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"As you approach a corner look into the corner, glance into the corner and see the angle.  When I say glance, it literally can just be a flash of looking at the exit of the corner so that you see the change of angle that you have to make."

 

Jeff McKague of EventMatrix.ca:  Driving Coach and Certified Sports Vision Trainer

 

McKague4 360pxHow did you get started in motorsports?

 

My interest in racing began 29 years ago.  I was trying to find out how I could get behind the wheel since I did not have any money and that led me to employment at a performance driving school at Mosport.  I started as a gopher and quickly moved up to an instructor level.  Through that position, I became a track driving instructor and I was with them on a full time basis for two years before moving to a school at a different race track at Shannonville.  I was there for four years.  During the latter two years we acquired what is now called the Bridgestone Racing Academy.  I instructed  full time for six years. 

What types of cars and what venues or series did you race in?

 

Early on for the most part I participated in endurance racing.  I raced street sedans or showroom stock style cars.  My first car was a Camaro IROC Z28.  I raced three different vintages or years ranging from ’87, ‘89 and ‘90.  The racing that we were doing was called Firestone Firehawk Endurance Racing.  Following that I got into amateur Formula 2000 racing.  I’ve taught at a number of race tracks in the U.S., but all of my racing has been in Canada.  In more recent years I participated in the Targa Newfoundland which is a road rally.  It’s a tarmac rally that is five days long in Newfoundland Canada.  We did that for two years and won it the second year.  Kind of a neat thing.  It’s a departure from road course racing in that you have to figure out how to receive information from the navigator.  It is more complex than one would think. 

 

 

 Tell us about your company, Event Matrix.

 

Event Matrix is an automotive service company.  We develop and run events for car manufacturers launching new products to the media and to the general public.  We also do arrive-and-drives as well as sales training.  In our motorsport division we range from track training the novice driver participating in lap days all the way up to race coaching.  For the most part our coaching is for those who have been lapping and are making the move to wheel to wheel racing. 

What are some of the most important skills for a lapping day driver to learn?

 

The first one from a novice standpoint is not a skill, but an attitude and understanding of what lapping is all about.  The best way I describe this is that you always drive the car on a racetrack within your comfort level.  The goal of lapping over and over and over again around a race track is to get more comfortable, learn the basics and build your comfort level so that you can just naturally get faster and stay within that comfort level.  I found over the large number of years that I have been doing this that a lot of people come with a preconceived notion that when they start out you simply just step on the gas and you see what your car can do. These people often get into trouble.  So I think the first thing is attitude.

The second thing is vision and how you use your eyes.  I find even those who have been lapping for years often don’t use their eyes effectivelyeventmatrix2 360px enough and can get themselves into trouble.  When somebody is lapping and they make a mistake, I can always trace it back to what it was they saw or didn’t see, what it was they were looking at that they shouldn’t have been looking at.  It’s not just looking ahead.  It’s looking into the corner and giving your eyes and your brain information on a subconscious level.  It is utilizing your peripheral vision more so than your focal vision when you are driving.  So it is about learning and coaching yourself every time you go to the track on how to see things.  When you are looking at and approaching your turn-in point, as an example, your eyes should actually be looking across the corner at least past the apex of the turn.  But you’re not focusing there, your concentration would be on the turn-in point.  So you are peripherally concentrating on the turn-in point while your eyes are actually seeing the whole corner.  That is not easy to do, but as you train yourself every time at the track it will certainly pay dividends.

The third factor is never discounting the value of going back to the skid pad.  This is probably the biggest fault of most drivers.  They get very comfortable and confident at driving maybe just a single race track but they never really learn when they get to that threshold point of traction or when they go over it, the recovery.  So there is always that nervousness that tension of what will happen when I get to that point.  We are dealing with cars now that have wonderful stability management programs.  They don’t impede you’re driving all that much and a lot of drivers don’t even notice when the systems are coming on.  I really stress that if you’ve been on the race track for even two, three years, go back to the skid pad.  Find a coach who is experienced on the skid pad and turn all the systems off.  See what your skill level is.  I’ve done this with a few drivers and they are blown away with how poorly they do on the skid pad.  They just continually spin out as they try to do some sort of sustained oversteer or just oversteer and recovery.  They just can’t do it.  They don’t know what to look for, they don’t know what they should be doing with their feet and often they are really slow with their steering.  So going back to the skid pad will humble the driver and also give then a really good understanding of where their level is at recovering from a loss of traction. 

How did you get involved in sports vision training?

