My Manifesto: the racecar is the reward.

raceofchampions.jpg

The racecar is not my office. The racecar is my reward.

I’d hate to ever be a representative of the posturing “look at how cool I am” type.

Doing this means so much more than that to me.

Every opportunity I’ve had in the sport would have been impossible without persistence, self-belief, sacrifice, and an incredible group of people who have supported me over the years.

 

The Touchette Group is based out of Montreal, they distribute vehicle tires around Canada, and they’re the primary reason I still have this opportunity today.

I’m extremely humbled to be able to chase what I’ve dreamed of as a child.

I’m in a fantastic environment where I get to pass along information I’ve learned from my years in the sport to those who are looking to improve.

I’m happy I’ve not gone “practical”.

I gave up my regular job with the desire to work and learn what it takes to be at the top of the sport, wherever that may be.

 

Motorsports is a cruel mistress that crushes people every year.

Pursuing a career in the sport is not something I take for granted.

It’s also not something that I believe can be done well half-hearted.

I’ve been on the side where I’ve been crushed.

I’ve been, justifiably, not good enough.

I’ve been half-hearted for the sake of practicality.

But my practical side has also taken a beating.

What is the joy there?

What is the sacrifice of time and energy worth?

With that realization, I’ve come full circle and recommitted myself 100% to my lifelong passion.

What else would I rather be doing with my time for the next 20 or 30 years?

What if my best years in sport are at 30+ years of age?

Although I may not have made it into the “big leagues” at a young age (I'm 24), I believe my persistence and experience can be valuable.

 

I feel much more prepared than an 18-year-old flying by the seat of his pants trying to prove to everyone he can win, regardless of equipment or circumstances.

I’ve been in well over my head.

I’ve always raised my own funding to compete.

I’ve been forced to sit out races, take unnecessary risks, or worse – not been able to afford the risks attached to the dream I was chasing.

In dire straits, I’ve had unforeseen incidents that severely impacted my parents’ mortgage, knowing with all their good intentions, their struggles hinged on my passion.

 

I’ve sat myself down at 20 years-old and watched a half-million dollars of effort evaporate because of one reason or another.

I’ve had to sit down and tell people I didn’t do enough or didn’t have enough to keep going.

You work, and work, and work – and then it’s all gone – and you still have nothing.

But, it’s exactly the experience I needed.

It’s helped me grow as a person, and at this point, worth infinitely more than having it ever come easy.

 

 

I love the pressure.

I love the 9300+ people voting me into Race of Champions to compete against the best.

I love the fact that they took the time to give me their approval so I could chase my dream.

I love that I’ve faced opportunities where if I didn’t perform, it could have all been over.

 

At this point, I’m very far from having “made it”.

I’m still at the bottom of a large mountain.

I’m determined, more mature, and better prepared to take on whatever opportunity may present itself, and most importantly, I love the journey.

 

I still dream of competing on the biggest world stage.

I’d love to reach the people beyond our sport, in any walk of life.

I want to bring my hometown of Edmonton to the top of the world stage with me.

I want people to care and pay attention.

I want to make waves. I want to make people proud.

Because doing this is so much more than just our silly sport.

 

 

There’s people in every facet of life who are taking risks, challenging themselves, and not giving in to the way life is supposed to be.

Desiring more.

Working more.

If you’re one of those people, I’m your biggest fan.

 

 

On a macro level, working towards this dream is easy.

I have every opportunity in the world.

I don’t have a life altering disability like my brother, who would love to take on any opportunity I’ve ever had.

I’m not forced to flee my country and be a refugee with the hopes of a better quality of life and a new start, like my dad.

I’ve got it easy.

I won’t stop working.

 

-Stefan Rzadzinski

 

Join me:

Instagram

Facebook

Twiter

Chasing a dream: exploring mental limits

Recently, I wrote a short post on what I felt was most important to me in the years I've been involved in motorsports. Putting these things into writing has helped me prioritize and reflect better on my experiences thus far, hopefully allowing me to improve on them.

