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"Our instinct for self-preservation leads us to repeat a few bad habits on the track.  The key manifestations of fear are coasting, being timid on the brakes and applying throttle late in a corner exit."

 

Fred Pack:  Fifty Years and Overcoming Fears

by Ziva Allen

 

fred pack 2 360pxFred Pack has been driving at high performance track events for 50 years.  Says Fred, “I started when I was about 20.  During my high school years, I attended a boarding school near the Lime Rock track in Connecticut.  I would go to the track as a spectator and that’s what got me interested in track driving in the first place.  My early track outings were at Lime Rock, which was quite a free-for-all in those days.  I don’t recall having an instructor with me.  There were no classroom sessions.  It was really the Wild West.”

Most of Fred’s experience has been as a member of the Porsche Club of America (PCA).  He explains, “I took a bit of a pause, probably five years when my working career was getting started.  And I didn’t have a suitable car for a good while.  In 1985 though, I bought my first Porsche and immediately joined the Porsche club.  I started driving with them and they had a much more rigorous program with instructors in the car, classroom sessions and a pre-event car inspection.  The clubs I was with earlier didn’t have any of that.  You could just show up and they would let you out on the track.  You could have an ancient helmet.  The Porsche club had regulations about the helmet and now everybody does, of course.  Eventually, I began to venture out beyond Lime Rock.  Another track I drove on was Bridgehampton.  I loved Bridgehampton but it closed in 1997 and became a golf course.  I then went to Pocono and Watkins Glen and then went further afield and did Summit Point, Virginia International Raceway and Mid-Ohio.”

All of Fred’s track cars have been Porsches and they have all been street legal.  He likes to use them for his daily driver and prefers to drive to the track rather than trailering.  His track cars have included the Porsche 944, a 944 S 2, a 914, a few Boxsters and a GT3 of the 996 era.  His current weapon of choice is a 2011 Boxster S, which has been written about in Excellence, a magazine dedicated to Porsche automobiles.  Fred’s car has been highly modified and it includes an engine swap to a 408 horse power 3.8 liter engine from a 997.2 GTS.  Other major modifications include a limited slip differential, bigger brakes and a suspension rework.  For track days the car runs on Hoosier slicks. 

Fred has been instructing driver education (DE) students for over twenty years.  “Along the way I became a PCA and an SCCA instructor with national certifications,” says Fred.  “I am also an instructor with lots of the East Coast car clubs, such as BMW and Audi, as well as companies, such as Hooked on Driving.  Over time, I came to learn that I am not a racer.  Whatever it takes to be one, I don’t have it.  Even at a DE day, the guys who are racers are just faster than I am.  I’m okay with my limitations.  I’m quite a good DE driver but I’m not a racer.  I think I have a special skill as an instructor where I am able to explain and to reach the students and I oftentimes see tremendous improvement over one weekend.  I get wonderful feedback from my students and I really enjoy helping them.  I see the joy on their face when, by Sunday afternoon, they realize they are not the same person they were Saturday morning.  I’m always trying to learn things, not only about how to drive better myself, but how to express things to help my students.  That’s a nutshell of who I am.”

We decided to pick the brain of this highly experienced driver and instructor.  “Here are my TOP THREE most important concepts for track drivers:

LEARN THE LINE

It is critical that the driver learn the correct line through all the turns of the track and be able to repeat it consistently before attempting to attackfred pack 3 360px the track at full speed.

The reason for the emphasis on the line is that by definition, the line is the fastest way around the track.  This means that a deviation from the correct path has a slower maximum speed, which in turn means if a driver takes a corner at a speed which was safe ON LINE, that speed easily might be too fast for the corner OFF LINE.

BE SMOOTH AND CONSISTENT

Driving on the track in an inconsistent manner can easily get you into trouble.

If you jerk the car around with abrupt motions on the controls, the car isn't stable as it goes through the corners.  It is bouncing around on the springs, which causes momentary weighting and unweighting on the individual tires.  These motions prevent the tires from being planted solidly to the pavement and greatly reduce the available grip, which in turn can cause a loss of control.

BE FOCUSED AND IN THE MOMENT'

The 'sensory data input rate' when driving on the track is very high.  It is often overwhelming for beginner drivers.  The corners approach rapidly, staying on line is difficult, there are other cars to contend with, dealing with your own emotions in the rapid-paced track environment is challenging, etc.  Therefore, it is essential to be fully engaged in the task at hand -- and for novices to recognize that they are in a very different environment from anything they have experienced before.

A final thought, which is valid for drivers of all levels:  Do not waste any mental effort thinking about the corner you just went through  Instead, concentrate on the one coming up.  The past is the past.”

fred pack 7Fred has some very useful insights involving the mental aspects of driving.  He tackles a big issue by being open and frank about fear.  Our instinct for self-preservation leads us to repeat a few bad habits on the track.  The key manifestations of fear are coasting, being timid on the brakes and applying throttle late in a corner exit.  Here, Fred’s willingness to self-disclose is helpful to us all.  “Unless I tell myself before a session, ‘you will not coast,’ I end up coasting.  We all have in our natural makeup a self-preservation instinct.  Hurtling towards a turn and keeping your foot down violates that.  Even though we rationally know for a particular turn it is okay to be on the brakes as late as the 200 foot marker we all have this desire, need, tendency to lift our foot off the gas at the 300 foot marker.  Make it top of consciousness that you shouldn’t be doing this and work on it little by little.  I know with myself occasionally I work on it too much and I mess up my braking.  I haven’t slowed down enough when I get to the turn.  So you have to modulate undue coasting versus braking too late.  But again, I think most of these issues can be addressed on a trial and error basis.  The good news is that the error is generally not something that results in a spin-out or going off the track.  Even if you brake too late, you don’t have to turn in at the usual turn in point.  You can just continue to brake so you botch up the turn but you stay on the pavement and you learn something.  ‘Gee, I can’t wait till the 200 foot marker.  I better be on it at the 250.’  It requires a bit of self-introspection and analysis ‘why didn’t that go well?  Did I perform the braking operation poorly or is it just that the 200 is too late?”

Fred would coach us to be honest with ourselves and to diligently review and introspect.  Video and data analysis come in handy with this.  Just by being aware of our self-preservation tendencies we can all work on avoiding fear-based habits.  So tell yourself, ‘I will not coast, I will challenge the brakes and I will get back on the throttle at corner apex and keep it planted.’  Thank you Fred for your openness and for sharing your years of wisdom accumulated as a dedicated track day driver.

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