 

It dates back about 25 years or so ago.  When I was working at the Bridgestone Racing Academy a sports optometrist came to us.  He was doing research and had worked with a number of top level athletes from volleyball to hockey on Olympic and NHL teams.  He was doing research because he was going to be working with race car drivers.  He went on to study us and gave us a lot of information on what he had learned over the years.  I then used that in my classrooms and coaching for the next 20 or so years.  Five years ago as part of starting my company and trying to give students a little bit more, I went back and got certified and we bought some pretty expensive equipment to work with.  It is a case of ‘did I see what I think I saw?’  Decisions happen in a split second.  The more you train with this equipment, the more you realize that you are very accurate in what you see and in those moments of ‘did I actually see that?’  Yeah, you did.  Your brain captures it.  Now that I am a certified sports vision trainer it just adds to my tool box. 

What sort of equipment do you use for the vision training?

 

McKague3 360pxWe have a number of different tools that tax the eyes.  The one that we’ve gained the most information out of and gotten more mileage out of is called the Dynavision D2 and it is a board that is about 4 feet by 4 feet and it has 64 buttons on it.  They are all in a circular shape so it makes a large bull’s eye, if you will.  These buttons light up in red and when a button lights up, you hit it with your hand and it turns that light out and it moves it to a different location.  So if you get to a speed of half a second on average to reach these buttons, we’ll actually set the programming to only have the light stay on for half a second.  You have to make it within half a second to get to that point and then it moves to a different spot.  When a green light comes on, you are not allowed to hit it, so while you are trying to be very fast in your movements, you have to be selective.  The third level involves a screen in the center of the board that flashes numbers, letters or symbols.  We typically use digits.  As an adult, you can read five digits in a flash of a tenth of a second.  Those who are speed readers can process six digits and basically nobody can read seven digits.  When the number flashes on the screen the student has to recite the number while they are banging the buttons.  There is a lot of brain activity.  It keeps them conscious, it keeps them alert.  The hand movement is working in conjunction with peripheral vision and reaction time.  You become incredibly accurate with your reactions. 

One would say, okay, ‘well that’s a lab how does it translate?’  The translation is actually pretty simple.  You need to react quickly to visual inputs on the race track.  Say a car is locking up in front of you and you have to quickly react.  Your brain will react more quickly and accurately than if you didn’t do this training.  The training gives you confidence in your peripheral vision because you see how accurate and quick you are in the lab.  It also builds the ability to get into a focus, focusing on the correct things. This is a wonderful tool to build focus.  Video games do that as well.

How long does the training take?  Does it involve a number of sessions? How long does it take to increase your ability?

 

Everybody is a little bit different, but in general we would start with a 20 to 30 minute session.  More would be too taxing on your brain.  If you did two sessions a week, within two weeks, you would increase your peripheral accuracy and your comfort level dramatically.  For you to see a difference in your ability to react in general, it would be in the range of a month and a half.  We’ve done this with a number of people and other trainers have done it as well.  I have had experience working with the military and when they go out on a mission, we don’t see them for six or eight months.  When they come back, we find that their performance has dropped about 10 percent and within two sessions, they are back up to where they were.  So about six to eight weeks of training will build somebody up to a point where they could essentially do a maintenance following that. 

What are the pragmatics of that training?  What if one of our readers was interested in it?  What would they do?  Would they have to come back and forth to your facility?  How would that work?

 

We have a mobile training center.  Depending on how far we are going, we would need five users to make it worth our while to go to them.  If you wanted to come see us, we could certainly do that.  There are a number of facilities around the U.S. that have the Dynavision D2 and work with athletes.  Most of them have other tools as well.  Some facilities are more sports oriented than others.  If any of your readers are interested, the easiest thing to do is to go to the Dynavision International website which lists training facilities.  Short of that, I know a number of different facilities that are more sports oriented and I could lead people to them if they are not close to me in the Toronto area. 

Is there anything that a person could do on their own for vision training?  Are there exercises that people can do at home? 

 

There are a number of different ones.  One is for depth perception and we use this more as a warm up.  Use a string with and every foot to footMcKague6 360px and a half place a different colored bead.  You attach it to a doorknob and bring the string to your chin.  Look at each bead until it comes into focus.  Go all the way to the doorknob and back.  That works your depth perception.  The faster you can get each bead into focus the better your depth perception becomes. 

Anybody can pick up the strobe glasses.  They are $500 and you can share it with a few people.  If you are working with a buddy, a simple thing is to toss a ball back and forth with the glasses on.  If you are by yourself you could throw a tennis ball against a wall.  That helps with vision and focus. 

Once you become aware of your peripheral vision, you will actually start working it when you are not using any of the equipment.  When your awareness of your peripheral vision increases, it gets to the point where you are seeing things in your rear view mirror when you’re not even looking at it.  You are picking up movement.  Mountain biking is an excellent opportunity to exercise your peripheral vision.  As you look at rocks while also looking ahead you are practicing awareness of both your focal and peripheral vision.    