I was 13 years old when I really started to try and take control of what I was doing behind the wheel. The 2006 Canadian Karting Nationals were at my home track in Edmonton, and I wanted to do everything I could to win that race.

At my dad's recommendation, I started reading "Inner Speed Secrets" by Ross Bentley. Over time, it became my personal racing bible. For years, I brought it to the track with me to help re-organize my thoughts and help when I felt I was struggling. If you feel that this type of thing is important, I would highly recommend a copy.

Although I didn't win the Canadian Karting Championship that year, I performed well. However, I felt the biggest step I took in my personal development was later that year in the local karting club championship battle. Essentially, I needed to win the final race that season to win the championship.

I remember my interactions with others that day were very slim. I was a bit pissed off, but more importantly, completely committed to the cause of winning the race that day.

Essentially, I sat in a lawn chair quietly, closed my eyes a lot, and told myself I was going to win that day.

Not for 5 to 10 mins. I sat around in my trailer all of the time I wasn't on track. All. Damn. Day.

I went through perfect laps. I went through perfect passes. But more than anything, I had complete faith and determination that I was going to win - and thankfully, I delivered.

I don't believe my personal success or failure that day was simply connected to the task of winning (many sports psychologists advise against this), but belief that I would be executing at the level I needed to win ensured I was getting the best of myself when the moment came.

It was the first moment where I really realized how powerful training a programming a mind to a task could be.

 

What's worked for me:

1. Pre-Race Preparation Routine

This is a constant battle. I've tried to get it to a point where I'm able to do this in as short of a time as possible. It's not always realistic to sit around in a trailer all day and shut out the rest of the world. Especially with busy raceday schedules, you may only have a few minutes to get into the "zone".

However, for my own testing, I've began trying to incorporate my pre-race preparation program into other things I do. Since getting in a racecar is relatively "rare", even for those who race, I've found myself beginning to put more focus on attempting to replicate my mental state before a race before I play soccer competitively.

Thus far, I've found it to be helpful, especially when it comes to being "in control" rather than in a "reactive" state. I'm going to continue to tinker with this process and see if I can find other applications where this preparation can be helpful.

Note: Sometimes this process can look stupid to onlookers. In the end, it doesn't matter what it looks like. If it works for you, stick with it. Initially I tried to make sure I did all of my prep in a quiet place (still preferred), but if it needs to be in public, I don't mind.

Tip: Headphones, regardless if you have music playing or not, can be your best friend to stop distractions.

 

2. Confidence/belief system

Simply put, believing you can do the job you're tasked with has been massive for me. All your preparation and training should leave this area pretty strong. However, if I'm struggling, a quick mental note and recreating as much as possible about previous past successes has been great for me. There's been a ton of times I've actually gone back to the kart race in 2006, regardless of the type of race I was competing in.

Here's some memories that I personally look back on:

1. 2006 Championship race, as mentioned above.

2. "Owning" the racecar. Was taught this in my first racecar test by Gord Bentley of Speed Secrets. If I ever feel like "the car is driving me" instead of the other way around - this helps me a ton.

3. Skip Barber Shootout victory where I used the same mentality as that 2006 race.

4. First Skip Barber win (came from 8th place), same as above.

5. Star Mazda Edmonton 2012. Had a great weekend - especially in the first few sessions. As a rookie, it was the first time I had been towards the front and it gave me huge confidence.

6. Montreal GP 2015. Again, I needed to win as it may have been my only chance to race that year. I went back to these prior successes and my mental state there to prepare.

It doesn't need to be much, but a few experiences paired with an ability to execute have helped me be more consistent in my performances.

 

Building blocks

In my mental training I feel like there's been a few phases that I distinctly remember changing myself.

1. 2006 karting season: My intro to mental training.

2. USF2000 preparation: Prior to my 2013 season, I'd completely shaped my life to execute mental and physical training and the elimination of almost everything else for a couple of months. I think that intense period of time has left me with a much more steady baseline going forward.

