Getting in the Zone

Partially related to the post I just made, I’ve noticed I have a hard time getting myself into the mindset where I can drive at my best and really get going in a race. To me, it seems like I’m driving my best when I feel like I’m at a disadvantage.

For a couple examples, I ran a few weeks ago in a heat race, and I was up against a really good driver. I knew he was faster than my by almost 8 tenths in the practice sessions, but I found myself in the lead after the first lap. I thought I knew he would be coming and I had to drive as fast as I can. I ended up running fastest lap of the race by a good bit, all while thinking he’s gonna be right on my bumper at the next turn. Once the race was over, and I knew I was doing good, I could never get myself back into that, I almost want to say it was a panicked, mind set. I ran half a second off that pace for the rest of the day and couldn’t catch up to him as he picked up time.

In another event, I was having issues with my clutch while I was running Yamaha. We put a new one on and the engagement was about 4,300 RPM, whereas the normal engagement was probably about 8,700 to 8,900 RPM. I knew that this would be a problem and ended up running almost as fast as the leaders, even though I was about midpack since I got passed up a ton on the start. Once my clutch was back to normal I couldn’t get that same pace. I knew I wasn’t thinking the same way, and I think that’s a big reason as to why I was able to drive the way I did.

Does anyone have any tips for getting into the mindset that gets you running at your best and allows you to perform better than you would have expected? It seems to be totally hit-or-miss for me right now.

Best advice I got regarding the mental preparation before a race was from Jamie at Franklin.

and I quote…
“I know this sounds stupid, but when I’m sitting on the grid, I’m thinking ‘I’m Jamie F*cking Sieracki, these guys got nothing on me.’ You need to have that sort of pumped up ego right before you go out.”

So before every session, I say to myself in my head “I’m TJ F*cking Koyen. No one can hang!”

I tell all my drivers on the grid the same thing right before they go out. In @Terence_Dove’s book, he mentions “lighting it up” on the out lap as well. Aggressive tire warming, brake locking, etc. The theory being that it loosens you and the kart up and gets you really ready mentally for the race. It’s like stretching before going into the pool, or shadow boxing. That’s something I’ve been trying to do more and get my drivers to do as well, because I know it’s something that I’ve struggled with throughout my career. I’ve always been a bit of a slow-starter, and it takes me a couple laps to really get to “the zone”.

Every driver sort of has their “thing” that gets them hyped. I remember when I was on Merlin and Mike Politis was driving with me, we were always fairly close on pace. But when he, as he put it, “wanted it more”, he had another gear in him. You could tell Mike was really on it when his helmet started to point down and he started looking out the top of the visor. It was a mental thing that he did when he was really feeling it out there.

I also remember at the Rotax Grands once, I was starting near the back of the final after wrecking in the heat. Corey Pollock started behind me, around 27th or 30th or something. On the way up to the grid, he’s doing jumping jacks, yelling, shadow boxing… I thought “this guy is insane, I’m going to follow him.” He ended up driving through the field into the top 3 or 5. He was just AMPED before the race.

I do sort of the same thing now. If I start really getting after it, I’ll tilt my head forward a bit too, sort of to say to myself “alright let’s f*cking do this thing”. It does nothing other than makes me feel a little more in the zone.

It’s also a mental pseudo-spiritual thing in my opinion. It’s a bunch of voodoo that makes you feel faster, but in reality has no bearing on the actual performance, other than maybe making you feel more comfortable or aggressive, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

I always say, there’s a time to drive with your brain and a time to drive with your heart. Some drivers spend too much time in either category.


So how long did it take to get competent enough where you felt that your skills met or exceeded your mental limitations? Presumably you had to come from a place of confidence which is based on your comfort level with racing.

So, I may be 100% wrong with what I’m about to say, but this is how I noticed it as I progressed.

Being a good driver is probably 2/3 mental fitness. Skills meeting mental ability is, to me, very early in driver development. Once a driver is able to push at their 95% capacity consistently, without spinning out or making critical mistakes, that means to me that their vehicle control is at the same level as the confidence in their mind.

