The Mindset of a Champion

Posted on February 29, 2016

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The Mindset Of A Champion

By: Rob Oakman

A great racer with the mind for the long game. (courtesy of the rpmuseum.com)

Why is it that some people can put down fast laps on track, but not win races, while others can win races, but not Championships? And why is it that those who do win Championships, often win more than once? How do they make it look so damn easy? What’s their secret?

To put it simply, becoming a Champion is about more than just beating other drivers on track , or winning races overall — it’s also about your mindset on and off track.

The difference between a driver, a racer, and a Champion, is that a driver wants to be in the highest position possible right now, the racer wants to be in the right position to get to the highest position possible at the finish, while the Champion wants to be in whatever position is necessary to gain the points to win in the end.

The Champion’s mindset is to focus on your goal to be Champion all of the time, by achieving a lot of smaller goals along the way, constantly work to be better, be positive, and keep moving forward.

Focus On Your Goals – On Track:

The Goal While Racing

Your Goal when racing is to gain points by racing smart.

A lot of you read that and think that means I’m telling you to be too careful; that you should hold back. But while you may think being a Champion is about racing around with your hair on fire while people look on in wonder, you’re wrong. Racing smart means you need to race to win, unless going for the win is going to cost you your chance at a championship.

Name a Champion, any one you want — Andretti, Senna, Earnhardt — they were regularly faced with making a tough choice about whether or not to make a risky pass, but played it safe. The highlights you see on TV and the internet are highlights because they are the exception, not the norm. Richard Petty, the winningest racer in NASCAR history, was the best at saving his car, and his best moves, for when they counted. Petty would hang back for the entire race, just keeping in contention, until it was time to go. He earned himself over 200 wins and 7 championships, and he didn’t make enemies; Petty’s mindset was on doing what he need to be a Champion.

When I say race smart I mean that when you need to be aggressive — be aggressive! — unless it is likely to cost you everything you are, or have been working for. Dive-bombing on lap 2 of 300 is really stupid, but we see it all of the time. Causing a wreck, or creating an enemy that will come after you later costs money, points, and won’t help you win a championship. Only make your moves when the risk is low, you need that position for points and time is short, and/or you when you won’t get another chance. Highlight passes are nice, so are trophies for wins, but nothing beats a Championship. Nothing.

Remember: You need to finish the race or you gain nothing but a bill to pay.

The Goal In Practice/Testing 

The Goal in practice and testing is to get better.

Whether you are looking at lines, trying set-ups, testing passing zones, whatever. It doesn’t matter how long you have been racing, how many wins you have, how many championships under your belt, you can always get better. If you can get on track, go. There are reasons to limit time, but whatever that limit is, run yourself to the max. The more you know the more tools you have to get the best finish possible.

They work hard for you, so work hard for them. (courtesy of NBC sport.com / AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

They work hard for you, so work hard for them. (courtesy of NBC sport.com / AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

If you have fulfilled all your objectives for a given testing or practice session, make up new ones. Try something different in a corner. See if you can find some time with different lines, or just see how consistent you can be. Get creative. You may learn something.

Seat time has no substitution.

Focus On Your Goals Off Track:

The Goal In The Pits/Garage

Off track your Goal is to be better.

Always keep the end goal clear with your team. Everyone has to be on board. And you, as the meat between the seat and steering wheel, have to embody that goal in everything you do.

Work with your team. Answer their questions. Give them time when they need it. Be available to them. Show them that you are willing to do your part to win that Championship, and the team will be encouraged to do theirs.

When you do have have some spare time, spend some watching other series and see what you can learn from other racers. Even if the machines are different you might see something new you can use.

Don’t wander the pits looking for friends when you might be needed. Be there for your team and spend time watching and learning from others.

The Goal In Your Head

In your head your Goal is to design how to become Champion.

Spend time visualizing what you are going to do. Start with walking the track, then build a plan for your race. In practice, you can choose passing zones. In qualifying you can assess your competition and decide on a strategy. In pre-finals (if you have them) you can test passing zones, assess your competition, assess your weakness and strengths, and consider alternatives to further and refine your strategy. During the race, you should be updating your plan and adjusting as you go.

In all of this you are working towards your goal to get the most out of what you have to earn the most points possible.

The Goal At Home/Free time

At home your Goal is to study how to be Champion.

Visualizing races, passes, and strategies, are all things that should happen at home too. Look up track maps, watch old race videos, and study other champions and how they race. In academia they call this researching. Champions call it preparing.

Also, visualize winning. Imagine reaching the top step on the podium. Dream of lifting the biggest trophy. One day you just might.

Be Positive/Never Give up

Lewis Hamilton keeps smiling, even when he isn’t holding the champions trophy. (courtesy of formula1.com)

This is far more important than you think. We’ve all seen the people walking through the pits with a perpetual scowl on their face. The joy they once showed for the sport has gone, and so has their chances for success. We’re all at the track because we chose to be. No one forced us into the sport. Those angry people, at some point, loved being there, but something happened. They let the bad beat the good.

Never let the bad days own you. Stay positive. Cling on to any possible shining light you can by the skin of your teeth if you have to, because bad days are going to happen. A losing streak can last a long time, even years, but if racing is what you want to do, then winning isn’t everything. Yeah I said it. If racing is what you love then the reason you go out there is to race. And if you keep doing that, your love will only grow. You will get better and those losing ways will end.

Your goals are the accomplishments you hope to achieve while doing the thing you love. They are not the thing you love alone. Because if they are, and winning is all that matters to you, then you had better find an easier, and cheaper sport. Winning anything in racing is hard. That’s what makes a Championship so damned special.

Keep Moving Forward

Understand that to be a Champion you have to be a racer. Drivers don’t have the consistency to get it done. Some drivers become racers, only to go back to being drivers when they lose focus on what matters, but you must resist that temptation, because it is the only way to win. That impulse to dive-bomb now, or to try and make a highlight reel, usually ends badly, and never furthers your goals. If all you want is attention, then go copy Kanye and Kim. If you want to succeed, then accept that it takes time, effort, money, and more effort to get it done. Learn from every single bad day, moment, near miss, brain fart, bad decision, and all of the good ones too, and turn them all into lessons that make everything you do better. Keep moving forward and the wins will come.

A checkered flag ends a race, crowning a Champion ends a season, but there is always another of both. Series come and go, sponsors fall through, teams fold, but there is always another to take their place. There is always another race.

The competitive beast in us wants every position now, but without patience we are more likely to wreck or pull a penalty than we are to get past the competition. When the end goal is greater than the individual position, when it is greater than a single race, we are forced to measure everything carefully and mindfully. When you have the mindset of a Champion in everything you do, the championships will come. If you want to be a Champion you must be working towards that goal all of the time. No matter what.

Remember to have fun out there and thanks for reading.

Subscribe for new articles and follow on twitter at @oakmanonracing. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, or anything else, feel free to ask.

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Posted in: How to Race