3. Now: I'm at a point where I believe I'm more cognizant of where I can be better and I'd like to use this to challenge myself further. After some personal testing, I believe sometimes there can be one extra skill - that if developed - can have massive implications on your overall performance. To help uncover what that skill would be, I'd suggest trying out an 80/20 analysis. That's a full topic for another day though.

 

Keeping Curiousity

In short, guys like Tim Ferriss and David Blaine interest me. They're willing to go so far with their tests that it's quite inspiring. With Tim, you'll be sure to get a report on the things that worked/didn't work, and how to best replicate the results (see Tools of Titans). With David, there's a lot more mystery but he does open up on a TED talk.

Following these guys and others who push limits, like Danny Macaskill, always make me hungry for more.

 

Other Quick Notes

  • Depth of training. I find you can make more progress with a short period of extreme intensity (like I had before my USF2000 race season), than over long stretches of time. Consistency is obviously still a key factor, I just believe going over-the-top on learning or practicing a new skill in a shorter period of time will generate more results - even long term.

 

  • Using mental prep for other activities. For me, I do it in a competitive scenario at least once every week at my soccer games (something I've been more mindful of lately). I try and replicate that feeling of flow before I get in the racecar, including my pre-race routine, whenever possible. I'm also trying to see how reliant I am upon certain things to get in that zone. There's no sense in cutting down preparation when there's time for it, but sometimes circumstances aren't conducive to a full 30 minute wind-down before performing.

 

  • I've found pushing mental limits of what's possible is always easier in-season than in the off-season. I see it in 2 phases:
    • a) In-season is where you compete against yourself (or others) to push the limit more consistently. Thus, it's easier to find more within yourself as you develop a better rhythm. If you're challenging yourself or being challenged by someone consistently, I believe your baseline limits increase more dramatically.
    • b) The off-season is where you prep and gain the capacity to keep pushing yourself further. It's what I did in 2006, in 2013, and I'm working on making another shift now. The stress testing and things you can do to prepare likely won't show up initially, but ideally will withstand and make you more capable to push yourself further when the next season comes along.

 

  • You still need the skills. All the prep you want can help, but if your capabilities aren't up to par, it's tough to parlay into results. Try learning a new skill and see if you feel as though you've maximized your performance. Unlikely. However, the right prep may allow you to get in a state where you're more receptive to acquiring a skill. In the end, you want to have things slowed down and fluid in your mind. Ex. Lionel Messi makes other professionals look silly in his sport. He may be incredibly quick, but it's how he processes the game that makes him so magnificent. It's the same for motorsports (and all sports, I'm certain).

 

  • Get over the "names". I was guilty of this at a younger age. I would look at entry lists and be up against these drivers I had heard so much about. In the end, it doesn't matter. With confidence in your own abilities and process, things work out much better, regardless of who you're up against. Rather than channeling these things negatively, I've now found ways to use my competition as leverage to try and ensure I'm getting the most of myself.

 

  • Lessons from high-stress: For an amateur, learning and adapting to a new circuit can be challenging. Forcing yourself to do something in a short period of time ensures you figure it out quicker. Want high stress? Try being a junior formula car driver and be given 30 mins of track time, your first time on a new type of circuit (like a street circuit), before being sent out for qualifying which essentially dictates a major portion of your race (and maybe your career path?). I think these lessons from the junior formula car world are invaluable tools for me, and the value of "just figure it out" in these scenarios removes any excuses from the picture. I truly believe having this capacity is one of the biggest differences between track-day and amateur drivers from the guys who do it at the top level consistently. They've trained their brains to process, feel, and understand what's going on so quickly that most others can't keep up. Imagine if you're still feeling out the track while your competitor is already making real adjustments to his car so he's able to get more out of it when it counts. Starting a step behind is a huge undertaking, especially at very competitive levels.

 

If you've liked this, feel free to leave comments or questions. If you're interested in more information like this, you can subscribe as well.

