This week on the Motorsport Prospects blog I talk to Ross Bentley of Speed Secrets. Performance coach, author and public speaker, Ross has raced in both Indycars and endurance racing and is the author of the well known Speed Secrets series of performance books, webinars and online coaching tools. This is the first of a two-part interview.
Motorsport Prospects: You have had extensive experience as a driver. Can you give me some of your background and favourite experiences?
Ross Bentley: My favourite experiences are always the next experience. But to properly answer your question, I still love to get behind the wheel. It is the most amazing thing I get to do but coaching is what truly drives me.
Racing is an addiction, but in a good way
I have been lucky to race professionally in a number of different series. Driving prototypes in IMSA, actually getting paid to drive them was incredible. The cars weren’t as fun as Indycars but getting paid to drive was amazing because in Indycars, the teams I raced for were very low budget, so money was always an issue which made it tough. Being hired to drive a sports prototype took away that nagging concern I always had in the back of my mind about “how am I going to pay for this, how am I going to pay for groceries this week?” When I had my first test in a prototype at Sebring, I was literally laughing in my helmet thinking “I can’t believe I am being paid to do this.”
Racing is an addiction and not just the driving. Some people are addicted to working on the cars or to the management of teams, or the administrative side or being an official or corner worker because it is a highly addictive sport.
MP: You have transitioned into the field of driver coaching. What kind of clients do you deal with primarily? Young drivers, gentlemen drivers, professionals or a combination of all three? What is your client base like?
RB: As long as a driver has the passion for learning and improving, I don’t really care what “Type” of driver they are. For a while I focused entirely on young drivers, but I have expanded that to gentleman drivers and to the weekend hobbyist who wants to go and do high performance driver education or track day events.
The importance of the will to learn
I guess what drives me is the ability to help a driver who wants to learn. I work with young drivers and I love the challenge of finding the last 200th of a second and to help them in their overall career moving up the ladder, I love that part of it.
But I could be working with a gentleman driver who has found the passion later in life and wants to do the best they can. It’s a different thing. Maybe there we are looking for 4 tenths of a second, so I love that part of it. I also like guiding them to make the right decisions because unfortunately as you probably know there are some gentleman drivers who come into the sport and typically, they have some money, and everybody wants to grab their money. I have seen that too often and I don’t want to see that happen to new people coming into the sport so I try to advise them as best as I can how to spend smartly and well. It’s sad how many people have come into this sport and been taken advantage of.
I guess because my entire motorsport career was always spent with essentially no money so I have been pretty frugal in how I spend money, or maybe it is in how I was raised in that I don’t like wasting money. So I don’t care if Jeff Bezos came in with a billion dollars and said I want to go racing, I would not want him to waste his money. I would want him to spend it wisely.
People will tell me “that’s not driver coaching. I thought driver coaching was helping a driver drive faster?” To me it is all part of it. It’s not a whole lot different to younger drivers who have supportive parents with money and as you know, the best way to take a large amount of money and turn it into a little amount of money is to go racing. A lot of times what seems like a lot of money to a parent does not take a young driver far, so you have to be really smart as to where that money is spent. I am not a motorsport management or marketing person but my goal as a driver coach is to help somebody go as far as they can with what they have. I just want to make sure that they are spending wisely. When they maximize their finances, it is one less thing for a driver to worry about so they can focus on the driving.
When I was racing in IndyCars I knew that if I dinged the front wing, I may not be able to go the next race even though I had made commitments to sponsors that I would be at the next race and it was always so stressful that I often felt I was not getting the last bit of my driving ability out there because I was worried about the finances. And I wasn’t having as much fun as I could. It was only when I got to the end of my Indycar career where I went “You know what, this is just not working” and fortunately at that time some IMSA teams were calling me and so with the opportunity there I thought, that might work. That allowed me to actually relax and stop worrying about the money part of it and just focus on driving and my driving in the Indycar went to another level.
So I recognize that as part of coaching, especially young drivers because I makes sure they stay focused on why they are doing this, the fun of it and trying to make sure as a coach that I take part of the stress and the pressure off of the driver or to at least manage that part of it. People often ask me how I get that final tenth out of a driver and sometimes it’s as easy as saying “don’t worry about lunch, I got it!”
Finally, I get a kick out of helping the weekend warriors who have a passion to go out there on the weekends and have some fun driving at the track and maybe there we are looking at a second. They are all the same in that they want to improve, they want to learn
MP: How long does a typical session last?
