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Ross Bentley and Don Kitch, Jr. on Sim Racing and Conquering the Fear of Failure

In this post, originally from Speed Secrets Weekly, legendary driving guru Ross Bentley comments on Sim racing, and also presents some insights by Don Kitch Jr. into simulators and their benefits.

Ross Bentley, driving guru who respects sim racers and their methods.
Ross Bentley

Ross Bentley: In the past few years, I’ve coached and trained more and more sim racers. When I’m at the track, I often hear real-world drivers complain about “these sim racers” who come to the real track, saying that they take too many risks, attributing it to their world where there are no consequences for making mistakes. “They don’t realize they can’t just hit Reset, here,” is a frequent comment.

While the “I can just hit Reset” mindset can lead to risky driving behavior, this can be flipped around and turned into a positive.

My friend Don Kitch, Jr. (who co-drove with me when we won the LMP2 class at the 2003 Daytona 24-Hour race) gives us insight into how simulators can be used for far more than just learning which way a track goes. They can be used in a positive way to influence one’s mindset. When Don first told me about getting a simulator, I could hear a change in his voice. There was a lightness in the way he talked about driving his sim; he sounded like one of the thousands of new drivers he’d introduced (addicted!) to sport/performance/race driving at his ProFormance Racing School over the past three decades. There was nothing holding him back from continuing to learn (something that’s at the core of who Don is).

I’ve heard from many drivers whose position or role within an organization (for example, instructor) has had a negative impact on their own driving performance. This can lead to two different reasons for driving at some level less than the ideal:

  1. As an instructor, the driver gets too caught up in “doing things right” — they’re too focused on the details, on doing things “by the book.” 
  2. As an instructor, they believe they have a reputation to live up to, and therefore should never been seen to have made a mistake.

I’ve experienced this myself. There was a period in my driving career when I was afraid to make a mistake. This fear led to tension in my body, not sensing what the car was telling me, and… not being as consistently fast as I could have been. When I changed my mental programming, and “let go,” I performed better.

Enjoy Don’s story!

My Sim is my Friend – by Don Kitch, Jr.

At some point, all race car drivers find themselves being asked the question, “Are you ever afraid of getting hurt in the car?”

While I do believe drivers are certainly sensitive to the potential for injury and, for sure, aware of certain locations on the track they don’t want to lose the car, I don’t believe drivers truly fear injury. They would not get in the car if they did.

Don Kitch Jr at his sim, joining ranks of sim racers
Don Kitch, Jr. at the simulator he received as birthday a gift.

Drivers fear failure, being “that guy.” The one who comes walking back with nothing but the steering wheel and everyone looking at you. Our personal makeup and ego can’t tolerate failure. This dreaded emotional challenge that can invade all of us at any time and to varying degrees, I refer to as “FOF” — Fear of Failure.

I was a good club racer. In the production class, I won races and championships. I drove with conviction and confidence at the front. In a very tough and competitive Formula Ford field, I ran mid to the front.

When I migrated to pro racing, I had moments of success, but also times of struggle. I was good, but not as good as I could have been because I let myself get in my way. Yes, I have won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and done well at other professional races, but I always felt there was more inside of me. I fell victim to “FOF.”

When the tires and car are right, Turn 4 — the Kink — at Daytona is magic taken flat out. Exiting the bus stop at Daytona on a good lap, you must be flat at the FIA curb, driver’s right. In spite of always wanting to do it and knowing the car would, at times FOF would arrive, bringing the dark side of the “What ifs?” This would leave me not wanting to be “that guy” taking the program backward, letting the team and sponsors down.

Of course, being the Chief Instructor of a racing school only worsens the situation. I am supposed to be all-knowing and not make mistakes. This is not the ideal mindset when pro racing. At that level, one has to push the limits, take chances, and be okay with the odd mistake. It also needs to be okay to put your reputation on the line.

After years of wanting the latest generation sim, my wife and daughter made it happen for me. My sim is my friend, and I look forward to working together with it every day on our craft. It does not care about my reputation, whether I am all-knowing, or whether I make mistakes. It supports my driving with confidence and conviction. It lets me make mistakes and learn from them with confidence. This is a good thing. FOF is gone, there are no “What if?” demons haunting my driving. And that’s a good thing.

Thank you, Donna and Siena — and my sim — for setting me free.

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