 

Chasing a dream: looking back on what I've learned

Racing's been the most important motivating entity in my life for as long as I can remember. Ever since my obsession with "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss as a child, I was certainly enchanted with the concept of making it in the sport. I never showed too much interest in fictional stories, but I had a real person who was my superhero.

Within racing, I haven't had the chance to do everything I'd like to just yet - far from it. However, whenever possible, I intend to use this space as a point of reflection and refocusing. Ideally, it's something I hope I can use as a tool to capture what I'm learning.

I'm an avid student of just about anything I get interested in. It's been that way my whole life. 

Education was always something to pass the time growing up, but my passion always pulled me into learning more about motorsports than anything else.

Things I spent a lot of my formative years figuring out (13-19 years old):

1. Learning how to maximize my performance on-track. Over time, I've learned a lot of this has carried over into many other aspects of my life. It's also one of the most challenging battles for refinement. I doubt it's something I will ever feel I'll have 100% complete control of. However, getting as close as possible is one of the most rewarding challenges I've ever faced. In my world, there's absolutely nothing that matches that challenge and thrill.

2. Minimize time spent on things that I didn't always find as useful, but were necessary, like formal education. Inadvertently, my passion for motorsports came at the expense of other things. However, it wasn't always possible to shut those things out completely. Learning how to be productive and effective wasn't something I consciously took note of, but was certainly a by-product of the way I did things. Managing an aspiring racing career, playing soccer competitively, training, handling school work, relationships, and still having free time to do other things I enjoyed - like just being a teenager that just bums around with friends - became a fine balancing act.

3. How to adequately raise funds to chase my grandiose dream of being a professional racecar driver. It costs money to get going in racing, a lot of it. My family didn't have it, but provided me damn well with everything they had and more to support my crazy dream (poor Mom). There was definitely a shift in focus when I wanted to step out of karting and into racecars. It went from a single focus of getting the most out of myself and my setup, to figuring out how the hell I would even get a chance to suit up and do what I loved next weekend. In the truest sense, it was trial by fire (thankfully not literally) and it was my challenge to figure things out.

I'll look into exploring more about each topic individually in future posts, as well as where that has led me.

RZADrives: 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR

Over the last few weeks, I've been lucky to spend some time coaching at the best new racetrack in North America: Area 27.

It's been a pretty wild experience and I've had a chance to drive some interesting cars already. I figured I would use this blog as a place to chat about some of them, whenever I get a chance.

2016 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR

Thanks to Nick Kwan (_gam3rnick) for letting me have a go in his freshly delivered Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR. Seriously, the thing had 140km when I jumped in.

From the driver's seat

My first thoughts as I exited the pits in the Cayman GT4 Clubsport: Damn. Smooth. Expensive aged Canadian whisky smooth.

Porsche has pulled all of their strengths together to create the crispest racecar I may have ever driven. It was my first Porsche racecar experience, and although short, it left an impression.

The engine purrs as it climbs up in RPM's without hesitating. The PDK transmission is silky as you run through the gears. The suspension gives the car a fantastic direct feel and always leaves you with a feeling that you could have entered the corner with more speed. I drove the car with all aids turned off, but even with a mistake - it only mildly scolds you, rather than slapping you around.

At 385hp, the car is far from neck-snapping on acceleration. Rather, the Cayman GT4 Clubsport prefers to feed in power like a butler that's draping you in a freshly-woven silk robe. Even at speed with a full racing cage and a lack of creature comforts, the environment around the driver feels incredibly comfortable. 

However, the car is far from tame or boring. It dances elegantly in the corners. It delivers every bit of grip that the tire is providing right into your fingertips and toes, handsomely responding to every input and adjustment.

My only regret is that I didn't have a chance to drive the car with slick tires. The rain tires I drove on were holding back the true performance of this car on a mostly dry track. 

Regardless, the depths of refinement and quality in the build of the car are apparent and extremely rewarding for a driver behind the wheel. Well done Porsche, and congrats Nick, you're going to have a fantastic track partner in your new Cayman GT4 Clubsport.

