The Stages of Learning

I took psychology a few years ago in school, and one of the things I remember was learning about the stages of developing a skill. I don’t really know how to word this into a discussion but I’m sure the bright minds on here can help with that.

Basically there are four stages of learning to do something:

  1. Unconscious incompetence - You don’t even know what you’re doing wrong. Everyone has been here, it’s the first point of getting into racing really.
  2. Conscious incompetence - You know you’re doing stuff wrong, and are starting to know what’s all what. You know what you’re bad at, and are learning the value of knowing that skill
  3. Conscious competence - Being able to drive well is there, but there’s a lot of concentration required to do it. There aren’t quite the reflexes there yet, but you generally know what to do.
  4. Unconscious competence - You’ve learned how to drive so well it’s second nature. There’s no thought involved in getting around a track and putting in a good time.

I think this is interesting. Racing has multiple parts to it, and each can be broken down in this way. For example, there’s putting down fast laps on the track, but there’s also racecraft and navigating a pack. I think things come at different times and learning these are some of the more interesting parts of karting or even racing in general.


Interesting stuff Aaron.

I think one of the tough parts of racing is, as you said, there are so many facets and individual little skills to learn (fast laps, consistency, racecraft, tuning and setup, adaptability, weather conditions etc.), that it takes some time to get really good unless you just have unreal natural talent.

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I was literally thinking about this a few weeks ago when I started writing a post about learning a new track. I ended up skipping this piece for a future post as I felt trying to write an in-depth explanation of each of the stages of learning as applied to a new track would be rather boring. That said, I have a new found interest in identifying and documenting a process that can be followed to close my gap of about 1s to the FrontRunners. I’m highly interested in this conversation and can’t wait to see some more insightful thought from others on this.

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I think a lot of people never really get to the fourth stage of that development, or at least not all around. There’s things that will always be pretty common, like tuning or racecraft, that once you figure it out I don’t think you need to think about much no matter where you are. However, getting to unconscious competence on racing a new track and changing tracks every weekend is only found in the great national and international level drivers.

I believe that until that point, the other parts of driving will suffer a bit too. You may not need to think about tuning or racecraft all the time, but is someone is still concentrating on a new track, the little amount of focus other areas take may be lost to help improve more in the lacking section.

I actually think a separate piece about stages of learning would be interesting, or at the least helpful to a lot of people. I’m interested in what you’d write out for that if you do get to it.


I just ran across the 4 stage in a business article.
Terry Yearwood was an instructor for Skip Barber - Lead Instructor at the time, IIRC.

He said it like this:

“Y’all are doing things wrong so you don’t know what right looks like. Then y’all are going to do it right sometimes and still not see it. Then one day you will do it right and see it. Then you will know what right looks like and you will start getting it right more and more often.” This was specific to sight picture when driving, but I think it is a good general statement on race driving. I think it applies in other things I have done specifically shooting due to the sight picture being an aspect of both.
With Karts the hard thing is not being able to recount what happened due the quickness of the events and number of turns in a lap.

In one race I counted 14 turns in 42 seconds. Break each turn into 3 segments and 5 or 10 laps and that is a lot to take in for driver struggling with driving and setup. I feel if you experience a well tuned kart early on it helps with knowing where you need to be. So being 1 guy trying to figure it all out takes time and you end up with a few pair of yellow shoes. Having some competent help is huge, if you can work together and gel. Having someone to point you in the right direction cuts the learning curve if you can get what they are telling you. I kind of know what a bad handling kart feels like but have not experienced a good handling kart or just wasn’t ready to notice it If I did. Part of the learning curve is setup vs driving.

I see learning often in terms of plateaus. A major plateau is when you know whether it is you or the equipment. In shooting I can pretty quickly assess if it is me or the gun/ammo/sights that is the weak link.

Another way I see it as alternating between understanding and confusion.

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That’s a really good way to put it quickly. I tried summing it up in a sentence but couldn’t and just left the slightly longer stuff in. Where did you find that quote?

You’re completely right though, lots of drivers don’t know how a good handling kart even feels. I remember I went probably two years before I got in a well setup kart and the difference was night and day.

There’s even a kid I know that has a CRG, but they bought a Tony Kart for him to practice on so he knew what a good kart felt like, then he’d hop in the CRG and tune it to feel similar. It was an interesting approach but it worked.

Having good tuning help behind a driver helps tons too. I was learning more in a weekend than I had all year once I finally found a tuner that knew what to look for and explained how to feel that in the kart.

Mr Baako,
I don’t think I’d be bored by what you have to say.


I was in the group he was addressing.

