5 Powerful Lessons I Learned from Kart Racing

5 Powerful Lessons I Learned from Kart Racing

Have you ever been on a go-kart? You know, the one with the wraparound bumpers that crawls along a short track? Well, imagine a kart with an engine the sound of a lion that can roar down a road at 100 kph, and a track scaled up to accommodate it. Intimidated? I sure was!

My brother once invited me to one of these. With the kind of encouragement only a brother can give (e.g. he paid for me) I drove my first lap around a pro-ish race track. It wasn’t carnival-level, but neither was it for hard core pros. Now, I’ve driven at 80 kph before, but never when the only thing between my butt and the pavement was an inch of plastic. I think I spun out more often than not, but it didn’t matter: I was hooked.

It was a new experience for me, and as a result brought revelatory perspectives and insights into how I practiced nearly anything else.

1) Let Competition Drive You

At first I relished the chance to be alone on the track, zipping along without anybody pressuring me. But then I noticed that my times were faster whenever there was either someone behind or ahead of me. It’s like my brain instantly flipped the “hell, no” switch and took the safeties off my foot.

This isn’t strange (or mean). Humans thrive on competition. I know runners who train in pairs. Many writers (myself included) have writing buddies with whom they compare word counts for the week or share story progress.

Healthy rivalry is good motivation. Try to find a partner who’s roughly your skill level and try to outdo each other—but stay away from bad partners.

2) Recklessness can be a Good Thing

“Reckless” usually has a bad connotation (heck, even Yoda said it pejoratively), but it’s not always bad. There are some activities where your sense of self-preservation actually holds you back. Trail biking, for example, or parkour or competitive eating. As a friend of mine once put it, “you basically have to discard your will to live.”

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be careful. You should always take proper safety precautions and avoid excessive risks. But there are also times where you have to tell your inner safety officer, “shut up and let me drive.”

3) Every Curve is a Test

Racing is the ultimate perfectionist’s sport. Every single curve, turn, and straightaway affects your final time, and you have to treat it as such. It can be tempting to flip the table (metaphorically) when you mess up once and ruin your perfect lap, but that’s the nature of the game. Every single thing you do on the track matters.

Is this unforgiving standard unique to racing? Absolutely not. Authors go through this all the time. Word counts are trimmed ruthlessly. Chefs need to be precise in their cooking or the dish will be ruined. High standards exist in any profession.

4) Every Turn Affects the Next

One thing I quickly discovered was that I felt the effects of a bad turn two or even three turns later. There was this one series of 3 really tight turns that I absolutely hated. If you entered that area the wrong way, you either slammed into the side wall or slowed to a halt. To take it right, I had to plan my path from 2 turns ahead.

This interplay of planning and consequence also applies to other sports. In basketball, where you’re standing on the court determines what options are available to you and your team. Move in the wrong direction, and your team loses an option. Heck, even knitting needs foresight if you’re going to make a good design.

5) You’re Not Going in Circles

If you want to be literal, then yes, you are just driving in circles. But you’re also not. This isn’t a lame attempt at zen. Every lap is a different experience, because there are so many other factors involved–other drivers, for example.

But even when you’re all alone, every lap is still a unique experience. It all depends on how you handle it. Are you just coasting mindlessly, or are you pushing yourself each lap and trying to take each corner better? If it’s the latter, then you’re not racing 8 identical laps. You’re racing 8 laps 8 different ways. Think of that mindset the next time you do something repetitive, like rehearsing a song or doing a kata or proofing your novel for the 13th time.

The Last Word

Kart racing is a unique high performance sport. But the mindset and concepts you need to get better at it are the same as any other activity, hobby, or sport that requires high standards. Master these, and you’ll go far no matter where you go.

Image credit: distillated, Flickr


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