The intersection of sports and business

See the version in French here (Thanks to my friends at Nissan Canada).

I was very fortunate to meet Nicolas Touchette (CEO of the Touchette Group) last year in the Nissan Micra Cup. He was initially my teammate at the Motorsports in Action team, then graciously became my sponsor for the whole season as I battled for wins and a chance at the championship.

We'll be back competing in the 2016 Micra Cup this season and we're aiming to utilize the platform of the series as a cross-section between our passion of motorsports and Touchette’s tire business. Touchette Group is one of Canada's fastest-growing tire distributors that manages a number of brands including Tirelink and DT Tire for distribution, as well as Tireland/Ici Pneu as a newly-acquired consumer facing brand. I've been allowed to work with the Touchette Group team on this program and they've been awesome in allowing me to document the process right here on my blog.

Why am I writing about it?

A lot of advice is passed on to upcoming athletes about their route to the top. I've found much of it is with good intentions but is slightly misguided, vague, or ultimately, not very feasible. Many times I’ve heard:

“You need to do X+Y+Z and you’ll be a star and you’ll land all the sponsors and you’ll be on your path…”

It feels as though this trajectory is ultimately like playing the lottery where only the very few realistically succeed. Why? Likely because everyone else is playing the same game and trying to do the exact same things that you are to become the next “big thing”.

I'd like to use this blog to be a transparent example of what goes on behind the scenes in a program like this.

So, what are the goals of the motorsports program with the Touchette Group and how do we plan to achieve them?

Our aim is to make Touchette Group’s distribution clients feel more comfortable in choosing our company when ordering tires for their business in the future. We are utilizing our race team program to provide an enjoyable experience and help further our relationship with the client.

How did we come up with this plan?

From the outset, we took a look at where the majority of Touchette Group’s business is coming from: distributing tires. The other factor in consideration was that the Nissan Micra Cup already has events in markets where the Touchette Group has clients.

With all elements of “where to buy your tires” being the same, it was found that the relationship and comfort with the distributor was the biggest factor in our clients’ purchasing decisions.

What are we doing?

We have decided to host Touchette Group’s distribution clients and have them as part of our team for the race weekends in 2016. Even though racing is not likely a passion for our clients, it's a chance to share our story with the people who deal with our company. It’s also an opportunity for us to learn about what Touchette Group can improve upon directly from the people dealing with the service on a daily basis. For the clients, it’s a chance to have an open dialogue with a company they rely on to do their business, including meeting the CEO.

We’re offering clients a chance to be represented on our racecar for the weekend, as well as having the option to bring out their family and friends. So, if all else fails, they have a chance to get their logo on a racecar that we expect to be fighting for the top spot all weekend. A bit of bragging rights never hurts, right?

How will we measure success?

If we can get each client we host at the track, or even open a dialogue with, to feel more comfortable in dealing with the Touchette Group, we’ll have the initial traction we need to continue with the program. We’ve conservatively set targets we’d like to hit to justify this program, but in the end, it’s up to us to deliver an awesome experience.

As for myself, I’m happy to help coordinate this program and share my passion with others. If I can tell a story about the sport, educate someone who shows interest, help a kid get a picture in a cool racecar, or just hangout after the day is done – I’m happy to be involved. Plus, in the end, I really want to go win more races. :)

-Stefan

Greg Moore was my superhero

Originally written: October 31, 2012

October 31, 1999 – I was 6 years old and I remember all that mattered to me very clearly from that day. It was one of the few very standout instances from childhood that will always stay with me.

I don’t recall a “moment” I fell in love with racing in my life, it doesn’t exist. From the moment I have any sort of memory, all I know is that my biggest love and passion was motorsports, especially Formula 1 and IndyCars.

When I was just a few months old, the story goes that I woke up for my early morning feedings at 6AM, and on Sundays, it was dad’s turn to take care of me at that hour. As only a good dad would, we watched racing in the early morning from Formula 1 over in Europe, and then tuned in to IndyCar racing later in the day.

