By AJ Jacobsen
Tablula Rasa, Latin for “scraped tablet” or “clean slate” refers to a state of the human mind before ideas have been imprinted on it. Naturally, as we age, time and experience leaves fewer blanks, and we have fewer opportunities to truly experience things with a blank slate. A blank slate can learn things that are nearly impossible, or at the very least rather difficult, to learn without some preconceived notions of how things ought to be.
In my case, I was becoming convinced that part of what was holding me back as a racer were these preconceived notions. My mind was used to having a certain amount of time to process things, it had an expectation on how quickly things should happen, and it felt like every second I gained was a huge struggle and while I could see places I was losing time, actually grasping those opportunities seemed out of reach much of the time. I wasn’t sure how much of what was holding me back was a lack of confidence, a lack of aggressiveness, these preconceived ideas and timing, or just a lack of skill. I could get tips and ideas on improvement, but there were many seconds between me and the front, and while I could see some of that time, much of it was still this mysterious thing I had no idea where it was.
A move to Texas offered a unique opportunity to come to a track as a blank slate – I had never seen the track, never ridden with these riders, in fact, I had hardly watched any videos of the track prior to arriving. It was as close to a tabula rasa as I could be, and I wanted to embrace the chance to really gauge my strengths and weaknesses as a rider and racer. My full race report is here which details the weekend and what I did and did not accomplish. Lessons learned, however, I’m breaking down here.
- I learned very quickly that one of the things I believed had been holding me back was, indeed, true. That “thing” was my brain’s timing. I had ridden, and gotten reasonably quick, on my Triumph 675, and the move to the big bike on track was a large difference. My mind struggled with the acceleration and the feet-per-second that the 200+hp fire-breathing-dragon covered versus my rather tame 109hp 675. As I would leave Point A on any particular corner, my subconscious believed it had X amount of time before we would have to start our next action. On faster sections of the tracks where the bigger bike really starts to stretch its legs, I didn’t have anywhere near X amount of time. My mind would panic, I’d over slow my entries (waaay too early) and then backed off on my exits for the same reason.
- Related to the tail end of #1, I wasn’t rolling on the throttle like I should be. I’m barely on it, and taking my sweet time getting to WOT. Being on a track I wasn’t “scared” of the timing on, this became very obvious, especially after a quick review of some on track video I took. Rather than getting my direction and rolling on 1-2-3, I was getting direction, waiting, cracking the throttle, slowly rolling on, maybe backing off a tad, and waiting to really roll on until I was nearly straight up and down, rather than a smooth, controlled, roll on all the way through my exit. Many, many seconds lost right there.
- I’m a bit overly cautious about high speed sweepers. The reason for that may vary from just being scared of crashing at those speeds, my eyes not moving far enough ahead fast enough, to past experiences when my bike’s transmission was acting up, but I was definitely over slowing the higher speed corners. I know from past experience eyes is a huge hang up for me, and I would that still continues to hold me up.
- I also learned that my skills are at a point where I can go to a track I am unfamiliar with, I don’t know the lines, I have never seen, and be at a pace that was nearly exactly the same as I had been at tracks I have been riding for years. My pace at MSR Houston, by the end of the weekend, compared to the front runners, was nearly exactly the same, if not slightly closer, than it was in Northern California at tracks I had been riding for nearly 7 years.
- I still tend to over slow – I know a number of reasons for this, some of it being simply too many miles on the street where caution in that area can be the difference between making it home alive – or not. After this experience, however, while I know that is worth a couple few seconds, I am certain that is not what is holding me back the most. It’s the difference between seeing the front pack and getting a podium, but it’s not what is keeping me at the back. Those corner exits, however, are killing me, especially on the big bike where horsepower rules.
- On a good note, I was relatively consistent, overcame my mental demons from my highside a couple months earlier, and the skills I do have translated quickly and immediately to a new track, new people, and a new organization.
This was an experience that was far outside my comfort zone, but that I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to have. My next race I’ll have had a couple track days at the track we will be racing (once in each direction), so it will give me an opportunity to really work on these skills and try to close that gap to the front group a little more.
My tabula rasa experience gave me a chance to clearly see my shortcomings, strengths, and weaknesses, and I am glad I took the chance and embraced the opportunity.