On the strength of a great season in my Moser Engineering backed, Charlie Stewart Race Cars built C7 Corvette, I’m currently leading the national Super Gas points standings with 600 points. That’s the good news. The bad news is that 600 points will not win the 2022 championship. While not unprecedented, that’s not a total that would traditionally hold up. With the field of talented competitors I’ve got on my heels – racers like Austin Williams, Phil Unruh, John Labbous, Jr., and more – I’m very confident that I’ve got work to do if I want to ultimately hoist the championship Wally!
I’ve got three events remaining at which I can improve my score, and I’ll complete those events in the next two weeks with the Midwest Nationals, followed by a Division 3 Lucas Oil Series Double Header, all at Worldwide Technology Raceway, near St. Louis.
This is a position that is not altogether unfamiliar. In my racing career, I’ve had incredible opportunities to compete in some big spots. I’ve had my share of triumph. I’ve had my share of failure. And I’ve learned that the two are not necessarily divergent. As racers, we’ve all had events (and/or seasons) where we seemingly do everything right, and it just doesn’t work out. Similarly, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve had subpar performances that resulted in big wins and/or championships. As Alan Reinhardt likes to point out, racing is definitely a “right place, right time” kind of sport.
As I prepare for these pivotal two weeks, I feel compelled to share some thoughts on the “home stretch”, both in an effort to help those of you pursuing a title of your own, and admittedly, to help clarify my own mental framework! I’ll start by listing a trio of things that have helped me operate under pressure.
While it’s obvious to look back on a points-earning season and say that every round counts, it’s fair to say that some rounds feel a little bit bigger than others in the moment. Typically, these rounds come as the season winds to a close. While I pride myself on preparation year round, I will admittedly step on the throttle in this aspect even more over these next two weeks: More attention to detail on the car, an increased focus on pouring over log books, data, and weather information from the season, along with an uptick in practice frequency and intensity, and more.
I don’t prepare because I feel like it will ensure victory or guarantee success. Rather, I try to spend extra time in preparation in an effort to better accept the final outcome. Win or lose, I can rest easy as long as I feel like I didn’t leave any stone unturned.
Race to win:
Having been through this scenario from every angle, I have what might be an unpopular stance. I think it’s actually easier to come from behind than it is to lead and fend off pursuers. Logically, I know that doesn’t make any sense. If I have a 2-round lead, I can actually win one round less than my pursuers, and still win the championship, right? While that’s true, I’m speaking more to the mindset of the hunter vs. the hunted. When coming from behind, it’s easier to adopt a “nothing to lose” attitude. And it’s easier to be aggressive – after all, you have to win to accomplish the goal, right?
As the leader, I think it’s easy to race on the defensive – to race “not to lose” rather than racing to win. When we step back from that, the semantics are kind of ridiculous. What exactly is it that the leader is defending? A title that has yet to be claimed! Typically, when we find ourselves in contention for a championship (whether national, divisional, or a track title), we’ve earned that position as a result of racing aggressively. Why now, when the rounds seem even more critical, would we race defensively? It’s a subtle change in mindset, but I’d argue an important one.
Lean into the pressure:
It is said that high stakes situations are embedded in our memory; that whether the outcome is positive or negative, we tend to look back on these moments with reverence. When the pressure is on, so goes the narrative, is literally when memories are made. While it can seem natural to shy away from or even attempt to push back the butterflies in the stomach prior to a big on-track moment, I’ve learned to try to actively lean into them. If we’re nervous or anxious, it’s because we care about the outcome. We WANT to succeed. And let’s be honest, if we don’t care about the outcome, if we don’t want to succeed, then what on earth are we investing all of this time and money into our racing for? We’re supposed to care; so why shy away from it?
A fresher take:
In the midst of leaning on some of these tools I’ve picked up through experience, I also find myself viewing this title chase through a different lens. Rather than leaning into the pressure that typically accompanies a points chase, I find myself asking, what is pressure? Where does it come from?
I think we can all objectively agree that any pressure we feel is ultimately self-induced. There is an internal pressure that simply comes from wanting to succeed. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve already made an argument for intentionally leaning into it.
We want to win. And, we believe we can win. If I didn’t believe I was capable, then why would I be here, right? But the feeling of pressure comes from a different place: pressure is foremost when we don’t believe that we can, or that we want to succeed, but that we should succeed. In that way, is it possible that pressure is linked directly to entitlement?
I’ve been following sportsman drag racing closely for my entire life; since long before I took the wheel myself. I remember growing up at Texas Raceway and seeing racers come through the gates with single digit numbers on their hood scoop or window. When I saw a “4” or an “8,” did I think I was looking at an individual that failed to win the championship? No way! I looked at that driver with reverence: he or she finished in the top 10 of the WORLD!
Why then, would I (or anyone) today feel as though finishing 2nd, or third, or wherever is a failure? Am I so entitled to think that I’m the best, without dispute? There are literally 700+ racers across the continent who’ve thrown their hat into the ring to compete for the Super Gas championship this season. Who am I to believe that I should be the one who comes out on top? Rather than accepting that expectation, and the burden of pressure that comes with it, wouldn’t I be better served to simply be grateful for the opportunity? Especially at this point of the season, isn’t it incredible to be among a handful of competitors legitimately competing for the national title? That, in and of itself, is special. That, in and of itself, is rare. That, in and of itself, is something to be proud of.