It was a cold Delhi night. The pessimist in me often believes that nothing good can come of cold Delhi nights. So it was with a mild sense of foreboding that I sat down to dinner at the hotel I was staying at, waiting for something dreadful to happen. Well, it did. I'd just about managed to finish eating, while listening to two racers analysing their racing lines and getting advice on how to tackle the many challenges that the Buddh International Circuit was throwing their way when our table was joined by a third racer. He sat himself down, threw one arm over the side of his chair and looked at me rather airily. "When are you going to do a feature on me?", he asked. It wasn't dreadful that he'd asked me the question. The dreadful bit was that this was the second time he'd asked.
The first time had been a few months earlier at the Kari Motor Speedway. He was, at that point, all of a season and a half old, and had two podiums to his name, no wins. My response had been to ask him to start winning, which to his credit he did do - two wins in tintops and one win in a single seater, taking his tally to a grand total of three. I pointed this out to him that evening, not with the view to discourage him, but simply to make him aware of the fact... and perhaps convince him that a daily dose of humble pills would do him no harm. I also pointed out that all he had to do was win the championship he was competing in and coverage would automatically follow. At this point I'd also like to clarify that I'm fairly certain the racer in question doesn't want magazine coverage for an ego boost. He's hoping that magazine coverage will attract the attention of sponsors. But you know what else attracts sponsorship? Winning! When I tried explaining this to him though he began to list out a whole lot of ifs and buts. The sort that go "If I hadn't been taken out of such and such race by so and so, I'd be in a better position to win the title." Truth? If I had a penny for every single time a racer said this to me, I'd likely have enough money to pay for a season of Formula Renault. And it's getting a little old. But that's not even the point. In my experience racers who talk about people crashing into them constantly, end up attracting more of it. I told him as much, which didn't stop him from pulling out his cellphone and showing me spectacular videos of people crashing into him. Well, who doesn't like a good crash video, eh?
Not for trophies or showmanship, nor for praise and standing ovations, but instead for the unadulterated joy of victory
But across the table from us was another driver, the oldest on the grid, also with a shot at the championship. It was what he was doing that impressed me though. He was meticulously analysing a lap from a driver who'd done rather well at the BIC the previous year, and trying hard to figure out where he himself had gone wrong in practice and where he could improve. Coverage in a magazine was the last thing on his mind. And the thought that people could crash into him, or mechanical gremlins could crop up, or the racetrack's many uncertainties could possibly get to him as he tackled the corners the next day didn't seem to be a cause for concern. He was focussed instead on things he could control - his racing lines, his tyre pressures, the way he'd flick the steering wheel at a particular corner, and what he'd do in the likely event that it did rain and the track was wet.
Maybe it's just a coincidence or a rather unfortunate case of the curse of the motorsport hack. However, the next two days seemed to prove my theory a little more. While the first racer got crashed into again and slipped down the order in the championship, the second racer managed to have a clean couple of races and finished the season with a sizeable piece of silverware to adorn his mantle, even if he didn't win the title itself. Focus on what you can't control, and you get blown tyres and broken gearboxes. Focus on what you can control, and you get racecraft and the skill you need in order to cope with the things that you can't control.
And it's not just in the example of these two racers that I saw this that weekend. There was another rather talented young racer who I'd seen in not the greatest shape physically or mentally a couple of seasons ago. This time he was transformed - confidently racking up two wins in a car that he didn't have very much experience driving. His attention the whole weekend, even though he was merely a guest driver and couldn't make a bid for championship points, seemed to be on how he could get better. It really was impressive stuff. He was racing for the win and for that unparalleled (I'm told) feeling of crossing the finish line first. Not for trophies or showmanship, nor for praise and standing ovations, but instead for the unadulterated joy of victory. No, not for magazine coverage either. I suppose his was a pure form of racer focus. The sort I really hope every driver who wants to seriously climb the motorsport ladder manages to gain. Because the truth is you end up attracting what your mind focuses on, whether it's at the racetrack or life in general. Couple this focus with a healthy amount of determination and the willingness to work hard and there's little that can get in the way of those podiums - real or metaphoric.