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Offseason Improvements

For nearly all of us, the 2019 season has come to an end.  It’s at this time of year that it is important to balance the need for some time to decompress – to recharge our proverbial batteries following a long grueling season – with the opportunity that this time away from the track provides to improve our game.  

It’s the offseason, when racing is an afterthought for much of our competition, that we can really make strides relative to the field.  We can make up a lot of ground in short order with consistent, regimented practice, reflection, and preparation. Today we’re going to focus on the reflection component by looking back on our performance over the course of this past season.  I find this extremely beneficial now that we’re removed from the pressure and emotion of winning and losing. It allows me to analyze my performance more objectively.  

Let’s start by focusing on the five key areas of competition: Reaction time, finish line execution, pre-race preparation (mental and physical), strategy, and vehicle performance.  In each facet, I challenge you to think back on your season and pinpoint one round in which your fulfillment of that specific area was spot-on (this could be a win or a loss).  Then, in the same area, think of one round in which you failed, or left room for improvement.  

Reaction Time:

One good round, one bad round.  What were you thinking/doing leading up to the round?  What were you thinking/doing in the staging process? What was your mindset?  What from that moment can you duplicate, eliminate, or minimize?  

Finish Line:

How were you able (or unable) to execute your incoming strategy?  What variables made this easier/harder for you? Visualize your run.  What were you looking at? What triggered your decision (or lack of decision)?  

Preparation:

You can choose to view preparation in physical form (typically vehicle preparation) or mental form (driver preparation).  Detail a round in which preparation gave you an edge, and one in which a lack of preparation, or improper preparation cost you.

Strategy:

It’s important to note here that finish line execution and incoming strategy are NOT the same thing.  Many racers get these two confused. For instance, if I select a dial-in and lock into the idea that I cannot breakout (if, for instance, there’s a huge speed difference and I’m not confident in my ability to accurately judge my opponent), then I take .030 finish line to breakout by .002…  That’s not necessarily a mistake in finish line execution. That’s a mistake in strategy: I convinced myself that I could hold it wide open before I staged. Thinking strategically, select one round in which incoming race strategy enabled success; and another in which poor strategy created a significant hurdle.

Vehicle Performance:

Think of one round in which your car performed flawlessly, you depended on it, and that created an advantage.  Conversely, think of one round in which your car let you down. In hindsight, do you have an explanation for its lackluster performance?

Next Level:

These simple questions can inspire some great thought that often illuminates both strengths and weaknesses in our game.  This is something I do each offseason. This offseason I wanted to take this exercise to the next level, so I enlisted my friend Jacob Murphy with Timeslip Charts, a company that focuses on log book analytics, to take a deeper look at my own 2019 performance in the NHRA Super Comp category. 

We started by looking at obvious stats, like my round win percentage (which, for reference was 78%), and red light percentage (4.3%).  We then broke down my reaction times versus the class average: I was .00x in 45% of my rounds, where the class as a whole was .00x just 19% of the time.  I also was .01x more often than the class average – 37% to 26%. And I was .020 or worse less often – 13% to 44%.  

Based on my starting line proficiency displayed in the above stats, I would assume that I leave first the majority of the time.  That’s backed up with data as well: I was first off the line in 75.7% of my matchups. This is where it gets really interesting. In the rounds where I left first, I won a whopping 85.7% of those matchups (vs. a class average of 69.7% when leaving first).  In the rounds where I left second, my win percentage dropped to just 55.6% (which was still well ahead of the class average of just under 30% when leaving last). The takeaway? Having the starting line advantage is REALLY important (which justifies the argument that being more aggressive on the starting line is worth the occasional red light).

Within our deep dive, we also uncovered some of my tendencies at the finish line.  By analyzing the data, I can see how often I crossed the finish line first (75%), and my round win percentages in those contests (77.8%) vs. my round win percentage crossing second (also 77.8%).  We also looked into double breakout races, which I had a lot of; how often I elected to cross first (and by how much), and the result of those decisions. My personal takeaway was that I “fight” for the finish line far too often and should make a slight adjustment to my strategy accordingly.  

The implementation of this information is critical.  There are rounds when crossing the finish line first is obviously the correct decision.  And there are rounds when crossing the finish line first isn’t even an option. But then there are also what I call “coin flip” rounds where I could justify either decision: rounds where I feel good on the tree, could cross first, but may not be able to kill what I think I’m holding.  It’s in those “coin flip” rounds where I’d be significantly more successful if I’d just give up and get behind. In truth, this information is something that I guess I always inherently assumed, but the data really emphasizes how often I repeatedly make a similar (incorrect) decision, and how significant a slight change in approach could be. 

Admittedly, I (and you) could tabulate all of this data myself – I have the timeslips and log books and access to all the data.  It’s time consuming – honestly it borders on overwhelming for me; so I simply allow Timeslip Charts to do it for me!  I also believe that there is a hidden benefit to having information presented from a third-party: it helps to remove personal bias and emotion, simply by providing raw data.  See for yourself at timeslipcharts.com.
If you’re interested in reviewing your own season and want to take a deeper look into doing so with me, you can join my free upcoming webinar on the topic at thisisbracketracing.com/2019review.

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