I stood at the base of The Esses and took in the perspective of the track from the pavement. Turn 3’s rise seemed much steeper than it looks from the stands, and it banked sharply to the left, with no view over the crest. The huge billboards lining the approach screamed in bold colors and words, so crisp now, but no doubt a blur for drivers taking the turn at high speed. The formidable setting reminded me powerfully of skiing; I had the sense of a landscape moving by quickly, of decisions made in split seconds, and the feel of a body shifting effortlessly from side to side. In either sport, when it’s done right it’s sublime.
Thirty of us – high-performance drivers and a few, like me, tag-alongs with cameras – were walking the track at Watkins Glen International, with former race car driver and driving consultant, Peter Argetsinger. Racing had ended for the day, the track was “cold”, and we were here to learn its secrets. A track walk meant piling into pickups and SUVs and driving to each turn, scrambling out and studying the line and potential hazards, asking questions, and jumping back into our rides to proceed onward toward the finish.
Without the steady whine and hum of sports car engines, the track was eerily quiet. Clouds were gathering like wisps of smoke over our heads, and the setting sun was dragging with it the warmth of the day. Peter’s voice carried over the rolling pavement and park-like infield: “Don’t be afraid to sacrifice speed for balance”, he said, describing this tricky section, one of the toughest in racing.
It’s balance that gets you the quickest lap time, not pushing the accelerator to the floor, losing control, and adjusting to make up for the error. You’re tempted to go full throttle – in racing or in skiing – but it’s balance that takes you over the rise in one piece. It’s speed with balance, in a formula unique to each individual, that produces the perfect run or, if you’ll indulge me, the fulfilled life.
Fear holds us back from reaching our full potential, and in this case it shackles with a subtle twist: we can be afraid of not going full out, because that’s all we know how to do. We think we’re being brave and bold and daring by traveling through life at speed, but that bluster may mask the truth. There’s a fear that if we back off and see the landscape a little more slowly we may lose in some way. We won’t be keeping up.
If you are not afraid, though, sacrificing speed for balance will enable you to learn the track, your track. You’ll read the billboards and use them as markers. Each turn will become a sweet challenge, a chance to apply hard won knowledge in the moment. You’ll ease into the straights and check your mirrors. You’ll be present, and time will slow. Instead of striving to win in every second, you’ll relax into the simple joy of flying around the course.