Data acquisition is a hot topic on internet forums, Facebook, email newsletters, and at track events. You might have some experience with data, but I am willing to bet there are many folks wondering what all the talk is about. “I’m not a data person” or “I’m not analytical” or “I’m not technical” are comments I hear often. Going to the track is about having fun, and sometimes motorsports data is more like homework. These are some common data acquisition related myths:
- I’m not analytical or technical, and I hate math. Data is not for me.
- I’m a beginner/ novice driver, I don’t need that yet!
- Data is too much work.
- I don’t have the desire to understand charts and graphs, no thanks!
Anyone willing to invest their time and energy can learn how to use data!
“All the Fast guys use it!”
I never failed a math class, but I came close once. History, English, student government, and a lot of extracurriculars came naturally to me growing up. In college, I detested statistics just as much as high school math, but I was given context on why we need math in the first place. Finance, Consumer Behavior, Sales Management made math relevant to me. Around this time I fell into the motorsports rabbit hole, and started to hear about the importance Data, a fancy word for math.
My friends on the Formula SAE team and at the track would say, “All the fast guys use it,” so I kind of pretended I understood “the data.” In the back of my mind I knew truly understanding data was critical, but I thought I was a “feel” driver: I learned by seat time, line of sight, and feeling the car, not numbers and data. For a few years I told myself this story, mostly to avoid learning data acquisition.
I got involved with APEX Pro because I felt overwhelmed by the data products I had experienced previously , and I knew there had to be a better way to interpret data. I loved the predictive timer on simulators, and I got value from it, but it did not quite speak my kinesthetic (remember that “feel” thing?) nature. Around this time, I was transitioning from a late model stockcar to front wheel drive touring cars and was heading to Pirelli World Challenge. Data, now more than ever, was going to be huge.
“They are called a Coach for a reason.”
Spending a track weekend with a data engineer and driver coach changed my attitude towards data entirely. Robby Foley, of current IMSA GTD fame, explained what he was seeing in my data. I watched Robby close his eyes and replicate what I was doing behind the wheel with his hands and feet. With only a speed trace, throttle trace, and G’s he was able to tell my story. Robby’s more analytical nature meant he gravitated towards the data and understood it intimately. He translated the data beautifully to the artistic sense required to drive a car at the limit. Seeing Robby mimic my inputs from looking at the squiggly lines gave me a goal for my own use of data – to tell a story.
“You cannot understand things to people.”
Jeff Bezos once said “You can explain things to people, but you cannot Understand things to people.” People interpret things based on their past experiences, environment, knowledge, and perceived value of the information. That weekend with Robby made me change my attitude towards data. Below are the first several steps I took:
- Avoid “more is better”. Start with a lap timing app, or entry level hardware. This article can help. Also, APEX Pro’s app can be used to time laps with or without the hardware.
- Use a system or interface that can overlay data on a GPS satellite image. If you are looking at Data, odds are you have filled out many track maps before. Use a data product that has a simple interface and allows you to overlay your logged data on a track map.
- Video! Whether it is from a fancy camera, or an old smartphone, record and watch video. Watch it religiously. Your goal here to begin to gain a “bird’s eye view” perspective (see unconscious competence) of your habits behind the wheel while you are in the car.
GPS Satellite Image (speed displayed)
Lap times, video, track maps; those are all data points. I began to reconcile that it was OKAY to use data differently than my Mechanical Engineer buddies from Formula SAE. It might take me longer to interpret squiggly lines in detail, and I had to be patient with the process, but there was hope.
The three steps outlined above were just the beginning. Through doing those three things I built the foundation I would need to dive deeper, but I needed more…
“Use the data that your processor can handle.”
Do you have a full track support team behind you? Are you hiring a coach? Are you carving out time while at the track, and after the event to review data? Do you love digging into the nuances of every lap?
If you said yes to the above questions, then you have a big processor. You can utilize a Dash Logger’s capabilities and instrument things like shock travel, tire temps and pressures, brake pressure, steering position etc. I encourage you to do those things, but most of us lack that processing power! Even if that is you, re-visit the fundamentals often.
Does your track support team consist of your paddock neighbors and the dog? Does data seem like “just something else to do?” If that is the case, the capabilities of most dash loggers are more than you want. Buying hardware in the $400 – $600 range after graduating from a smart phone app would be a great starting point. Learn the data provided by that device intimately. Get used to the digital track map (GPS Satellite view) and what you can glean for that interface, before graduating to the finer nuances:
- The Speed Trace. Speed on the Y Axis and Distance (or time) on the X. It’s important!
- Longitudinal and Lateral G – learn what it can tell you, and what it CAN’T tell you
- Overlays – Learn how to display other drivers’ data with your own
Motorsports data is no longer only for people who live and breathe to analyze complex information. Data is for everyone. All learning styles, and all types of drivers from Autocross to Pro Racing can benefit from learning the fundamentals of data acquisition. Take it one step of a time as described above and be patient. Ask yourself “why” constantly, and you will be amazed at how differently you will start to view your driving!
– Andrew Rains
Online Data acquisition resources:
Beginner Data Acquisition Page
Advanced Racecar Data Analysis Page
Aim Training events