I grew up around that, and over the course of the years, that pattern is what resonates with me up until now. Motorsports is all I ever truly cared about as a kid, and being a driver was the only job I ever wanted. Auto, Polish for car (just in case you didn’t figure it out) was my first word, and the obsession carried on from there. I was in a go-kart when I was 3 years old in a local indoor track with blocks on my feet and a pillow at my back; I just wanted to be like Greg Moore.

It didn’t stop there. In the very early grades, I was the kid who had car posters that I attached, detached, and re-attached every single morning to my school desk.

But looking back on it now, the only racing I remember clearly from those days was of the #99 Player’s Forsythe car. Even though I spent countless Sundays watching racing with my dad for years, it was the few Greg Moore moments from those early years that stay with me. The details might be hazy, but the battles for his wins with Alex Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser at races in Rio and Homestead always come to mind. I also reminiscence on his miraculous win in Detroit when the two cars in front ran out of fuel on the final lap, it was just meant to be.

I can remember being absolutely enthralled by his driving style, the way he raced others, and the person he was with his helmet off. I sat there on our grey couch, which was perpendicular to the television, and watched Greg Moore do spectacular things time and time again in those few short years.

I never met Greg Moore. Looking back on it 13 years later, everything seems to make a bit more sense now.

I watched Saturday morning cartoons, but I was never completely sold on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, Spiderman, and all the rest. They were entertaining, but none were as exciting as Greg Moore. Sunday was when the real hero was at action. It’s only now that I’m realizing he was the reason everything else just was not as appealing to me.

My entire life, I’ve told people that I want to be a race car driver. There was never a moment of flip-flopping between being Spiderman, a fire truck, policeman, or whatever others may have had in mind. From the moment I can remember, I just wanted to do everything I could to be like Greg Moore.

I will never forget that Halloween Day in 1999. I was sitting on my grey couch, perpendicular to the television, and I saw it happen in front of me. The details are not hazy, I almost wish they were.

I remember knowing that he had a bit of an injury going into that race in Fontana. There was some tension from the television commentators, from my family, and as well as through me. However, his start was brilliant and he was flying through the field without any issues whatsoever. However, 10 laps in, disaster struck. That day, I saw my superhero disappear.

Take away any hero for a 6-year old kid, whoever they may be, fiction or non-fiction, and I’m positive that child won’t be the same anymore. Personally, I think that’s what happened to me.

Initially, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I cried for hours, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The concept was too great for me to fully comprehend, but I did understand Greg Moore was gone forever. There was no explanation needed.

Not knowing how to deal with it, I remember asking my dad if we could go to the store and get some Pokémon cards. I enjoyed them at the time, and it was the only thing I could try to do to take my mind off of what had taken place. It was too big of an event for me to just forget and continue living a care-free 6 year-old life for quite a while.

After that day, everything else gets hazy. I continued to watch races with my dad, and even began competing in go-karts myself in 2001. However, none of the races I watched throughout those few years ever really stuck with me. There were no “wow” moments for me by watching anymore, there was no Greg Moore.

Since then, new favourite drivers have come along but I was always very apprehensive when answering the “who’s your favourite?” question. Sure, I had new drivers I cheered for and enjoyed watching, but only Greg Moore stood out.

I’ve been lucky to meet people who were close to Greg, and I’ve even had a chance to hold one of the helmets he drove with, which was very special. All of the stories, articles, interviews, and old race videos of Greg I look upon fondly now. I have a huge amount of respect for a driver and person who really was as good as I thought he was.

I never met Greg Moore. Looking back on it 13 years later, maybe it was the best thing for me. Heroes are inspirational, dare I say, too good to be real. Greg Moore was my inspiration, and since having him taken away, it has intensified how badly I've wanted to become a racecar driver. If I could somehow compete with all of his heart, and even just a fraction of his talent and courage, I would feel as though I did my best to be just like Greg Moore. To me, he was just that great.

Greg Moore was, and still is, my superhero.

I never met you, but thanks for everything, Greg. Red Gloves Rule.