Volume 46 Issue 9
Apr 24, 2021
Dom Miliano reviews two book to help improve your performance while driving your Ferrari
In the spring a young man’s fancy (and a young woman’s) turns to … driving the Ferrari tucked away in the garage. With warm weather on the horizon, everyone in the colder climates is planning long drives with the windows open and the engine singing Italian opera at full song.
It’s why you own a Ferrari and as someone once said, “If you don’t get it, I can’t explain it to you.” Of course, before you take your baby out for its first big drive, you probably do some fundamental maintenance tasks. Tire pressures, oil level, a loving wash and wax are on the “to-do” list. But what are you doing about the most important part of any Ferrari? That would be – The Nut That Holds the Wheel – by the way, that’s you! I have a suggestion…
I have been driving since the Johnson Administration (LBJ, not Andrew) and have been a car nut every minute of those years. The first time I rode in a sports car with someone who knew how to drive I found out that I had a lot to learn about behind-the-wheel skills.
Along the way, I attended professional driving schools like Skip Barber and signed up for car club high performance driver events (HPDE) and Driver Education sessions at racetracks from Sebring to Road America.
I have even ridden right seat with some of the best drivers in the sport as well, hoping that some of their magic would rub off. I tried to be a sponge and soak up every trick, nuance, and tidbit of advice that would make me better, safer, and on the track, a fraction faster.
When I wasn’t on the road or at a track, I bought books written by the world’s most famous drivers so I could further gain their insights into proficiencies that I wanted – make that needed! I discovered (sadly) that being a great driver doesn’t always make you an effective educator. While many of the books I read were interesting, most were only a little helpful. They all were lacking that cohesive thread that solved the performance-driving puzzle for me. That was until I found two of the best books for making the reader a better driver – not just on the track, but on the road too.
I attended a seminar recently where a driver / driver coach named Ross Bentley spoke; giving the crowd insights unto what he thought “performance driving” was and how anyone – even a person who just drove on the street – could learn something he called a “lost art”.
Bentley has the credentials to make his approach credible. He is a well-known performance driving coach, racing driver, author and speaker. His performance coaching spans executive / business coaching to sports. Plus, his DNA is strong, having grown up in a racing household.
During his seminar, he mentioned his latest book called “The Lost Art of High-Performance Driving”. The book’s subtitle told me that this could be a great book to recommend to every Ferrari driver – “How to Get the Most Out of Your Modern Performance Car”.
Bentley first defines what he calls high-performance driving – and achieving it is a real stretch in a world of distractions like cell phones, satellite radio, and mind-numbing traffic jams. He defines it as, “doing or performing everything behind the wheel at the highest level possible.” He doesn’t cut the reader any slack stating that this encompasses all aspects of the driving process – parking, smooth blending into a congested line of traffic, and precisely matching revs as you make a perfect downshift.
Of course, cornering on a racetrack comes into the description too – in sections specifically devoted to track events - but he emphasizes that you can be a high-performance driver without ever turning a wheel at the track.
He came by his philosophy when, on the way home from a long day running his driving instruction business, he lost focus and, on a stretch of road he knew well, he hit a manhole cover. It shocked him and told him that, although he had been executing a perfect drive up to that point, he had lost focus and it cost him.
He made up his mind from that point to make it his goal to execute every drive perfectly. He said that focusing on “the perfect drive” made him a high-performance driver. This, he says, kept him single-minded and awake. He freely admits that he has never achieved that perfect drive but he keeps working at it.
The book goes on to describe the steps that he follows on every drive as he strives for a perfect drive.
His goals for the reader are simple: to make us aware of our habits, both good and bad. Prepare us to learn more about driving every time we get behind the wheel. Provide us with both the theory and, more important, the practice of high-performance driving. To help us understand our modern (and not so modern) car – its technology and limitations. To inspire us to want to constantly learn and improve our driving. And, finally, to have fun!
Chapter and Verse – Every aspect of driving is discussed in easy to understand detail. He starts with what he calls in chapter 1 the Performance Driver’s Mindset.
He preaches that we should not be constantly looking to develop a particular skill or insight. What you should develop is “a burning desire to learn and improve” while keeping “an open mind to new techniques and approaches.”
He writes about “Responsibility” and “Being a Role Model”. After reading his description of what that means, I decided to follow what he calls “the yawn effect”. He also describes it as “collaborative” driving and setting an example.