Telling yourself you can go so fast into a turn, at 100% of your speed, and then being comfortable with pushing that boundary you set for yourself is personally the hardest thing to be able to do both at new tracks and known ones. Picking up time in a lap is not someone’s physical skill suddenly being able to run at 110%, but their mind being ready to push that limit and preparing for what may happen, whether the driver knows it or not. (As I type this out it doesn’t make the best sense but I’m unable to write it better unless you can help me figure out what I’m saying wrong here, but with some questions I may be able to expand on it better). Physical skill definitely has a part to do in pushing past the 100% barrier of one’s mind, but the bigger part in my thought process is the mental ability to coordinate all inputs allowing that 110% push to succeed.

It definitely is a confidence thing. If you’re not focused on just pushing for faster times because you absolutely need to, then you will favor towards driving in a state that you know you won’t make a catastrophic mistake, or where your confidence level is at it’s best. The feeling of absolutely having to go faster is what really breaks that state of content, for me at least, and allows you to tell yourself you can, should, and will be faster. This is the best way I can put down how I felt when I’m racing and my percieved odds are stacked against me vs. just going out on a regular session on say a practice day to figure out some tuning stuff.

Again, I’m not sure if this all makes sense, or even if it’s correct, but that’s how I’ve understood the relationship between physical vehicle control and mental limitations on the track.

That’s some very interesting stuff. Your stories and experiences never fail to intrigue and educate me more. You should write a book about all this stuff you have inside that head of yours.

I’ve felt the opposite about when I do well. If I drive well, it’s usually a thought along the line of “Jesus Christ I’m in over my head right now, this is some serious work I have to do.” I would think that this comes from being a newer driver and many of my competitors have much more experience than I do, some of them have been racing since before I was born. My guess is my thought process is more used in newer drivers, whereas the ones with much more experience have your “I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread, nobody can touch me,” mental preparation. I would have to assume the ego building thoughts are much more effective than thinking one is in too deep, but it seems hard for me to be able to convince myself of that as I’m sitting on the grid with all these drivers that just look like they’re so much more prepared for this than I am, from their body language to how much I know about their driving experience.

You definitely make more sense than I do about getting into “the zone” and putting yourself in that confidence ability. I just can’t convince myself that statement would be true for me, which in all likelyhood comes down to, again, self-confidence.

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I’m certainly with TJ, confidence is king…

Also, every driver is different and you have to understand your own process and try to build it. Getting in the zone can be very elusive I find, and trying to define it and chase it seems to push it further away.

There is a zen type saying about enlightenment that I think fits the ‘zone’ nicely.

If you want a cool breeze to enter your room on a hot day you can’t command it to enter, all you can do is leave the windows open

I think it’s the same with getting into a flow with driving, you can’t summon it. What you can do is put all the right things in place to drive well and hopefully it all clicks.

So, I would advise that you don’t chase the mindset. Instead take your time now to tick all the boxes that go into making great laps. You can literally make a list by trawling the forums, go through my book etc and you’ll have a ton of things to work on. (I had over 100 boxes to tick when planning that book)

I reckon when you start ticking those boxes confidence will kick in and you’ll get the mindset you are looking for.

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I think a lot of it is just experience and confidence. Once you break through and have a strong result or win a big event, you’ll know you can do it and you will instantly gain the confidence you need to repeat that. It’ll be much easier to get into that “I’m a badass” mindset.




Thanks folks. As I am basically old, I have 48 years of “don’t do anything rash” training beaten into my personality.
My progress in pretty much every sport that I like, which typically has an element of danger, is to nibble away at the boundaries of my comfort zone. This involves developing enough ability to feel confident that when I do attempt to push, that I feel the odds are high that it will “work out”.
Each race though, I get a little bolder.:grinning:


Dom, I’m right there with you. Extract the most gain without much pain.