I have found that some of us have a hard time coming from cars. I think it helps if you drive karts before ever driving a car. Mr. Stu Hayner told me he raced karts first, went on to bigger things and when he came back to karting in took 2 years to figure out how to drive a kart again. Even throwing in karts may have changed I found that to be a big number. I have a friend that is good in cars (BMW’s) and karts confound him. But then guys that win in one class don’t necessarily win in others be it cars or karts.

My brother and I recently had a conversation. I told him the #1 takeaway from all the things I have done is most people can’t tell you what will work for you. His take is they don’t want to. My take is they can’t. Doesn’t matter if they want to or not they just can’t do it, for a number of reasons. On some occasions you do get a bit of spot on info and it is often universal. In Karting rarely is anything universal though. I have had better advice in general in shooting than in karting. That is due to the nature of the sport though. In karting how many ways are there to adjust the balance of a kart or drive around a problem? As TJ said the number of variables is large. Then if your clutch or gearing is off how does that factor in. After last race i discovered a cracked seat stay. So that has me reconsidering my assessment of what to try next should be.

I think the 4 stages may be a vast oversimplification. But then again a lack of over-complication can be nice at times.

I think the no thought required mode goes hand in hand with concentration. Be it the ability to concentrate on one thing or quickly switch between 2 or more things.

IIRC Ross Bentley talks about this in Inner Speed Secrets. Honestly it’s one of my favorite ones.

(Affiliate link, KP get’s a little $ if you buy it :slight_smile: )

We have a few pretty interesting articles on driving and the brain by Warren Chamberlain for the new KartPulse site…

Here’s a (big, not) snippet

The Five Stages of Driver Development

There are five main techniques you must master to achieve your potential:

  1. Reducing the sensation of speed
  2. Increasing your sensitivity to forces, loads, and traction
  3. Getting the tires on a plane
  4. Controlling the polar shift
  5. Driving a trajectory on a line

1. Reducing the Sensation of Speed

Reducing the sensation of speed is the first mental technique that must be mastered, because you can’t free enough mental resources to learn anything else until you have mastered this technique. To reduce the sensation of speed, you must move the processing of visual information from your brain’s dominant left hemisphere (which processed only one bit of information at a time) to your subdominant right hemisphere (which processes all the information at once).

Since your right hemisphere processes visual information as patterns, you are actually programming yourself with pattern recognition templates for the track. Once you have patterns for the track stored, and your left hemisphere becomes habitualized (used to) to the incoming visual images, your left hemisphere will tend to stop “analyzing” the visual sensory input. When this happens, the left hemisphere simply observes the visual information and delegates the processing of it to the right hemisphere. It is much easier for your right hemisphere to do a simple pattern match (comparing what you see to the stored pattern) than it is to intellectually (left hemisphere) process each bit of information from each mental image. The reduction in processor load that pattern matching provides is what causes the reduced sensation of speed.

There are two ways you can develop pattern recognition templates and habitualize your left hemisphere:

The most common (and most expensive) way is to drive around the track many times. This is costly both because of wear and tear on your equipment, but also because of “other learning experiences” you are not yet ready to handle, which can result in kart repair costs.
The most efficient way is to combine experience driving around the track (to store templates for the track) with visual imagery (to habitualize your left hemisphere). NOTE: you do not need to store pattern recognition templates for every inch of the track. Instead you only need enough to link the track together visually. I tend to store braking points, turn-in points, clipping-points, and run-out (exit) points.

Using visual imagery to improve your driving

Your on-board computer (brain) physically stores memories such as your pattern recognition templates (and your programmed responses to them) as “engrams.” These engrams are formed when an electrical signal travels along the brain’s cortex (outer covering). So, in a sense, you could say that engrams are the wiring (or programming language) of the brain. As the signal travels from neuron (the brain’s nerve cells) to neuron, it jumps the synapses (microscopic gaps that separate adjacent neurons). When the electrical signal jumps a synapse it causes a reduction in the resistance at the synapse. This drop in resistance persists for a while, so the next time you have the same experience the signal will passes more easily along the same path (circuit). When you encounter the same experience enough times, the resistance of that path is reduced so much that the resulting “circuit” is essentially “hard wired” into your brain. That’s why learning usually takes repetition. You need time to establish the new circuit(s) in your brain.

When learning to drive, seat time is very important, but your brain can not tell the difference between an actual experience and a vividly imagined experience; a similar electrical signal travels across your brain’s cortex in either case. So, if you have enough seat time to know what to imagine, you can use the mental-imagery training techniques that follow to effectively increase your seat time. Imagine, you could do 5, 10, even 50 perfect laps every night before you go to sleep and it won’t cost you a penny in gas, oil, tires, or “unplanned learning experiences”

Imagery Procedure

Lay down or sit in a quiet place (in bed, just before going to sleep is a good time)
Close your eyes
Relax and slow your breathing (inhale 4seconds, hold 4sec., out 4sec., rest 4sec.)
Once you feel relaxed, just remember driving out of the pits and start driving.
Continue driving for 10-15 minutes, what ever feels comfortable.