I tested this for several days at an intersection by my house that, via a left turn, leads cars onto the highway. A block down from that intersection is a traffic light and when it’s red, people are supposed to leave the left turn lane open so traffic can cross. People don’t always obey the sign but when they do, I made sure that I tooted my car’s horn or flashed my lights or waved a thanks buddy thumbs up to the people who did.
I then watched in my rear view mirror and, to my great amazement, the stream of cars behind me benefitted from the good will or collaboration I spread, letting the cars make the left, long after the light up stream turned red. And this wasn’t an isolated case.
Without exaggeration, the scene has been replayed many times and with the same effect. Score one for High-Performance Driving!
He goes on to caution the reader to “Watch Your Speed”. He cites examples of traveling at the posted speeds and while on the highway I tend to live by the “I’m safe at 10 over”, I have made a point to stick closer to the posted limits and as a result I have noticed less of the New Jersey, “I’m a race car driver and will beat you” rage around me.
Fundamentally, Bentley says we need three skills to drive – Traffic Skills, Vehicle Control Skills and Mental Skills. We all had to demonstrate Traffic Skills to get a license but the other two were left to us to learn – sometimes the hard way.
He freely admits that he thinks not everyone has picked these skills up. To help us develop the missing skills, he filled the book with whole chapters defining important subjects. These Include:
Vision - He preaches the tried and true method called “eyes up” and even includes tips on how to precisely set the mirrors.
Seating and Body Position – He explains how to set your seat and steering wheel for better safety and control.
Steering – He preaches the 9 and 3 position theory and emphasizes why it’s important.
Footwork – This seems like a simple subject at first – gas, brake, clutch (if you have one) but if the seating and steering are right, the footwork becomes even more important.
Shifting – Even with an F1 gearbox, shifting is still important. But it becomes even more so with a manual clutch / stick combo and he covers it perfectly with diagrams and simple-to-understand text.
Vehicle Dynamics – He defines what could be a difficult to grasp concept – weight transfer – simply and effectively. You will never be confused about under or oversteer again and will be better able to understand how each happen and how to correct or – on a track – use them to your advantage.
Of course, this race driver goes over driving on the track in a DE or HPDE event. But the fundamentals still apply about mirrors, vision, seating, steering, and the “Mental Game”.
I think anyone who drives a high performance car – and if you are reading this, that’s you - will benefit from Bentley’s book. It is well written and crammed with valuable information that will improve your driving and help you become a high-performance driver.
You can find out more about Ross Bentley and his books at his website: https://speedsecrets.com/
Going Faster - Mastering the Art of Race Driving
I got my competition license several years ago at Watkins Glen through a racing school run by the Skip Barber organization.
The people who teach their courses are proven educators. Plus, their behind-the-wheel credentials are impressive.
This book is the manual they use to instruct their students and one that, after the on-track instruction is completed, can be used as both a reference and refresher.
Every aspect of the art (and science) of race driving is covered simply but with all the seriousness and depth the topics require. I currently instruct new students at various car club DE and HPDE events and I suggest to every one of them that they purchase this book and read, at the very least, Part 1: The Fundamentals, before coming to the track.
Part 1 covers critical concepts such as: line, corner exit speed, and braking. The book’s first 33 pages build the instructive foundation that will make you a better on-track driver and the next time you put on your helmet, provide you with a better, more satisfying learning experience.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Racing legend, author, and successful racecar driver, Denise McCluggage wrote a column for AutoWeek many years ago that I clipped out and have shared many times with the students I instruct.
McCluggage began racing at a time when there were few formal racecar driver education programs so her knowledge came from the school of hard knocks.
Here is what Denise McCluggage wrote: “Just reading this book with any degree of attention will improve your driving whether on the road or in your next club race.”
Denise added, “... [even when you watch racing on TV] you will experience a greater understanding of what is happening. (It is also good for settling arguments or pretending to erudition.)”. She finalized her AutoWeek review by adding: “Whether you are a serious racing driver, a road warrior or just an observer of motorcraft, your bookshelf is empty if Going Faster isn’t on it. Repair the oversight...” Serious words from a serious driver!
These books are available from any of the many on-line retailers and their combined price will set you back less than a full tank of high-test for the Ferrari.
Grab them both, sit in a comfortable chair near a lamp with good light and get ready to get ready for the 2021 driving season. And don’t lift!