You can research this on the internet.  There are many inexpensive ways to improve your vision.  To take it to the next level you do need someone coaching you and determining whether you are practicing correctly.  Start out searching for DIY vision training, peripheral training, peripheral vision training, and sports vision training.  Do it yourself train my eyes or something like that.  Lumosity is an app for brain training but it is all done through the stimulation of the eye.  It helps reaction time and deciphering what you see. 

Can you give us an anecdote of how you helped a lapping day driver and what specifically you did to help that person?

 

The person I can think of was always a good driver.  I had driven with him a number of times and we seemed to click.  He had been lapping on days that I wasn’t at the track or I was busy with other participants and I hadn’t been with him for a little while.  He got into a different car and made a mistake and he spun at one point.  Following that, the next two lapping days he was nervous, he wasn’t lapping as fast, he wasn’t enjoying himself as much as he had been before.  He came to me again and he told me he was having some difficulties.  I got in the car with him to observe and we realized that he wasn’t entirely sure why he spun.  He needed to figure out why he spun, specifically what he did that caused the spin.  We did figure that out.  He was concentrating on the wrong things.  He was concentrating on the pure mechanics of driving the track.  He was trying to figure out the braking point for a particular corner and then the specific turn-in point and trying to be as precise as possible.  I reeled him back a little bit and I said, “You can’t do that because every time you approach the corner, you are going to be in a slightly different spot.  You might be carrying a different amount of speed, because of how you exited the last corner.  If you are travelling 5 miles an hour faster, a prescribed braking point is not going to work.  You’re going to go into the corner too fast.  You have to make your visual markers more global and not concentrate on a spot, but use your vision so that it is more informative.”  I went back to the basics. As you approach a corner look into the corner, glance into the corner and see the angle.  When I say glance, it literally can just be a flash of looking at the exit of the corner so that you see the change of angle that you have to make.  We do this on the street every day.  If we are travelling a new road and we are going to be making a corner, our brain naturally has our eyes look around that corner and determine how much we should slow down.  We don’t look at the speed we are travelling.  We just have our brain calculate the angle of the corner we are approaching and the speed we are travelling and determine how much we should slow down.  That’s all based on our comfort level.  So I brought him back to that and I drove around with him for the next couple of laps and I told him when to advance his eyes.  So as he approached a corner I would say, “Glance into the corner, now look halfway through the corner,” all the while I pre-coached him to say, “You still need to look at the point you are approaching.  So I want your eyes in that direction, but if you haven’t reached the turn-in point, your peripheral concentration should be on the turn-in point.”  It doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate, but it has to be appropriate to the turn-in to the corner itself, not the cone that might be on the track or the specific point that you use as a reference.  Once he started concentrating on looking ahead, having more of a global view of the track, he became more comfortable and was smoother.  At the end of the day he told me that he was back to where he was if not even further along and he was absolutely enjoying the track day again.

How do you handle blind corners?  Are you imaging where the track out point is while you are looking through the turn? 

 

eventmatrix3 360pxYeah, that is exactly it.  I describe it as part of learning a track.  As you drive the track, there can be blind corners like at Sebring where there are walls you just can’t see around or there is elevation.  At Mosport turn two is probably the most daunting because as you approach it at high speed, you are going up a hill and right at the crest is the turn-in.  Literally you are looking at trees and sky.  After turn-in you only see the first third of the corner and can’t see the rest of the corner.  What I ask people is if you can see the corner what would you be looking at when you turn in?  Or what should you be looking at when you turn in is probably a better question.  A lot of people will say, “When I turn in, I should look at the apex” and I actually say that’s wrong.  You shouldn’t be looking at the apex because that is not where you want to end up.  Where you want to end up and still be on the track is the exit of the corner.  If you miss the apex and still stay on the track, then you are in good shape.  If you hit the apex at the wrong angle and don’t stay on the track, you didn’t do a very good job.  The bigger point is that you should be looking at the exit.  So if you have a blind corner, then what you need to be doing, and this is the repetitiveness, is that you create a picture image in your brain of what the exit looks like.  And you know by going around that corner a number of times where that exit is.  So inevitably you’re looking through a wall with x-ray vision, if you will, and pretending that you can see the exit of that corner. So you are using imagery as you turn in to that corner.  Even though you can’t see it, you know where it is if you’ve done enough laps.  If you haven’t done enough laps, you shouldn’t be going fast enough to get yourself into trouble.  You should spend the first number of laps determining and really memorizing what that corner is to you.  Where the bumps are, where the exit is relative to the turn-in.  You create an impression in your brain.  So as you said, you’re imagining where the corner is going and you’re looking in that direction.  Sometimes you’re looking at a wall but you’re not focusing on it.  You’re looking across it pretending that you can see the exit. 