RB: It’s a bit all over the place. Often with a younger driver it is a season long deal. Then I have a gentleman driver that I am working with now that started off with what was supposed to be one or two coaching sessions on a weekend but then it got to a point where he recognized the power and impact of the coaching and said “That’s it, I’m not going racing without you for ever.” Now I am not ever looking for job security or a long-time commitment but it made me laugh.
My job actually is to eventually work myself out of a job and/or pass a driver on to somebody with a different approach for example. So, I am not looking for a long-term thing. Often it could be something different. For example, I have a driver now whom I have never met in person, but we have a phone call once a week. I have other drivers who basically go through the resources and content that I provide. Other drivers where I go and spend one day or a couple of days at a test or a race weekend with them and then maybe just a little follow-up going forward from that. With another driver it might be an ongoing thing over the course of an entire season. Every single event and in between events we are working together. So not one particular type of session. They vary based on the client’s needs and resources.
Whatever it takes
There is a philosophy behind my coaching, and it is simple: “Whatever It Takes”. Do whatever it takes to get the client to where they want to be. If I think that something is as simple as getting lunch because that is what is in the client’s way and is diverting their focus, then I do whatever it takes to get their mind to focus on the task at hand.
MP: I see from your social media that you travel extensively. I am assuming you go to the client as opposed to the client meeting you at a preferred track?
RB: Yes, I travel a lot to airports and tracks all over the world. That’s my office. I have had some drivers ask to come to me, but I don’t have a track or a car they can drive. It’s I come to you which is how it typically works. I go to drivers wherever they need me. The travel is the only part of the job that actually gets tiring. One area that I have embraced and enjoy doing more and more of is coaching remotely. Doing online webinars, creating training products so if they are racing at COTA or CTMP I can send them some products that they can use so they will be better prepared when they get there. So, I am doing more and more of that kind of work as well. It allows me to work with more drivers and help more drivers.
Technique vs copying
With remote coaching, some of it is really effective and some of it is less effective. It all ties into another part of my coaching philosophy that embraces the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. There are some coaches out there who “catch the fish” for a client meaning they say “go do this, this and this” and the driver goes and does this, this and this and they go quicker but then they go somewhere else and they are told to once again do this this and this and they do what they are told but they haven’t actually learned to go faster.
The way I approach coaching is that I am going to help you learn how to actually go faster and you can apply that to wherever you go. And that, at a core foundational philosophy for me is that I want to teach a driver how to go faster and how to do it on their own.
There are a lot of “so-called” coaches out there who will say “let me hop into your car, I’ll drive some laps, show you the video and data from it and you just copy that.” What the driver has really learned in this scenario is how to copy somebody. If that person is not there to copy, they are kind of lost or stuck. I would rather work with the driver on the mental game or the technique or something else that is part of their career that helped them figure it out so they understand that when they do something specific they have learned from me and they get the result they wanted. They can then apply this to wherever they go. To me that is fantastic. That is what I want. The cars and tracks will change but the techniques will not.
The flip side is that I am a huge believer in the more the driver prepares before going to the track the better their performance is going to be. Our sport is incredibly expensive, accessibility is limited so when we get on track we need to take advantage of every second we have on track so the better prepared we are, the more we have learned prior to getting to the track, the more value we are going to get out of every second on track. So that’s why a lot of the online stuff and the webinars and the training videos and the content, even the books that I stumbled into doing is all meant to make you feel better prepared when you get to the track and to be able to make every second on the track to be valuable.
The importance of doing your homework
One of the main differences between the most successful drivers I see and those least successful is that the ones who do the most homework, or even a little bit of homework make the most gains. Regardless of whether they are a young driver wanting to get to F1 or Indycar or Nascar or they are gentleman driver who have taken up the sport later in life or they are the weekend warrior track day driver, doing your homework makes a massive difference. I have worked with some young drivers who are just incredibly committed to doing what it takes and they are the ones that people comment and say “that kid is so naturally talented” but the reality is that he or she sure works hard for all that “natural talent.”
I am not trying to take away anything from that driver in their talent and natural abilities but like anybody in any sport, the harder you work away from the track, off the court, off the field, off the rink whatever, the more of that you do, the better the results are going to be. And this doesn’t just apply to young drivers, it can be anybody. So that level of commitment, and it is definitely a commitment for a young driver trying to make it a career, or for a gentleman driver who is doing it because they are committed to go as far as they can or they have always wanted to do this and have some fun, there is a level of commitment that is required. In the end it all boils down to work ethic. If you do not put in the work, you will not be successful.
Next week in Part 2
In Part 2 of my interview with Ross we talk about the mental game in driving, evaluating a potential driver coach and the power of the driver brain. Until next week!
You can learn more about Ross Bentley and the coaching and products he offers on his site Speed Secrets.