I was listening to a podcast last week and they mentioned how a certain driver was a natural driver, which got me to thinking. I know, thinking isn’t always a good thing, but…
Not that I agreed or disagreed with this podcaster’s opinion naming this particular driver as a “natural driver,” but just what is a “natural driver?” Is it a person who wins races, championships? Or a person who can consistently cut good reaction times, or drive the finish line? Or just what?
For quite a few years, I taught the licensing course at the Doug Foley Drag Racing School. During that period, I would encounter quite a few students, most of which had no prior experience driving what were Super Comp/bracket dragsters. The majority were more or less thrill seekers looking to add to their resumes, with most I assumed never going to utilize that NHRA license. Obviously, we had a small percentage who were there for that exact reason and I can proudly say have gone on to be fairly successful in our sport. However, that majority lacked the experience at that particular time to be considered a natural driver. But again, I ask the question, “What makes a person a natural driver?”
In my opinion; and we all know that opinions are like certain parts of our anatomy – we all have one; a natural driver isn’t just a person who can cut lights, drive the finish line, win races and championships. While we only drive a quarter-mile at a time, there’s a lot more things happening during a run than those aforementioned four details.
In the 2011 movie Moneyball, Billy Beane’s family is explained by a scout that they rarely see recruits who have all five tools necessary; hitting for average, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing; to make it in major league baseball. “Most of the youngsters in the league we have an interest in,” says Scout #2, “have one or two of the tools necessary and we’re hoping to develop an extra one.” Beane’s family was told he had all five. That didn’t transform him into a major league star though, because as it’s often said, s**t happens. And maybe the same thing happens in drag racing.
As far as I’m concerned, one of the most important “tools” a driver can possess is the ability to know exactly where they are on the race track. Between the years spent teaching along with my time on the starting line, I’ll often see a driver who in my opinion doesn’t fully comprehend where they may be on the track. This includes lining up on the starting line or backing up from a burnout; maybe considered to be that “seat-of-the-pants” feeling in knowing just where they are at all times. In addition, having a feel, or an ear for what the engine/trans/chassis is doing or telling you is another “tool” of importance.
Now do you have to have all the tools? No, some can be learned or taught, but having a good understanding of each can lead you to become a “natural driver.”
Just to reiterate a bit, to me a natural driver isn’t just one who can win races, although there are several drivers who for one reason or another, just simply have a knack for turning on win lights, even when the odds may be against them. Those drivers can certainly be considered “natural drivers.” But what about the thousands of others who have that great “seat-of-the-pants” feeling yet may not yet be considered as natural drivers because they haven’t won dozens of races and/or championships? Those guys and gals are still natural drivers to me, and once again my opinion, a lot of those drivers are hovering around in the bracket ranks. If experience is a key, then making a dozen or more passes a weekend can certainly be a benefit.
Okay, off my soapbox for now. Have to finish drinking my Artisan Coffee – or in my case their hot chocolate which I really like – but I gotta get back to work. What’s your opinion?