Four Hour Work Week blog.The full article may be read here. I think there are some ideas here that we can apply to our own martial arts training.
The team was in third place by the time David
Heinemeier Hansson leapt into the cockpit of the black-and-pink Le Mans
Prototype 2 and accelerated to 120 miles per hour. A dozen drivers
jostled for position at his tail. The lead car was pulling away from the
pack—a full lap ahead.
This was the 6 Hours of Silverstone, a six-hour timed race held each
year in Northamptonshire, UK, part of the World Endurance Championship.
Heinemeier Hansson’s team, Oak Racing, hoped to place well enough here
to keep them competitive in the standings for the upcoming 24 Hours of
Le Mans, the Tour de France of automobile racing.
Heinemeier Hansson was the least experienced driver among his
teammates, but the Oak team had placed a third of this important race in
Determined to close the gap left by his teammate, Heinemeier Hansson
put pedal to floor, hugging the curves of the 3.7-mile track that would
be his singular focus for the next two hours. But as three g’s of
acceleration slammed into his body, he began to slide around the open
cockpit. Left, then right, then left. Something was wrong with his seat.
In endurance racing, a first place car can win a six- or 12-hour race
by five seconds or less. Winning comes down to two factors: the
equipment and the driver. However, rules are established to ensure that
every car is relatively matched, which means outcomes are determined
almost entirely by the drivers’ ability to focus and optimize thousands
of tiny decisions.
Shifting attention from the road to, say, a maladjusted driver’s seat
for even a second could give another car the opportunity to pass. But
at 120 miles per hour, a wrong move might mean worse than losing the
trophy. As Heinemeier Hansson put it, “Either you think about the task
at hand or you die.”
Turn by turn, he fought centrifugal force, attempting to keep from
flying out while creeping up on the ADR-Delta car in front of him.
And then it started to rain…
David Heinemeier Hansson was in a deep hole. Halfway
through his stint, the sprinkling rain had become a downpour. Curve
after curve, he fishtailed at high speed, still in third place, pack of
hungry competitors at his rear bumper.
LMP cars run on slick tires—with no tread—for speed. The maximum
surface area of the tire is gripping the road at any moment. But there’s
a reason street vehicles have grooves in them. Water on the road will
send a slick tire drifting, as the smooth rubber can’t channel it away.
Grooved tires push water between the tread, giving some rubber grip and
preventing hydroplaning. The slicker the tires—and the faster the
speed—the more likely a little water will cause a car to drift.
That’s exactly what was happening to the LMP racers. As the rain
worsened, DHH found himself sliding around the inside of a car that was
sliding all over the race track. Nearby, one driver lost grip, slamming
into the wall.
Cars darted for the pits at the side of the track, so their teams
could tear off the slick tires and attach rain tires. Rain tires are
safer, but slower. And they take a precious 13-plus seconds to install.
By the time the car has driven into the pits, stopped, replaced the
tires, and started moving again, more than a minute can be lost.
DHH screamed into his radio to his engineer, Should I pit in for new tires?
Like I said, DHH wasn’t the most experienced racer. He had gotten
into this race because he was skilled at hacking the ladder. A few years
into 37signals’s success, and with Rails taking a life of its own,
Hansson had started racing GT4—essentially souped-up street cars—in his
Initially, he finished in the middle of the pack with the other
novices. But after studying videos of master drivers, he started placing
higher. High enough that after six races, he was allowed to enter into
GT3 races (the next level up), despite zero first-place wins. In GT3, he
raced another six times, placing first once, third another time. He
immediately parlayed up to GTE (the “E” is for “endurance”). While other
racers duked it out the traditional way, spending a year in each
league, and only advancing after becoming league champion, DHH “would
spend exactly the shortest amount of time in any given series that I
could before it was good enough to move up to the next thing.”
There’s no rule that says you have to win the championship
to advance from GT4 to GT3. Nor is there a rule saying you have to spend
a year in a given league before moving up. That’s just the way people
did it. Instead, DHH compressed what normally takes five to seven years
of hard work into 18 months of smart work. “Once you stop thinking you
have to follow the path that’s laid out,” he says, “you can really turn
up the speed.”
On the rainy Silverstone course, however, parlays couldn’t help him
anymore, and slacking was not an option. DHH had to drive as fast as
safely possible, and every microsecond counted. In such tight
competition, the only edge a racer had was raw driving skill.
Or, as it turned out, a better platform.
SHOULD I PIT IN? The man who hates repeating himself repeated over the radio. I’m going to end up in the wall!
His engineer told him to tough it out. The rain is about to clear up.
G-force pounding his body, DHH cautiously hugged the curves for
another lap, and sure enough, the downpour began to subside. By two laps
the course was dry. Heinemeier Hansson’s slick tires gripped the track
with more friction than his competitors’ newly fitted rain tires and he
The other drivers now had to pit back in for slick tires, for a total of nearly two minutes’ delay that DHH entirely avoided.
At the end of his leg of the relay, DHH jumped from the car, having demolished the competition.
The slick tires provided DHH a platform advantage, more leverage to
drive faster with the same pedal-to-floor effort. And though driving
slick in the rain had been risky, his skill learned by imitating master
racers kept him alive.
Reflecting on his rapid ascent in racing, DHH says, “You can
accelerate your training if you know how to train properly, but you
still don’t need to be that special. I don’t think I’m that special of a
programmer or a businessperson or a race car driver. I just know how to
DHH had proven he had the skill to race. Videos of master drivers had
helped him to learn quickly. His tire advantage had pushed him ahead of
equally skilled drivers, and propelled him to the next level. And the
advanced racing leagues themselves became a platform that forced him to
master the basics—and faster—than he would have at a lower level.
When DHH returned to visit his home race track in Chicago, the same set of drivers still dominated the lower leagues.
He came back and effortlessly beat them.