A View to a Hill

Sitting in the passenger seat of a 2000 Carrera I watched the scenery go by in that section of MidOhio known officially as “Madness”. The driver of this fine example of Stuttgart’s art, a medical doctor from the Pittsburgh area, was a good student. He learned the line quickly and gave no indication of doing anything stupid, so I was relaxing a bit on the second day of Allegheny’s final Driver’s Education event of the year. The weather was good, the trees were near their peak of Autumn splendor, and the Porsche was humming along quite nicely.

(Click to enlarge image of MidOhio from the co-pilot’s seat of Dan’s Cessna) The objective of this session was to relate the importance of vision, of scanning the track and the features, which surround it, and partially in anticipation of the dreaded removal of the cones which would happen at noon that Sunday. The lesson was being given, however, primarily for imparting the fundamental importance of using one’s eyes while driving to help get the car headed where one wants it to go and to be aware of more than just what is directly front of the car.

If I had not been so engaged, letting my eyes roam over the track well ahead of the Polar Silver Carrera as well as the landscape surrounding it, practicing what I was preaching, I would never have seen him standing there in his full-length fur coat, watching the cars go by from his vantage point atop the wall in the photographer’s break in the track fencing. For two laps he was there, unperturbed by the sound of the cars and seemingly oblivious of the corner worker directly across the track. I was tempted to point out this native observer of the action on the track to the doctor/student, but I did not want to break his concentration so I let the momentary observation pass.

Some of you may be familiar with the Bertil Roos School of racing and high performance driving. If my sometimes reliable memory serves me correctly, it was once known as the “ocular school” of performance driving, or something like that. Anyway, the teaching philosophy of the school was reportedly that the driver’s vision was absolutely critical to successful high performance driving and racing. The school’s curriculum was built at least in part around that principle.*

But I digress.

After two laps he must have tired of standing on the concrete wall and retreated to his burrow which I assume was located under the tire barrier in front of the wall. After all, how much interest can a ground hog have in human beings turning money into noise on a Sunday morning?

(click on image to enlarge) Lap after lap I told this student, as I try to tell all the others when we get to that point in their track experience, to “Look up”; to take their eyes off the pavement in front of the car and to see down the track and all around. I admonish them to find a point of reference for the turn-in points or targets out yonder to drive towards: things that won’t move and can always be counted on to help lead one to the desired line. Billboards, trees, light poles, buildings, and tire walls are all good reference points. And on the street it is just as important, and too often ignored.

You do not have to be at the track, or even engaged in spirited driving on your favorite back road to practice this fundamental attribute of good driving. Do it all the time. Pride yourself on knowing what is going on down the road and you will be prepared for what it presents when you get there. Look down the freeway to see what is happening. Scan the intersection ahead, well before you get there so you can anticipate the next bone-headed move you will undoubtedly encounter from a fellow motorist. Watch the ground under the vehicle parked by the road ahead, to see those telltale feet moving around the front of the car which may portend the presence of a person in the roadway at an inconvenient time. All these things you must do in addition to watching your speedometer, your gauges in general, the road signs ahead, the action in your mirrors, and the fool just in front of you.

You might even find that the wildlife beside the road is watching you in return.

(* The website of the school does not mention this teaching method, but I would suspect that it is still regarded as a key element. http://www.racenow.com/home.htm ) Woodchuck photo reproduced with permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2002.

© W. S. Cline; Rose Lane Garage 2002

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