Like it or not, the season of self-improvement is upon us. For the next 45 to 60 days, your gym will be crowded, your local sidewalks will teem with suffering-and-puffering neighbors gamely run-walking in outrageous coordinated outfits, and your every meal plan will be slightly derailed by someone else’s sincere commitment to a new low-carb, no-carb, gluten-free, cruelty-free, vegan-trending, vegetarian-respecting diet plan. The vast majority of these ambitious goals will be discarded before the spring equinox, but there is still something admirable, and completely human, about setting a likely improbable goal.
This being Road & Track, why don’t we take a few minutes to review what we accomplished behind the wheel in 2018, and set a few goals for 2019 that do not involve what you're going to eat or what you’re going to put up on the board at that shiny new Crossfit dojo. How close did you come to your personal automotive goals for the past year? Did you win your regional autocross championship? What about the endurance race you and your friends were going to run? Weren’t you finally going to get your old ‘Vette prepped for ?
I can’t complain about my 2018 motorsports season. I won two SCCA races (with my Neon) and seven NASA races (with the Accord) in the course of picking up my regional championship—in fact, I never finished off the podium in any of my club races this year. My not-so-little Honda and I even pulled a 2nd place in an 11-car NASA Super Unlimited event thanks to some prototype-handicapping weather. Our endurance team missed the podium in all four of our attempts, but some of those people helped me pick up a couple of minor awards in the Pirelli World Challenge season-ender at the Glen. I spent a total of 27 days on racetracks everywhere from Lime Rock to Thunderhill. Last but not least, I watched my wife win her first NASA sprint race and pick up a respectable overall finish in a NASA enduro.
It was such a great year, in fact, that I can’t afford to do it twice in a row. For 2019, therefore, I’m going to set different goals. I’d like to help you set some goals as well, regardless of your current competitive level. Take a look at these five suggestions and see which of them will be right for you:
- Resolve to honestly identify, and address, your biggest weakness behind the wheel, even if it means consulting an expert. We all know it takes a little bit of ego to be a successful racer—hell, it takes a little bit of ego to even think you should be racing in the first place. That’s not a problem. The problem with ego is that it keeps you from identifying your shortcomings as a driver. Everybody has at least one. Here’s one of mine: I am extremely lazy when it comes to identifying "reference points" at a track. As a result, I will occasionally find that I’ve missed a brake marker and am therefore heading towards someone else’s car with all four wheels locked up and smoking. I’m going to work on that. What are your biggest problems? If you can’t identify any, then you need to get another set of eyes on the problem. Get one of your NASA or PCA regional instructors to ride along with you and offer criticism. If you’re driving at the club-race level or above, consider hiring Peter Krause, Ross Bentley, or Dion von Moltke to analyze your data. Be honest with yourself, even if it means your ego suffers as a result.
- Determine your motorsports "next step" and start making real progress in that direction. If you’ve been thinking about autocrossing since 2008, this should be the year you attend the novice clinic and try it. (We’re talking $75 here; chances are that you’ve spent more buying a Fortnite skin or a bottle of wine.) If you want to go endurance racing with your friends, resolve to spend 100 hours working on the car or $2000 buying a ride with an existing team. Maybe your goal is just to knock half a second off your best time at Laguna Seca. Figure out what’s required, and start working on it.
- Seriously consider running with SCCA’s Time Trial program in 2019. I’m giving this advice to everybody from complete novices to IMSA racers. It doesn’t matter if you have an automatic-transmission '90s Civic or a McLaren—both of those cars can, and have, competed in SCCA Time Trial. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been on track before or if you’re a Pirelli World Challenge season champion—the last event at NCM had drivers who fit both descriptions. Give it a shot. Not only will you have a great time, you’ll be supporting the future of motorsports in the United States. It cannot happen without you.
- Rebalance your spending from daily driving to your preferred automotive hobby. I know you have your eye on that brand-new Corvette ZR1 or 718 GTS or, ahem, Lincoln Continental Black Label (guilty as charged!)—but what if you kept your current beater for another year? How much money would that free up for you to enter a club race, or a few autocrosses? I’ll be struggling to take my own advice on this subject in 2019: my Accord is now paid off and while I have no interest in trading it in, I’ve certainly thought long and hard about giving it a new companion on the driveway, preferably something with a V8. That could mean GT350 or G90, I’m interested in both. We’ll see if I can make it through the year without a trip to the dealer. Can you do the same?
- Take some time to bring a family member or loved one into our shared delusion. Every year, I get dozens of e-mails from readers about the stress that motorsports brings to their marriages and family relationships. "How can I make my wife understand that I need to spend ten weekends a year club racing? How can I get my husband to stop making fun of my autocross friends and their silly hats?" That kind of thing. All too frequently, the root cause of these problems is that the spouse/parent/child in question has never been exposed to a positive motorsports or hobby experience. Sure, they’ve been dragged along and asked to carry a toolbox, but they’ve never had a weekend that focused on them. Consider setting up a weekend where the theme is automotive but the focus is on the other person, not you. It could be a driver’s-education event where you crew the car and leave your helmet at home. It could be an autocross where your partner drives and you change tires. Or it could be a trip to a classic-car show where the other person determines where you go, what you see, and (most critically) when you leave.
In this season of self-improvement, the biggest temptation is always to set your goals too high. You won’t go from couch potato to IMSA driver in 12 months—unless, that is, you have a million dollars and 90 days’ worth of free time on your hands. Everybody understands that. What can be harder to understand is that you also cannot go from couch potato to Lemons or ChampCar winner in 12 months unless you have a similar amount of time and money available. Set goals that match your available resources, and you’ll be more likely to accomplish them. I’ll look forward to hearing about your successes in the year to come. And if you see some idiot out there trying to win NASA Super Touring 5 in a Neon with a straight-pipe side-exit exhaust and a giant wing on the back, then, uh, just remember that not all of our New Year’s resolutions have to make sense, alright?