Just about everyone who's ever driven a car on a track, and especially those who attend performance driving schools, have heard this mantra repeated time and again: "In like a lamb, out like a lion."
It's one of many verging-on-the-cliche phrases that get thrown around at high performance driving schools all over the country (and maybe all over the world - does it have the same ring to it in Italian, I wonder?). But it stays in rotation because there is and will always be so much truth to it.
Being a native Southern Californian, I was not familiar with the idea that the weather in March is said to go "in like a lion, out like a lamb," until some clever person reversed the saying and started using it in the car. As applied to performance driving and racing, the idea is that each turn on a race track should be approached gently enough that the car will be positioned at the ideal angle and in an optimal state of balance to enable its driver to roar out of the corner with the maximum amount of speed possible. Of course, the inexperienced novice's (or the unfocused expert's) impulse is to go screaming into a turn with brakes smoking and tires squealing, because if it sounds and feels fast it must be, right!?
If you will, let me go back in time a bit to my days in the marching band, where my understanding of the concept of "in like a lamb, out like a lion" first became clear. As with any group, and especially one comprised of young people, there are often intense politics involved in the staffing of a marching band. I've always been a person who learns by observation and experience, and quickly understood that respect was a very necessary component to the leadership of a group. So I became friends with the older students and quietly observed their conduct and its reception among their peers. Then I made it a priority to become an exemplary member of my section and the marching band as a whole, hoping to earn respect and eventually position within the band by letting my strengths speak for themselves. Nothing ever quite goes the way we imagine it will, but I did finally make section leader my senior year. I really loved being a role model and helping my section become a better version of themselves, and ended up being recognized as Outstanding Leader of the Year.
Fast forward to April of 2009, at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, NV, my first performance driving event. Like so many do, I went charging in with my luxury sedan thinking, "I love speed! I'm a stellar driver! I have this awesome car and I'm going to be SO FAST!" Of course I was a total mess instead. I didn't listen, I got frustrated, I got tense, and I was seriously rough with the car as a result. To be fair, there were a few times when I started to get it, and clearly there was enough reward somewhere in that experience to keep me coming back for more.
Or maybe it was a few years and a lot of rough driving later when I finally remembered my experience from high school marching band and realized that I was taking entirely the wrong approach. So when I showed up to my fifth driving weekend for a Porsche Club of America event at Inde MotorSports Ranch in Arizona, I decided that maybe it was time to give a little respect to who and what were really in charge - the track (which was new to me), the group I was driving with (also new to me), and my new instructor for the day. Because I just REALLY wanted to get the hang of this already, and how bad could it be to admit that I was still clueless? So I dialed it back. I told my instructor that I wanted to grid later in the group and just go out really slow, learn the track, and then we'd see what we could build from there. So we did. I. Was. Slow. But with no real expectation in my mind other than to have a great time and learn something new, and focusing on truly listening to my instructor as he encouraged me along, by the fourth and final session of the day I was motoring! Finally, without being so concerned about my perceived speed, I was able to get my vision up and wide and suddenly my driving was smooth and clean and precise. It's a great feeling to go from literally tossing your first instructor around the car to being praised as an instructor's "best student ever!" (emphasis on student, not driver).
It's also possible that I had simply banged my head against that wall enough times to have an "aha!" moment, with which I am now intimately familiar. And, as all drivers must, I've accepted that I will never stop having those "aha" moments and I'm grateful for that - because the day I stop learning is the day they lay me under.
Now I've come full circle, understanding that slow really is smooth, and smooth is really fast. By slowing it all down, I freed myself up to develop new skills, and every skill learned adds another layer of babbitt to the bearing that moves me. But what really thrills me is that once again I've earned the chance to share all that I learn, to help other enthusiasts discover their abilities, to bring out the best in them on the race track. And that really makes me want to roar!