I have one more question.  I’m going to go mountain biking after this interview.  What should I practice while I’m mountain biking today?

 

When I’m on the road and I see a rock, if I look at that rock as I approach it, I find that I’ll hit it.  It’s odd because I don’t want to hit it.  My brain says don’t hit it, yet I still continue to look at it more than anything.  So what I challenge you to do as you’re mountain biking and see an obstacle is to take your eyes away from it.  Don’t look at the obstacle as much and move your eyes beyond it so that you are seeing what’s after the obstacle.  I challenge you to raise your eyes, concentrate more on your peripheral vision and be diligent in using your peripheral vision to look at what is in front of you.  In the end, if you hit something, by having a further view, you’re more apt to stay on the bike and ride on because you’ll be able to protect yourself and figure out your way around it.  To go back to the race track, and oval track drivers are really good for this, as they tag the wall at the exit of a corner, they are not actually looking at the wall when it happens.  They continue on because they are looking around the corner. 

Challenge yourself as you ride and determine how you see things and then try changing it.  Don’t do it at full speed.  Remind yourself maybe four or five different times to change your eyes and see if it makes a difference.  It should. 

There are a lot of parallels between track driving and mountain biking.  I’ve been conscious of practicing the line because you can certainly apex turns on a mountain bike in different ways to help you avoid obstacles or to set yourself up for the next turn.  There is a particular local trail called Slo Flo.  It is very tight with a lot of switchback turns and elevation changes.  It’s a very slow area of the trails and I’ve learned that this also parallels track driving in that the “in slow, out fast” technique works on this mountain bike trail.  I can usually get through it faster and smoother if I’m thinking about “in slow, out fast.”  I have been aware of where I look because I’ve learned from track day driving that if you look at something you’re going to hit what you’re looking at. And I learned that in mountain biking, if I look at an obstacle, I’m going to hit it.  However, like you say, if you look beyond it, if you just let your bike keep rolling, you’re probably not going to fall off.  But if you get tentative and you focus on the obstacle, just staring at the obstacle and waiting for yourself to hit it and that is all you’re doing, you are probably going to fall.  I’ve fallen plenty of times but I’ve learned to force myself to look where I want to end up so I can avoid or get beyond the obstacle without falling down.  So there are a lot of parallels between the two activities.

 

Yeah, there definitely are.  Our eyes are pretty fantastic.  I think I’m going to end up being the eye guy here, the vision guy.  Whatever I do, Ieventmatrix5 360px always come back to that.  Even when I’m looking at data for a race driver, it always comes back to where they were looking. 

I think people might do these things sort of intuitively as they practice and they become better at track day driving.  I think that without being aware of it, they are learning these techniques.   As a vision coach, you are focusing in on teaching them to be more visually aware and they are more likely to use it and learn it more quickly and effectively.

That’s exactly it.  I find that the majority of right seat instructors will teach the line.  I’m trying to change everybody’s attitude.  Let’s not so much teach them the line.  Let’s teach them the line to be safe on this track, but let’s teach them how to find a line so it’s more about the vision.  Many drivers go to a new track, and are oftentimes totally lost.  They haven’t got a clue because they had learned to go from point to point.  That’s why I’m trying to change the instructors’ method of training to be more general.  Don’t worry about being right on that apex, don’t worry about being right on that turn-in point.  It’s not that important.  What is important is to get around the corner and be smooth throughout it.  If you happen to line up near the turn-in cone and the apex cone, and you end up at the exit cone, hey you nailed it.  But don’t force the car there.  I am trying to change the method of training to be more vision oriented earlier.  I know there are fast race car drivers out there and I go back to race car drivers because it is more measurable.  Track day drivers are working with car insurance and they are not supposed to be timing themselves but race car drivers can use lap times as a barometer of progress.  I know fast racers that look point-to-point but I believe that they look point-to-point slightly differently.  Their focal is on the point they are going towards, but they are really pushing and using their peripheral vision to look at the next point.  They’ve learned to do that quite subconsciously.  I am trying to reverse that to where their peripheral concentration should be on the point that they are approaching as opposed to the rest of the corner being the peripheral part.  My thinking is that if you look at the whole corner and use your peripheral vision to see the turn-in point, you are going to see more.  On a qualifying lap you may not be any faster than the guy who looks point-to-point.  However, on a race lap, where you’ve got a number of vehicles and things you have to negotiate, by having a more global look, you’re going to see more things and you’ll be able to react to them earlier.   

Jeff has been a Targa Newfoundland winner and a driving coach for almost 30 years.  His emphasis on vision is intriguing and clearly goes way beyond the usual advice to look way ahead.  If you are considering a coach, definitely keep Jeff in mind.  Check out Event Matrix at http://eventmatrix.ca/.  

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