Visual imagery may not really be visual to you… It’s not for me. I tend to get only visual fragments and mostly experience feelings. Go with whatever works for you.

If you encounter a portion of the track you don’t have a pattern recognition template for, make a mental note to create one the next time you drive the track. In the interim, you can just estimate how long you think it takes to go through the “blank spot”.

Don’t feel you have to drive entire laps all the time. Sometimes you may just want to work on a few turns, but in general, start and end your imagery session with at least one complete lap.

Do not force yourself to pay attention, simply let the images, feelings whatever you are experiencing flow by. If you find yourself becoming distracted, gently draw your attention back to the driving.

At first you may not have access to anything but your version of “visual” information, but with practice you will begin to remember other sensations such as the sound of your kart and kinesthetic sensations such as cornering, acceleration, and deceleration forces. USE AS MANY SENSATIONS AS POSSIBLE. These extra sensations will become very important as you progress up the learning curve.

Do the visual imagery as much as possible (at least every night). As with anything in racing, you will get out what you put in.

Using Imagery Training at the Track

Next time you are at the track, make a promise to yourself to sit down for 10-15 minutes after each session on track. Use the imagery technique I posted earlier to control your breathing and relax. Then drive the track in your mind. Go turn-by-turn and evaluate your performance.

When you discover an area where your driving can be improved, make the improvement in your mind by imagining yourself driving the way you want to. Repeat the image of the desired driving 3-5 times, then move on to the next turn. If you encounter a problem that is kart related, see if any ideas come up for improving the kart (the frequency and quality of ideas will depend on both your technical knowledge of karts and your experience). When you have finished evaluating your performance, prepare your kart for the next session and go kick some butt!

Reducing the Sensation of Speed by Coordinating Your Right and Left Hemispheres

After storing pattern recognition templates for the track, and using visual imagery to habitualize your left hemisphere to the speed at which the images will appear, you should start experiencing a reduction in the sensation of speed (and you will experience a proportional reduction in the level of STRESS you experience when driving). What you are trying to achieve is a harmonious working relationship between your brain’s hemispheres.

Too much left hemisphere and you will always feel like you are behind (things are happening too fast) and you will experience a high level of stress. Too much right hemisphere and you may “zone out” and experience brain fade because the right hemisphere does not know what your markers (braking, turning, etc.) mean. That is, it’s lack of temporal awareness may cause you to forget about (or screw up the timing of) the next “task” (braking, turning) that must be completed. The ultimate balance uses both hemisphere’s strengths at the appropriate times.

The left hemisphere should take care of the “management.” It should only be concerned with whether or not reality matches the plan (the plan being where am I, what should I be feeling, where am I going). To accomplish this, the left hemisphere only needs to really be “on” when you approach a reference point (one of your pattern recognition templates). Once it determines that the template and reality match, it can switch off and the right hemisphere can turn on to sense forces and the traction that is available. As you approach the next significant template, the left hemisphere switches on and the process begins again.

The first template in a corner is the most critical, followed by a gradual decrease in importance as you progress through the turn. This is the case because of your self preservation mechanism. That is, if you approach a braking point, you must brake correctly to be “safe” and to be able to properly do the next task… turning. If you brake and turn correctly you will be on the proper line to clip the apex and drift to the exit. Therefore those templates become less important because it is less likely there will be a problem.

That means that if you brake and turn in correctly, you can switch primarily to your right hemisphere to sense traction through the remainder of the turn. Conversely, if you screw up the braking/turn in, you must use more left hemisphere processing to correct you path and get back on line. Its another unfortunate paradox that right when you really need all of your ability to sense traction, you brain is trying to figure out where the h*$# you are going and how it can get you back on line (often times resulting in a worsening of your situation).

When you drive around the track with your left hemisphere turning on and off at specific locations, you quickly establish a mental rhythm. Since rhythm is the foundation of both meditation and autogenic training (self hypnosis) the rhythm you establish puts your brain (mostly your left hemisphere) into a meditative state. This very relaxing state is just what you need to reduce tension and help your left hemisphere transfer some control to the right hemisphere. When you do this, you can clearly perceive what is happening, allowing you to confidently push you kart to the limits of performance. Can you say THE ZONE! ;~)

2. Increasing your sensitivity to forces, loads, and traction
Sensitivity will come as you grow more comfortable with speed. To help it come more quickly, try the exercises that follow, which will help focus your available attention on the energy flowing through the kart, the forces acting on the kart, and the available traction.

