Women in Racing Series - Cindi Lux - Performance Secrets
Cindi Lux has an extensive and very impressive racing career, including more than 80 victories, over 160 podium finishes, and more than 50 pole positions. Cindi’s life requires extreme focus, balancing her busy race agenda with a demanding business schedule. As one of the leading program managers in the world, major manufacturers charge Lux to premiere new product lines to the automotive media numerous times a year. She was a Dodge Motorsports team driver from 2005-2007 and a Mopar factory driver in 2008. In addition to numerous racing highlights she was the Director of Ford Racing School between 2011-2015. We sat down with Cindi to learn how she got started with racing and hear her unique perspective on how to improve.
D’Laina: “Cindi, you have so much experience in racing and we’d love to hear your point of view on racing and what holds people back from really honing their craft.”
Cindi: “The thing that I observe is whether someone has work ethic or not – some people are less willing to put in the long, necessary hours to improve. It takes a very long time to mind your craft and get your career started. It requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and above all sacrifice. You will miss many birthdays, weddings, holidays and graduations.
The money factor unfortunately does come into play. Racing is a very expensive sport, but where there is a will there is a way. There are many opportunities to get experience on your own or learn by joining part a team and soaking up knowledge from osmosis. I see a lot of people throw in the towel if they can’t be in the driver seat right away. That is the wrong attitude to have. You may have to take a side step and get into a different role. Some suggestions are to hang with a team, or work for a manufacturer or for a tire vendor. I encourage people to be patient and if this takes a different path than the driver seat, that is okay. Because it will happen in the long run.”
D’Laina: “What do you wish people knew about getting involved in racing and gaining experience?”
Cindi: “It’s important to get new people into the sport. The saddest thing I see about racing is that people come into the sport for three to four years and then they leave. They come in; spend all their extra cash and then max out their credit cards. They then have no other option but to throw in the towel. It makes me sad because I know there are ways of participating in this sport that doesn’t require you to go into thousands of dollars in debt. It may not be on the same timeline that they wanted, but it will still allow them to be involved and will only help them in the long term. And never be afraid to ask questions. Try to find somebody who can help mentor and provide guidance.”
D'Laina: “What are some misperceptions people having about racing?”
Cindi: “Racing is really not just about the speed or the guts. I used to compete in downhill skiing and I find a lot of similarities with these sports. When I skied it was just me, the mountain and a stop watch. In car racing, there is just the driver and the track. You are constantly trying to figure out the grip level track, car setup, and then communicate these factors to your engineer. It is both the art of racing and the art of connecting with the car that I truly love about racing.
People have a tendency to over complicate driving. Through blogs and forums, the internet provides a plethora of information. Similar to most things, is a mixed bag with both good and bad components. People will come to the track and ask ‘what type of tire pressure are you doing in your car?’. It isn’t a problem asking these question, but there are a lot more variables that need to be considered. For example, you need to understand what type of car you’re driving, the experience of the racer, and what kind of tires you’re driving on, such as Slick vs. DOT. A lot of times, there are no simple answers to questions. To me, that is the fun part, investigating the various scenarios.
Another example that I will often get asked is “what are the differences between front wheel drive line vs rear-wheel drive line vs all-wheel drive line”. It all comes down to the laws of physics and I try to explain these truths in terms of car control when driving on a track. Most folks have heard of a “tire contact patch”, the surface of the tire that makes contact with the ground. So you need to learn to maintain this contact patch, because this will provide you more grip. Front wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive all comes down to managing your tire grip. Again, there are so many factors that come into play.”
D'Laina: “What other questions do students ask you?”
Cindi: “I get asked of all the time about trail braking and again it all depends on the car set-up and the driver. The sooner you can apply the brakes, the sooner I can straighten out and accelerate.
When I provide personal coaching, I really work on the student’s consistency, which means that you don’t have to think about the process of driving. If you are worried about when to shift, when to brake – you are too distracted, we need to get to a place where those actions become automatic before we can worry about how fast you are going. I can automatically perceive what type of driver they will be by their body language and the way they put on their suit. Lap times are the result are doing everything correctly behind the wheel, so why not just focus on the mechanics- doing what is needed?
Once the student is able to consistently perform, then I can start to build speed into their driving. A lot of times, I don’t let even let them know their lap times. Crazy, I know! In the beginning, it doesn’t really matter how slowly or fast they are driving. The art of driving takes a lot of dedication and mental strength as well.
D’Laina: “What do you work on to improve your racing?”
Cindi: “I have spent a great deal of time working on the mental side of the sport. This is where sports psychology comes into play. I have had the honor to work with the Sean McCann, US Olympic Senior Sport Psychologist. During this training, I met Apollo Ono, the Olympian Speed Skater. It was very interesting because during the clinic they paired us together, they discovered many crossovers from a mental point of view. They found out there were a lot of similarities between the two sports, each has teammates who race or skate, for the same team but when the race starts, everyone competes for themselves. Your teammates turn into your competitors. When the bell rings or the flag comes down – game on!
Another example is with former downhill skier Olympic gold medalist, Picabo Street, when she was dipping her toe into car racing. After hours we would often discuss her views on sports psychology and how she has dealt with injuries. There have been a couple of times in my career when I have been banged up from racing, and had to come back after injuries. Long story short, I ended up hiring her coach who helped her return to skiing.”
D’Laina: “Is there anything else that you have added to your training?”
Cindi: “The hottest thing in training isn’t from a physical or mental stand point, but its learning how to breath. When I first heard about the idea of a breathing coach – I laughed it off because everyone knows how to breathe. Boy, I was wrong. Breathing is such a key element in terms of concentration and being in the zone. I have been working with a breathing coach in Canada, who is a free diver. She is able to hold her breath between 5-6 minutes. After implementing these breathing techniques, I am amazed at the difference it has made in my performance. A lot of higher level athletes are implementing these skills but don’t often talk about it.”
D’Laina: “What are your observations with young or inexperienced drivers?”
Cindi: “One thing I am seeing is that there are many young drivers who have come up through karting and rely on a lot of data to understand their performance. Data is amazing, any professional uses it to assess and improve but it cannot tell the whole story. I am a proponent on learning how to drive the car the good old fashion way -feeling it through your seat and hands.
Data can be intimidating for some people because it is very exposing. But you have to be willing to bury your ego. What if I could provide you one tip that would expose you to something faster? There are some drivers who struggle with this. However, these folks are more of the exception at this point. All drivers both young and old need to be able to “feel” the car. Understanding vehicle dynamics and weight management when racing on track is so important. Data can be helpful, but you can’t live by it. I think drivers who can understand what the car wants and being able to adjust your driving style to bring out the most speed during a race is critical.”
D’Laina: “What do wish people know about racing?”
Cindi: “I think the biggest thing is that I wish people knew that is a team sport. When they watch a race on television TV they often will just see an individual car and a driver. If they really knew what went on behind the scenes and what it took to put a car and driver on the track – they would be shocked. I am so blessed to have a team behind me because they are family. But it’s important to surround yourself with people who bring out the best in each other.”
Cindi, thank you so much for sharing your passion for racing and valuable knowledge that drivers can put into use. We are looking forward to continuing to watch you dominate.