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Target Fixation - Fixed Ideas


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October 19th, 2008 – ASRA Superstock race at Daytona

I was crossing the finish line in the middle of a pack of 15 riders on 1000cc machines all at about 185mph. The flagman was holding up a “meatball” flag – a black flag with an orange circle in it. It means someone jumped the start. About 100 yards after the flagman was another official holding the number board showing the number of the rider that jumped the start. The numbers were thin black numbers on a gray background and all I could read was 4 something 6. I was number 406.

 

That sets the scene for why, at 185mph (271 feet per second) with a 65mph turn coming up in 200 yards, I was arguing with race officials, which weren’t present and couldn’t hear me, that I hadn’t jumped the start. And why I was cursing them out for using such a small sign with a gray background as the number board. That’s the excuse I’m giving for why I went right past my braking marker, almost took out two other racers, and set off to explore the paved run off area of turn 1. There was just no way I could make that turn and avoid the other races with the crazy line I’d have to take. I picked the safest straight line I could find and committed to it.

 

I got on the brakes hard. I could feel the front tire flexing as it slid and regained traction. The rear tire was howling and slightly out of line. Ahead of me was a black wall made of hay bales stacked two high wrapped black plastic bags. I had too much speed to get stopped in time. I was going to hit that wall. But I was going to be going pretty slow when I got there and I suddenly realized I knew how to handle this.

 

I approached the wall at about 20mph and stepped on the rear brake. I slid the bike completely sideways into the wall, both tires hitting simultaneously. I was catapulted over the wall and into a graceful (yeah, right) shoulder roll on the pavement on the other side. The bike knocked off the top haybale and was laying on its right side on the bottom haybale. It was undamaged and had never hit the pavement.

 

I got back on the bike and finished the race 7th, the last bike on the lead lap.

 

I have always thought of target fixation as a visual thing. Looking back on this incident now I realize I had target fixated on that wall. And I had Fixed Ideas about my situation which combined to ensure that I was going to hit that wall.

 

The key decisions I made were: “I can’t make this turn”, “I’m going to hit that wall”, and “I can hit that wall ‘safely’.” I hope that last one makes you laugh.

 

“I can’t make this turn,” maybe I could have, maybe I couldn’t. I was in a pack and the riders in front were slowing down in an awful hurry. I didn’t have much time there to avoid them so I committed to blowing the turn and take my chances elsewhere.

 

“I’m going to hit that wall,” I just committed to hitting the wall. Then, with the idea, “I know how to hit it,” I made it OK to hit the wall. The last one was the kiss of death. I ensured I wouldn’t look for alternatives because I didn’t need to. I was going to hit the wall and it was OK.

 

Somewhere along the way I should have realized that if I was going slow enough to ‘safely’ hit a wall then I WAS GOING SLOW ENOUGH TO TURN!

 

I had fixed ideas that prevented me from even considering alternatives to hitting the wall. I had fixed ideas committed to failure. I was able to evaluate the situation and devise a plan to minimize the consequences but I failed to observe the open space around me.

 

How to handle it? Well, don’t get into it in the first place. If I can’t determine the number on the number board look for it next time around. (It was 476 by the way.) Don’t have a running dialog with made up people while racing. By doing that I stopped doing what I was doing, racing, and started doing something else, someplace else. Yeah, that’s not good.

 

But, if I find myself in a similar situation where I’ve blown a turn, I’ve got to force my view wider and perceive the space left and right available to me, not just the space in front of me which I’ve already conceded isn’t enough. And I have to re-evaluate the situation on an ongoing basis and not just rely on the correctness of past calculations.

 

Is this real to anyone else?

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First of all, very good post!

 

I have been fortunate enough not to hit any walls and unfortunate enough not to participate in any races thus far, but I can relate to you in regards to target fixation.

 

I have noticed sometimes that if my mind is not "right" that I am mentally telling myself to look through the turn and not at a specific object I would much rather avoid. If i am riding with a "clear" head it seems that everything just clicks and I can focus all of my mental energy on my riding.

 

The best thing to do is put everything on the back burner and concentrate on the job at hand. Your success (and safety) could very well depend on this. Of course, saying it is one thing and doing it is another :P

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I have always thought of target fixation as a visual thing. Looking back on this incident now I realize I had target fixated on that wall. And I had Fixed Ideas about my situation which combined to ensure that I was going to hit that wall.

 

The key decisions I made were: “I can’t make this turn”, “I’m going to hit that wall”, and “I can hit that wall ‘safely’.” I hope that last one makes you laugh.

 

“I can’t make this turn,” maybe I could have, maybe I couldn’t. I was in a pack and the riders in front were slowing down in an awful hurry. I didn’t have much time there to avoid them so I committed to blowing the turn and take my chances elsewhere.

 

“I’m going to hit that wall,” I just committed to hitting the wall. Then, with the idea, “I know how to hit it,” I made it OK to hit the wall. The last one was the kiss of death. I ensured I wouldn’t look for alternatives because I didn’t need to. I was going to hit the wall and it was OK.

 

Somewhere along the way I should have realized that if I was going slow enough to ‘safely’ hit a wall then I WAS GOING SLOW ENOUGH TO TURN!

 

I had fixed ideas that prevented me from even considering alternatives to hitting the wall. I had fixed ideas committed to failure. I was able to evaluate the situation and devise a plan to minimize the consequences but I failed to observe the open space around me.

 

That should be published somewhere! Oh wait...isn't the internet a now valid method of publishing???

 

GREAT STUFF MAN. Two Thumbs UP!

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Greg;

This is a remarkable piece, especially considering the level that you ride/race a motorcycle. To those of us who only dream about riding at your level, it is a clear reminder that anyone can "forget" their training and let SR's take over. It was also a great motivational story in that you remounted and finished in the top ten. A lot of lesser riders would have walked away from this and concede the race...

 

Thanks for sharing this.

 

Kevin

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