NOTE: It is preferable to do these exercises on a test day when there are not too many other karts around. That way you are less likely to be distracted/interrupted.

Drive 2-3 laps while calling out loud (no one will hear you so do it out loud) the color that represents where energy is flowing in the kart. (Red = Deceleration, Purple = Cornering and Decel, Blue = Cornering, Turquoise = Accel and Cornering, Green = Acceleration). Try to see the color at each “pattern recognition template” as you approach it. That is, see the track turn red as you approach the braking point, then see your line from the turning point to the clipping point as a blend from purple to blue, etc.

Drive 2-3 laps while calling out a number between 1 and 5 that represents the end of the kart that is generating the most force/traction. (1 = front tires are generating all the traction, or under braking are carrying most of the load; 3 = balanced cornering forces; 5 = rear tires are generating all the traction)

Drive 2-3 laps while calling out a number between 1 and 5 that represents the percent of maximum traction you are using. (1 = minimal traction and 5 = the tires are at their limits)
Take a brake and if you choose to, use the imagery techniques to reinforce the exercises.
Go out and drive 4-8 laps at about 95% to 98% or your capabilities. Use the extra attention you should have (because you are not driving at 100% capability) to try to PREDICT when you will reach the traction limit in each corner. You will eventually get to the point where you are correcting for slides (brought on by reaching the limit of traction) a split second before you actually reach the limit of traction. When you get to this point then YOU are controlling the kart rather than reacting to it.

NOTE: The next time you are at a race, go watch a turn where everyone slides (off camber turn or something like that). Watch the fastest drivers and you will see that they actually correct for the impending slide a fraction of a second before the kart actually slides. You will notice that their karts don’t slip far sideways and then snap back into line as they correct. Instead the kart moves through the turn in a smooth drift because the “correction” was there waiting for the slide instead or trying to catch the slid from behind. Contrast the good drivers to the mid-pack drivers and you will see that the slower drivers are always playing catch-up with the back of the kart. It jumps sideways and they react/correct, then it snaps back into line…or maybe it just keeps going around if they were too late. When you learn to anticipate reaching the limit of adhesion, and you correct ahead of the slide, you stop the kart’s yaw rotation before it builds up too much momentum, that’s why the faster drivers karts don’t go way sideways.

Another cool exercise is to lower your tire pressure a lot (I have run as low as 10-12 lbs with YBNs) and take a few laps. Be careful don’t go super fast, work up to speed slowly (I’m not sure how this will work with sticky tires). The objective is to soften the tires a lot so they will generate big slip angles at lower speeds. Drive a few laps like this paying particular attention to how the tires feel before they start drifting and as they drift more and more with increased load. The kart will feel funky (lots of self aligning torque from the soft tires trying to push them back in line) but that doesn’t matter, concentrate on the feel of drifting.

When you come in, you will have a good (although exaggerated) idea of how your tires will feel when drifting at the limit of adhesion. Next, you simply need to combine the experience of driving properly inflated tires just below the limit of adhesion with the experience of driving the under inflated tires at the limit of adhesion. In other words, once you know how the tire feels at the exaggerated limit it will be easier to imagine how a properly inflated tire will feel at the limit. Using kinesthetic imagery (imagining how things feel) to combine your soft-tire and normal-tire experiences to create a mental model of how the normal tire will feel at the limit. You can also try imagining the traction as a curve, take what you imagine the soft-tire’s curve to look like and stretch it 75% to 100% taller and make it about 50% more narrow to get an idea of how the properly inflated tire will feel at the limit.

I know these exercises may sound crazy, but consider this… “The more you do of what you’ve done, the more you’ll get of what you got.”


I can relate to this. At the stage where occasionally I get a series of turns spot on and it feels “right” like a key clicking into place. I don’t know why it’s right but I want to chase that feeling. I think I’m starting to be at the point where I have enough experience to be able to start understanding.
Last night I was lying in bed thinking about turn 3 at Jim Hall (fast left sweeper) and visualizing a shorter line through the turn and sort of feeling the geometry of it all in my head, versus what I know to be true in terms of grip available etc.
So I don’t know which stage of learning I’m on but I definitely feel like I’m making forward progress and am really enjoying the evolution of how we come to understand what we are trying to do out there.

Thanks. I think the point I realized and tried to make was that spending too much time on “states of learning” in my post didn’t directly improve the post theme I was addressing. I have plenty of supporting material for that particular post.

I noticed a few typos, but published the draft so you can take a look. Going for detailed but entertaining style of writing that will hopefully get some traction.

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