Five driving tips from a former racecar driver
As a former racecar driver turned writer for Yahoo! Autos, I’ve developed a deep knowledge base for driving fast. In fact, I started racing at just eight years old, making hustling a racecar feel more natural than buying a gallon of milk at Target. It’s also a lot more fun, too. You may think that driving in the Indianapolis 500 bears little relevance to cruising along highways, but the techniques used to drive a car at the limit on track apply to your everyday commute. It’s not about being faster; it’s about being safer.
Here are five tips I learned during my career as a racecar driver that will make you a better driver on the road:
• Look at least two seconds in front: In busy traffic, many drivers simply stare at the car immediately ahead of us; when their brake lights go on, we brake. You want to get into a habit of looking approximately two seconds in front of the leading car - or more. The vehicle you are trailing will be in your peripheral vision but your focus remains squarely on analyzing the road ahead, looking for any potential dangers that may occur. We do this in racing for the same reason, as well as to plan how best to attack the next set of bends. Like anything in life, the wise always plan ahead.
• Make your hands as smooth as silk: Many drivers on the road probably think they are smooth with the steering wheel; in most cases, that assessment would be wrong. Truly being smooth is something that must be practiced - especially when in an evasive maneuver. The smoother we are, the less we upset the car’s balance. Most vehicles’ suspension maintains a soft set up to absorb the bumps, but when it comes to aggressive cornering, excessive body roll can make you lose control. The trick to avoiding an accident is to have fast reactions, all the while ensuring your hand movements are smooth and precise. This prevents the car from bucking like a wild horse, increasing the odds of maintaining control. The same theory applies to racing, only for us, keeping the car’s platform stable allows for a better handling machine throughout the turn. Therefore we can drive faster.
• Brake with your left-foot: If you drive an automatic, and let's face it; most of us do, then you should practice braking with your left foot rather than your right. We do this in racing to minimize the amount of time spent transitioning from the gas pedal to the brake. By utilizing one foot on both pedals, the time saved can be close to half a second; that means we can brake later into a turn. How does this apply to the road? Well, instead of using the time gained to brake later, we can begin braking a half second earlier to avoid a potential incident. You want to hover your left foot over the pedal when traffic gets clustered - being careful not to touch the brake. That might not be particularly comfortable - with slight modifications you can make it work fine - but the benefits outweigh the negatives. When traffic dissipates, you can move your foot over to the dead pedal to relax. One thing to remember: take your time practicing before implementing this technique in heavy traffic. At first, it can feel difficult to modulate the brake pressure and the inexperienced driver may have a tendency to hit the gas instead of the brake. It will take time to break ingrained habits, but it's worth practicing. Left-foot braking is safer and more efficient once you get the hang of it.