Portante – Self-evaluation is the key to success or the trigger to becoming a massive head case

Editor’s Note: Peter Portante joins the SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires for their 2015 season racing for Atlanta Motorsports Group (AMG). Peter has graciously agreed to provide for us his thoughts after each round of this season’s championship. You can follow Peter’s racing exploits by bookmarking his website, http://www.peterportante.com/, liking his Facebook Page, and following him on Twitter, @portante24.

How many times have you heard, “I know you better than you know yourself?” What an idiotic statement. In specific terms, it is impossible for anyone to know your reason behind any decisions in life. However, what people can do is to learn and understand the traits and history of one’s own judgements in such an obvious fashion that may not be apparent to one’s self. Personally, I am Italian and a self-diagnosed head case. Why the Italian part? Well maybe because it’s that all Italians seem to have an odd mixture of ridiculous cockiness, self-consciousness, and a history of irrational decisions, or quite possibly that’s just what I tell myself.

When diving into this subject, it is very easy to throw this all under the issue of perception versus reality, and you wouldn’t be wrong at all. Breaking it down even farther, or in a much simpler sense, it is the innate ability for humans to lie to themselves. You can look at it as thinking something you know isn’t true over and over until you finally truly believe it yourself, but that really is only half of the issue. The real issue is made from childhood, the ideologies passed onto us from the environment we were raised in. Some may say it is by birth, but I, for one, believe that isn’t the case. Hardly any of our adult traits are brought to us by birth or even teenager’s favorite excuse of genetics. We are essentially the people we were at the age of six. After that, we only become more complicated. Instead of progress in our reality, we become layered, and our layers effect our choices in the latter of our lives. Peeling away the layers is where things really become tricky, and for this example I will use motorsport to help explain because, at one point or another, this really was supposed to be about my racing weekend at Road America in MX-5 Cup. But hell, go read someone else’s generic blog on how there weekend went, how hard they worked, how the team gave them great equipment and why there weekend was so good/bad.

As a species, we have been placed on top of the food chain not because of any physical elements but because of our intelligence. So much so is this fact that in our own everyday life we have built a society that by only our negligence has any animal but themselves in a point where they will ever threaten humans on a large or even small scale… yea go take a picture with that bear. We live in a society that has slowed to following the struggling and not embracing the ones who can push us farther into what the future may hold, and yet still, it is comical to look at the gap from us to any other species.

Coming from an objective yet still mostly likely biased viewpoint, I don’t think being a head case really deserves the negative connotation that it holds. Of course, looking at it in a broad sense, you think of synonyms of being a head case as inconsistency in performance and attitude. Coming from that angle, then yes, it would be quite a negative attribute; however, the ability to be conscious of your own flaws and questions can give you the ground work for improvement that is unmatched. No one knows you like you. You need to peel away the layers you have built; you need peel away your heroes and your ideologies that you have built to be the kind of person you would like to become, because you already are the person you will “become”. There will be no change, only the way you portray yourself to others. And interestingly enough, the word “human” really is a subtle translation to masks. The person everyone knows may very well not be you or even the person you are attempting to portray. All they see are traits and history of your actions… see how this is all coming round?

All we really know is we exist; everything from there is all up to interpretation. A simple way to understand this or at least the way I will explain it is the understanding of colors. As children we looked up at the sun and we were told that is yellow, and we looked at the grass and were told that is green. All this information is based on someone else’s interpretation. Do we really know that they are seeing the same color as they are? It can be very easily argued that what they see is, let’s say, pink for what the next person sees as green. But our lives we are told that what we see is yellow, so we all have the same descriptions for what quite possibly may not be the same for person to person. It is only how we categorize that is the same, so yet again, all we really know is we exist.

Now how do we take this all into a smaller pool of information? In Motorsports, our battle is on the stopwatch. We are all told the stopwatch doesn’t lie. We find ourselves where half a second can mean the difference between a career and an average hobbyist. Why can it be that looking at a comparison of let’s say the top-10 drivers in the field can be separated by as little as half a second? Why is it in an amount of time that to a normal person’s eye pronounces an amount of randomness to how that time is achieved that this order of ten drivers is almost on the exact same order and always the same grouping of drivers? Hypothetically, looking at a grouping of information over the course a season that maintains that amount of constancy in positioning, out goes the idea of randomness and comes the truth of capability in a racing car.

In my own racing this year in Battery Tender MX-5 Cup, you can take this information all the way to the top-3. With my streak of podiums ending at five here at Road America in Race #2 due to contact, I have the ability to look back at the string of results without the idiotic fear on jinxing myself. Since my string of podiums began, one thing has remained oddly consistent, my podium counterparts were more often than not the same two people. How can it be that in a class where a tenth can lose you four spots on a qualifying, that results stay so consistent? The truth of the matter is progress cannot be linear, it actually is that progress in one’s craft is asymptotic. This is not to say that you would lose ability as time goes on, or even that improvement becomes stagnant. It is only based on the fact that at the start there is so much to learn.

Motorsports give you a fantastic outlet to view this, by the tool that never lies, the stop watch. Putting a novice on track for the first time with no instruction will lead to quite the poor performance, but with just the idea of staying on the proper line they may be able to knock ten seconds off their lap time. Oh, how much I dream of being able to knock ten seconds off my lap time. But as your learning and growth as a driver increases you come closer and closer to that illusive optimal lap time, thus as you get closer and closer your improves become less and less. It’s not the case that they are lesser improvements but a percentage gain over the course of a lap will become less and less just based on the fact that there becomes less and less available. It is very easy to look at that driver who is just outside of the top-10, and only a tenth off that is right there knocking on the door, but in fact that gain to break the top-10 will take time, no matter how small the time gap is. The stagnation of improvement in racing doesn’t come from being quickest, it comes from complacency. And that can come from being on any position on the grid, pole or DFL. Soon you will find yourself looking for that half a tenth over the course of your lap.

Now you need to peel away all those layer and find why you are doing it the way you are, the questioning of yourself when you really have no idea where the truth lies, as you start to realize what you perceived may be coming to be not what you expected, what you may have perceived, very well may not be reality. In this quest, you may go a tad crazy, or become a bit of a “head case”, but as you find the answers you will have an ability that not many have. As others face the challenges you have gone through of perception versus reality, you will have the benefit of your perception already being reality.

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