I’m fascinated by elite performance. Sometimes “pushing” can turn toxic, as I discussed with “how far is it acceptable to push?“, talking about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in pro cycling and the culture around it.
Sometimes, however, we must challenge ourselves to see what our limits are, then learn, both in terms of skills and self-belief, where we can go further.
However, sometimes we go TOO far, so let me tell a few stories that make both points.
Stretching and Learning
In my second year of university, I had an ancient little rear wheel drive Triumph Spitfire. When snow fell, my father, himself a brilliant racing driver (see this post), told me to go to an empty parking lot in the middle of the night and practice spinning the car around in circles until I felt comfortable. He also said not to get complacent and to do that every winter. It was a LOT of fun, plus taught me so much about what my limits were, where I could improve my skills, and that I could build belief and self-confidence.
So, back to limits and specifically to motor racing as an example. On the morning I published the post on “how far is it acceptable to push?“, as I went onto twitter I saw the Scottish motor racing driver Allan McNish post this :
— Allan McNish (@allanmcnish) November 19, 2017
For those without Twitter, the Youtube clip is here :
I won’t spoil the video, simply ask you to watch it, both for the amazing excitement and to see what happened, Too far? Just far enough? I am sure both drivers learned a lot and can take the opportunity to stretch further in future and win more.
Now, two more clips to link from that. The first shows how elite performers often perform a “high wire act” and are always close to the edge and sometimes go over it.
The second clip shows how, in search of glory, sometimes a company (in this case Mercedes) can go too far. My belief is that such a pursuit by that company could have cost multiple lives, as happened with the 1955 Le Mans crash that killed 83 and injured many more, and in which Mercedes were also involved (so one would have hoped for more corporate memory, perhaps).
Being at the limit – and sometimes beyond
First, of Allan McNish himself in 2011 at the famous Le Mans 24 hours race. Allan is a multiple world champion, yet we all have limits. As the commentators (in French) noted, there were two miracles that afternoon. One, that no spectators were harmed, and then two, that Allan himself was unharmed. Quite astonishing.
Pushing too far
So, to the final clip. In 1999, for the first time in many years, I went with my father, brother and other friends to the Le Mans 24 hour race. Now, back in 1979, a friend of my Dad was racing at Le Mans, and he had the most spectacular crash. Midway down the famous 3-mile long Mulsanne straight (and this was before they put a chicane in to slow it down), he hit a bump and flew over the barrier and into the trees. Somehow his car smashed into a huge square metal advertising sign rather than a tree, then bounced back onto the track and across to the other side. Car destroyed, driver ok. We went to team area (paddock) later and I witnessed, at aged 13, my first time seeing people in deep shock.
Fast forward to 1999, aged 33 now, and I am back at Le Mans. Although fortunately, I was not at the part of the track where this happened, to hear on race radio of another car taking off at full speed and flying into the trees truly shocked me.
This is Peter Dumbreck flying into the trees. Again, miraculously, he was unharmed.
Now, this is a prototype Mercedes that flipped into the air during a race. A truly freak occurrence that could have killed the driver and even spectators, yet could not have been forecast, yes? No. it absolutely could have been forecast. This was the first time racing for this version of the car, and Mercedes had not only flipped one in practice, but also on the very day of the race in pre-race warm up. Somehow, they chose to race the cars, and this clip shows the results of their choice to keep racing. Of course they then instantly pulled their remaining cars out of the race, and it was a miracle that nobody died, but did they push too far? You decide.