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[The Debrief] The five reasons why we crash or spin on track
Whether you ride or drive, losing control almost always boils down to these five reasons — even when you think it wasn't your fault.
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Note to car drivers: I originally laid out the five reasons why we crash in a 2016 podcast. Although I focused on bikes, these reasons apply equally to cars. Abrupt is abrupt, rushing is rushing. When I say “crash,” just read “spin.”
New Jersey Motorsports Park, Thunderbolt Track. It was the last hour of a 2-day YCRS school and we were doing some open lapping, aka Instructor Grand Prix. I had been riding my trustworthy FZ1 and wanted something sportier. The R1s were taken, but I noticed a GYTR R6 parked to the side. Perfect! As I walked over to it, another instructor warned me that the front tire was smoked. “I’ll be careful,” I said nonchalantly. I took off slowly, tiptoed through T3-T3C, made it through T4, but, as I tipped in to T5, I lost the front. What just happened?! There must be fluid on the track—I was going too slow for it to be a cold tire crash! Right?! Nope…
Crashes happen, and all too quickly we blame something, anything, other than ourselves. It was cold tires! My setup was wrong! I couldn’t get by the person in front of me! I’ve done it and heard it all before. Sure, sometimes crashes aren’t our fault—someone takes you out, there’s fluid on track, or you have a mechanical issue. But the reality is that it’s almost always us.
Let’s break down the five reasons why we crash (or spin) and what we can do to prevent this, even—or particularly—in unpredictable conditions. For a deeper dive into the topic, check out the three podcasts linked at the bottom of the page. This article also provides a good breakdown of the five reasons with a rider’s personal examples.
1) Lack of focus or lack of a plan
On the track, even a moment’s distraction can lead to a crash or loss of control. Maintaining consistent, active focus throughout each session is vital to a safe and successful track experience. To do that, it helps to have a plan of what you’re working on. In all my years of coaching, I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t want a better laptime. But aiming to “just go faster” isn’t a plan, it’s an idea. It’s what you want to do, not how to do it. Establishing a deliberate strategy that’s based on the motorsports fundamentals and commensurate with your skill level and technique is the key to getting faster. Without a plan, there is nothing to execute, techniques aren’t engaged, and it becomes all too easy to fall victim to a “bad session”. A plan with concrete objectives reduces your risk of crashing due to inattention, distraction, or getting in over your head. You’re actively working on techniques to mitigate risk, not just hoping you’ll “go faster” this time and everything will be OK. The bonus, of course, is that the same techniques that mitigate risk are those that will ultimately help you drop your laptime.
2) Abrupt inputs
Abrupt inputs usually happen when we are late due to being reactive instead of proactive. Think about the words you use in applying motor controls: replace “grab” with “squeeze,” “flick” with “turn-in,” and “hammer” with “build.” This takes a proactive mindset, not a reactive mindset—and reactive almost always gets us in trouble.
3) Rushing direction
Every corner has a slow point, where we need to have sufficiently reduced our speed and be pointed in order to establish proper exit direction, which in turn is the key to acceleration. Not respecting where we need to be slowed and pointed is a sure-fire way to get frustrated, chase setup, and add risk. Give yourself permission to slow down and get pointed at the right time. (Note: This doesn’t mean entering slowly into corners. The key is to get in as fast as your technique allows without blowing direction and ruining your exit.)
4) Repeating a mistake
On track, there are many report cards available to assess how we are doing. Of those, apexes are the #1 thing I look at. Are you close to it? Parallel with it? What control are you using in reference to where the apex is? Multiply this by the number of corners on track and you have nearly unlimited opportunities for real-time feedback. Mistakes like missing apexes, stabbing the brake, hammering the throttle, and rushing direction will not get better as you add speed. In fact, they get worse; you won’t find precision under pressure.
At some point in all of our lives, whether on or off the track, overconfidence has bitten us in the ass. The ironic part is that we tend to feel confident because of all the things we are doing right (or think we are doing right!), and subsequently let our guard down, forgetting what got us there. The key to counteracting this is to double down on technique when you’re feeling great, rather than ignoring it.
Want to know more? Check out these related podcasts: