Power of the Periphery (Published in Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets Weekly, #231)

Whether I’m working at the Porsche Track Experience or taking my 88’ 944 Turbo S to the track, I’m always thinking about one thing more than anything else:

“Where do I need to look when entering turn X?”

The more we study this sport, the more the practice of looking where you want to go, not where you’re going (or don’t want to go) proves true. But what if I told you there was a way to not only improve your focused vision, but your general awareness as well?

Enter, the power of the periphery.

Focused vision is defined as what we are staring at directly.

 

Let’s try an experiment.

 

Hold out your hand in front of you, and make a fist. Your fist is roughly the area of your vision your pupils can focus on. Our eyes contain a combination of rods and cones; rods detect motion and cones detect color. The concentration of rods is highest on the outer portion of the eye, while the concentration of cones is highest in the center of the eye. (Do you feel like you’re reliving high school biology yet?).

 

Beyond your focused vision is where your peripheral vision comes into play. Peripheral vision is everything we perceive outside of the area defined by your fist.

 

The cool thing about peripheral vision is that, together, our eyes and brain assemble rough images brought in through our eyes to create the peripheral world around us.

 

The brain is a huge part of our peripheral vision! So if we can train our brain, then we can train our peripherals, right? Peripheral vision does a great job at detecting four things:

  1. Motion
  2. Color
  3. Shapes
  4. Text

We sense those four things with our peripherals in the order listed above, from best to worst.

 

Our field of view for motion detection is enormous. Have you ever been on track a GT3 Cup car car coming up behind you without taking your focused vision off the track in front of you? I know I have. That’s an example of how well we detect motion. According to the test linked below by Exploratorium.edu, the average person can detect a full 180 degrees of motion. Essentially, as soon as there is motion within the field of view, you’ll know it. That’s why having our side mirrors adjusted properly is important, because they are well within that 180 degree field, and motion in those mirrors is how we detect approaching cars on track.

 

Do you have a shift light display in your Porsche track car? How about an oil pressure warning light, or some other indicator gauge? I found it interesting to learn that our peripherals also detect the lower part of our field of vision (dashboard area when in the car), much better than the upper field (rear-view mirror area). Additionally, our peripherals can detect color within roughly 100 degrees or so of our focused vision. That’s why we’re able to nail up-shifts perfectly using those shift lights. Do you ever look at them? Maybe once or twice just to get a reference point, but from then on, the moving display and changing colors is embedded in your brain.


The above picture is a rough representation of what I’ll call our “peripheral detection zones.” The red oval on the pavement is my rough focal point. I’ve looked past my track-out point, planned my pass around the car ahead, and am now focused on the braking point for the next turn. Green represents the area in which I can accurately read text. So right now, even though I know the sticker on the center of my dashboard is white, blue, and black, I can’t actually read what it says. Purple represents the color detection zone. Within this oval, my vision can very accurately detect colors without focusing on the object. The blue oval represents my motion detection zone. If something moves anywhere in that blue oval, I’ll notice it. These zones are a little different for everyone, and this is a rough depiction based on what I have read and my personal experience.

Do you have a lap timer in your car? How long does it take you to read and understand what it is telling you while on the track, compared to a shift light? Our field of view for detecting text (words, numbers, etc.) is only within a few degrees of our focused vision. That means to read a lap time, or predictive timer accurately, you must take your focused vision off the road. Think about that when you locate your lap timer in the car. My lap timer is on the dash, mounted directly below the APEX device in the picture. I view my lap times on the straight between turns 4 and 5 at Barber. Imagine that green oval moving down to focus on the dash. The purple and blue ovals are still able to detect a lot!

 

Okay, so it’s pretty clear that peripheral vision is extremely important on the track. To take it a step further, I looked into what our vision does when we’re in a frenzied, panicked, or stressful state of mind. In those situations, we get tunnel vision. Our field of view reduces when we’re uncomfortable. This happens in tense social situations, if you’re about to have a physical altercation with a co-worker, or after someone cuts you off in rush hour traffic. This is dangerous. Did you know that when an elderly person has vision loss, the peripheral vision goes first. This leads to an 80% increase in the likelihood of a fall (due to the drastic loss of awareness), according to a research study I read recently. This is exactly why you’re more likely to make a mistake after car-to-car contact with a competitor, or following a big slide entering a scary corner. Mistakes breed mistakes, because our vision narrows!

Here are a few examples (for more info, visit the provided links to training and tutorials on peripheral vision):

  • While on the grid before a session, take a few moments to consciously think about relaxing your body. Start with your feet and work up to your head and neck.
  • Really think about releasing tension in your neck. This is proven to help maintain a strong field of vision in stressful situations.
    • Not only does this help your field of vision, but it’s also key to what Ross preaches about finding the zone!

When at home, practice this simple exercise:

  • Focus on an object across the room and stare at it intently. (Ideally, you haven’t been in this room long, or know where everything is located in that room). Take long deep breaths, and try to make out the shapes and color of the objects that you are not staring at directly. Do this routinely and, over time, your peripheral vision will become stronger and more aware.
    • If you’ve been racing or driving on track for a while, you’ll find that your field of view is already pretty good, but it can always get better!

Improving our vision skills is the best way to learn how to safely take our Porsche’s to the limits they were designed to explore. So the real question is: how well can you see what you’re not staring at? My challenge to you is think about your peripheral vision, practice using it, then watch your on-track awareness improve!

 

Tests and training for peripheral vision:

 

– Andrew Rains

 

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