

Or, are you comfortable being uncomfortable? Are you stretched enough? Are you pushing the limits of your perceptions and expectations, and of others’ perceptions and expectations?

What is your comfort zone? Is it knowing that you can turn that lap time lap after lap? Or, are you on the ragged edge, not knowing for sure you can repeat it, but knowing that you’ll have such a lead that no one can catch you?

Do you need to do some programming of being comfortable being uncomfortable?