I think it’s safer in Nextel
November 25, 2006
What sets racing drivers apart from the rest of us, and indeed from most athletes in other sports, is their ability to concentrate and focus . . . to make split-second decisions, hundreds of them, at 190 miles per hour, when one bad decision can spell the difference between victory and disaster.
I was reminded of this when Jimmy Johnson was asked after the Homestead race whether the red flag that halted the action in the closing laps affected his concentration. And Johnson didn’t lose focus then, or at any other time, coming back from a disastrous start to both the season and the Chase to win his first Nextel Cup Championship.
And to people like the folks who called or e-mailed Dave Despain’s Wind Tunnel show on SPEED last Sunday to complain about Johnson’s “points racing,” I say that you don’t have a clue. Jimmy has won more than his share of races, and I don’t consider coming back from a 40th-place restart to finish in the top 10 in the last race of the season to be “just riding around.”
Back to the subject of racing drivers and their powers of concentration on the task at hand-driving. To illustrate, I’ll share a recent experience that pointed up the difference between racers and the driving public in general. I broke a long-standing rule and ventured into the “shopping zone” on the day after Thanksgiving.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one of those crazed folks who get up at 4 a.m. to go shopping. Get up at 4 a.m. to go to a race, OK . . . but shopping? That’s just crazy!
Anyway, I noticed that while the professional shoppers may be able to maintain concentration on the task of bargain-hunting, that focus does not carry over into their driving. I am often compelled to shake my head in dismay, mutter under my breath, or stare in sheer disbelief at the antics of those with whom I share the road on a daily basis, but the day after
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Thanksgiving shoppers take bad driving to new lows.
Now, I’m used to left-lane bandits around here, but it seems as though holiday shoppers make “slow traffic keep left” a rule. And if you honk your horn at a shopper when the light turns green and they’re engaged in perusing a sales flyer, be prepared for glares and upraised fingers.
And the parking lots in the big shopping centers? Forget it! They’ll go for an empty parking space like Robby Gordon trying to fit through a hole in traffic that isn’t there. Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m going to have a friend disable all my vehicles next Thanksgiving night, and not tell me what he did to them until Sunday.
Questionable street driving brings us to our next topic, winter driving. There’s a storm coming in today, and they’re predicting snow on the valley floor.
Given that the weather forecasters are only right about 40 percent of the time, there’s still a chance for some dodgy driving conditions come Monday morning. So here are my winter driving tips, based on what I’ve learned in driving schools and on the race track (winter driving is much like race driving, just at slower speeds).
1. Remember, I just said “slower speeds.'” Slow down! You have far less control on snowy or icy pavement, so give yourself time to react by driving slower. Note: Four wheel drive helps you go in the snow, but it doesn’t stop you any better.
2. Use gentle inputs on all your controls . . . acceleration, braking, steering. Stabbing the pedals and yanking on the wheel will get you into trouble faster than anything.
3. Leave more distance between yourself and the car ahead of you. Braking is less effective on slick surfaces, and bump drafting is definitely not encouraged.
4. Carry emergency equipment with you, especially if you’ll be traveling in the mountains. Chains, an ice-scraper, gloves, boots, cell phone, a blanket, water, and flares should all be onboard.
5. Finally, if it’s REALLY bad outside, consider staying home. The boss will understand if you don’t come to work until the roads are plowed.