“So before every session, I say to myself in my head “I’m TJ F*cking Koyen. No one can hang!””

Worst advice I ever got from TJ.

I tried this. I got really into it and was yelling it in my helmet. People overheard. They came up to me wanting autographs, quotes on helmets painted with custom graphics, advice on all kinds of kart setup and wanting me to write a book. I just couldn’t handle all the distractions. Maybe I should have used my own name.

Buy Yeah I’d buy a book if TJ writes one.

The main thing for me is self confidence is great. Having solid reasons to have self confidence is what I rely on. That way you don’t have it shattered. Some of it just comes with track time and a lack of ignorance. I realized recently that as much I don’t like putting a wheel or two in the grass, I definitely don’t fear it Like I used to. Knowing you did good mechanical prep and not fearing a DNF helps.
I pull in my experience from other sports and really don’t get nervous before a race. I’ve seen too many people with all the gear finish in the bottom 3rd, so looking good on the grid is nothing to me. Even guys that are traditionally faster than me aren’t infallible. Rental league kind of helped in 1 or 2 ways. Practice days are crucial for confidence. Making mistakes are just learning experience. So learn and don’t beat yourself up over mistakes.

Kind of a be confident but realistic approach. I also don’t think about outputs like what place am I finishing in. I think more about inputs, that which is in my control. Just do my best (or the right thing) and don’t worry about the end result.

I think kids have it easier. Some of us older guys have the fear of getting hurt. Having to drive on the street like a sane person doesn’t help. Irony is probably the hardest single thing to do is to slow down and not push too hard in one spot to actually go faster.


Aaron, my take on the two examples is that perhaps you tend to drive with too much intellect; that is, it sounds like your balance between intellect and intuition is not quite optimized. I say this because in both of the examples, your intellect is forced into a specific task (worrying about the guy behind you / stressing about the clutch engagement), so it does not have ‘free time’ to interfere with the intuitive process of driving (which you seen to have down pretty well) by doing stuff like:

  • Interfering with the automated physical processes you use to actually drive the kart
  • Call into question your skill set / confidence level to get you back away from the edge slightly so you’ll be “under control”
  • Distract you with random thoughts when you should be concentrating on driving
  • Drawing your attention away from, and/or interfering with the processing of the sensory input you need to drive your kart at the limit.

If you think this might be the case, one thing you can try (maybe during a practice session) is to give your intellect a job to keep it occupied. For example, tell it that for every corner it should yell out loud in your helmet a number between 1 – 3 that represents how close you are to the limit of adhesion. If that’s too easy (intellect still has free time to muck things up), have it call out a value for entry, apex, and exit of each corner, and/or increase the resolution to a range of 1 – 5 or 1 – 10. BTW, this exercise can also help increase your depth of feel for traction.

Regarding ‘the zone’; to me it is not a single thing or level; it’s more like a continuum ranging from a relaxed, balanced mental state to an almost trans-like meditative state. I believe the key to willfully entering at least some level of the zone is to consistently drive with the correct type/level of concentration, which can be achieved by training yourself to drive with an optimized balance between intellectual and intuitive mental processes.

Anyway, if any of that makes any sense to you, or interests you, I have a free website with VERY detailed explorations of the mental skills of driving.

Direct links to related topics are:

Concentration for Racers

Staying in the Zone

Confidence for Racers



What is that thing? Sorry for the for the uninformed question, the thing is I am ill-informed and committed. I am a babe that Kart racing

Normally I find his podcasts a bit stale, but Nico Rosberg just released an interested episode about how to unleash stronger mental performances.


This was really enjoyable. Lots of good thoughts from both of the speakers.

If you enjoy a good read, the book Performance Thinking by Dr Jacques Dallaire is an exceptional resource for learning how to reproduce your A-game every time out. You can find it on amazon or at his site, Dr Dallaire has worked with numerous racing champions, as well as other high stress occupations such as surgeons, soldiers, and first responders. I use his methods myself, and have sent a couple of my clients to work with him as well.