CONTROL in Racing

I met Hans many years ago when I was running an old Bugeye at Road Atlanta in the 80s. He’s a philosophical kind of guy… especially when he has a few weiss  biers in him.  He told me once “I firmly believe that the driver’s mental state, perception and confidence are make or break factors in whether a driver brings the car straight back to the paddock or make s a detour to the podium on the way.” I like him and while he does make some crazy statements sometimes, he backs them up… eventually. I’ll try to get him to write an article every now and then. This is his first. I think you’ll like him too.

Control          By Hans Hinternfusse                        

I’d like to address the term CONTROL. In racing, we often run a fine line. It’s controlling a balance of maintaining fast lap times and consistent lines, the inputs from steering, pedals, seat, dash, gauges, officials, flags, crew on the radio, awareness of position on track and in the field you are running with mixed with moments of potential danger in passing or other variables that require creative problem solving on the fly and quick judgment.

The word control comes from Medieval Latin “contrarotulus” and it referred to the one who kept accounts or the “roll”. He was the CPA and information manager in the days of yore. If there was a problem, the record keeper was called in to resolve it as he had mastery over all the information. So to be clear, the word control means mastery.  Dominion.

Frequently, we hear a driver say “I dominated the field today! “  The implication is that he controlled the race from start to finish and defeated his opponents by a large margin. He could pass anyone at will, no one came close and he took the checker with no threats behind him. Total Control. This is the dream that many drivers pursue. That feeling of mastery. But I would like you to consider this : DOMINATION IS NOT REALLY CONTROL.

If you ever go to a backgammon tournament, you will see the best players win by a mere two to three pips on the average game. The competitors will tell you that a resignation is a win but winning by one pip is the most satisfying of all wins. A winning NASCAR crew chief seldom has 8 or 9 gallons of gas still in his tank at the end of a race and if he does, it was to adjust for a poor handling car or …he was very lucky.  My point is this : TRUE CONTROL is winning while conserving all your resources and winning by a small margin. Your aim in conducting a winning race should NOT be domination. I’m sure some of you are wondering what this crazy German is talking about but… please continue reading the following support to my premise.

  1. If you have total control then there is no need to use up more of your car, tires or fuel than is absolutely necessary to win. Real control means you are able to accomplish a win with the least amount of wear and tear on your car. Winning by a large margin means only that that you used more than was necessary to accomplish the win which… is not control.
  2. Part of winning is finishing. It’s really really hard to win without it. By winning by a large margin, you pushed harder than was necessary and exposed your car to more risk of incident and mechanical failure due to stress than was necessary. That’s not control either. How many times have you seen someone use up their tires and go from first to last, or worse… to the pit?
  3. Winning by a large margin tends to demoralize your fellow in class drivers. These are guys and gals you are wheel to wheel with at high speed whether you are 10th or in 1st. It pays to keep good relationships with your competitors. Think about it from their perspective. If you lose and you gave it your all, you can usually identify specific areas that “made the difference”. Your tires were old or the wrong compound, alignment was off, need more seat time, or maybe you were hot and tired and lost focus. When you lose by a large margin, there is no one thing that could make the difference. It’s frustrating. It hurts. What is the result? There may be arguments. There may be protests. There may be irritated glances implying “what goes around comes around.” Sometimes people get fed up and leave the class as they feel they have no chance to win… and that is key. A fair competition is one where every driver feels they have a chance to win. Dominating races make people lose that feeling and soon, you are winning in a class with little or no competition. In Germany we say, “Big fish, Little Pond.”
  4. Domination over a period of time results in another negative. Rule changes. We have all seen where major changes in rules occurred to achieve balance between cars in class that came about due to regular domination. By showing “All that you have” you open the door to losing your advantage. You lose those advantages all because you wanted the ego boost of being able to say “I dominated the field. “ Rather short sighted in the big picture.

Racing is an art of balancing many things including your ego, egos of other drivers and managing advantages. 1/10 of a second is a tremendous advantage over the course of a lap and sometimes the best way to keep that advantage is NOT to use it. Adjust your mind set that real control is accomplishing the win by the smallest of margins while using up the least amount of your available resources and energy. If you can do this and win, the pleasure of looking your fellow drivers in the eye and saying “I got lucky today” will be far more satisfying that dominating the field. And more importantly, you will be a winner that no one hates to see win. Think about it. I’ve found a good German beer is an effective tool to enhance the thinking process.


Article by Ted Theodore ,  published on The Southern Driver Web Site  2011