Boost On Track Peripheral Vision: 3 Practical Drills

When you do give that point-by they’ll vanish from your direct line of sight for a second or so. You'll know roughly where they are, but you can't turn your head. This is where having strong peripheral vision comes into play.

​​As HPDE / track day enthusiasts, we all share a common goal: to push the limits and drive better and faster with each passing season. But as our speed climbs, so does our need for heightened situational awareness. It’s a simple equation: More speed equals faster decisions. And that’s where peripheral perception comes into play.

Today, we’re going to look at improving a skill that doesn’t really garner that much attention: peripheral vision. We’ve all heard our instructors talk about ‘eyes up’ in the early stages of our on track training (though I still find I have to remind myself, especially at new tracks!). Peripheral vision is obviously vastly improved when your eyes are up and looking down the track but we can absolutely build on this. At the end of the day, It’s not just about going fast; it’s about going fast safely and confidently. With that, I wanted to explore peripheral perception as it’s not something that we actively talk about at the track.

So, before we even get to the track, what can we do to improve our overall peripheral vision?

What is Peripheral Vision?

As defined by Wikipedia:

Peripheral vision, or indirect vision, is vision as it occurs outside the point of fixation, i.e. away from the center of gaze or, when viewed at large angles, in (or out of) the “corner of one’s eye”.

The field of view of a human eye is split into four; macular (para/central view or focus), near, mid and far peripheral.

What we’re talking about today is meant to address improving both the mid and far peripheral field of view. Here is a very rough depiction of our field of view and as the camera can’t do a full 180, the lines are off the image to represent what our eyes better see. Of course we’re sat further back and have blind spots like A/B pillars etc. but you get the general idea.

Rough field off view thunderbolt turn 1

Each zone represents what our eyes and in turn our brain can process. Most importantly for us drivers, the far peripheral zone is where we first detect any form of motion. This will naturally vary from individual to individual, but you get the idea.

Advantages of improved peripheral vision

I think we can all agree that most of the time, the track is an incredibly busy place to be. There’s also a lot going on just from where you’re sitting – loud exhaust, screeching brakes, wind noise and instructor feedback. Then add the heat inside your cockpit, potential field of view obstructions like roll cages and wings blocking your rear view, and on top of all that, you’re trying to focus on your line. It’s a lot to handle, especially when you’re chasing another car or being chased down!

Point by mustang gt3

Before we jump into the practical side of things let’s look at a couple of examples.

Point-bys

Most of us aren’t the fastest car on track in our session (I’m certainly not), which means there are always much quicker cars closing in behind us. The quicker you see someone, the faster you can get them past and carry on with your session goals.

When you do give that point-by they’ll vanish from your direct line of sight for a second or so (as above). You’ll know roughly where they are, but you can’t turn your head. They’re likely further out than your wing mirror, and you’re probably approaching a corner, needing to stay focused on your line and reference point. This is where having strong peripheral vision comes into play. It’s that split-second advantage that allows you to spot them a fraction earlier than someone who’s a little more tunnel visioned, giving you both a smoother, safer pass.

Cars entering the track

Between turns 1 and 2 at NJMP – Thunderbolt, drivers coming on track need to stay to the right. However, I’ve been on track when a driver has crossed the blend line and done what I call a ‘muscle merge’ (smh) before we even got to turn 2 – which is an absolute no-no. What saved me from driving into the side/back of them? I knew they were there and I was monitoring them in my peripheral whilst continuing to focus on setting myself up for turn 2. Luckily I was pretty much straight at that point and had no one behind me, so could slam on the brakes.

Having a broader field of view without losing sight of your focal point and being aware of the positions and speeds of the cars around you and joining, makes you a far safer and more confident driver.

So, let’s dive into 3 practical exercises that you can do off-track to measure and improve your on-track vision.

Peripheral vision test driving e1695408032772Credit: Warby Parker

Measuring your Current Peripheral Limit

Let’s keep this simple. Here’s a test you can quickly perform to get an indication of how good your peripheral vision is.

  1. Extend both of your hands forward, with one finger (preferably the index finger) of each hand pointing upward.
  2. Ensure that both of your eyes remain open.
  3. Begin with your left field of vision. Maintain your focus on your right hand, which remains straight ahead. Gradually, pivot your left hand outward in a quarter-circle motion. When your finger becomes no longer visible, halt. This marks the boundary of your left field of vision.
  4. Next, repeat the process for your right field of vision. Shift your focus to your left hand and move your right hand in the same manner. Pause when it falls out of your line of sight.

 

I’d recommend taking a note of where you currently stand, perform the below tests every day for a week or so and then repeat the test. I’d be incredibly surprised if you don’t see any increase in your peripheral vision.

If you want to get a little more creative and accurate, check out the peripheral vision test on Exploratorium. It’s definitely worth the time once your initial gains have been realized and you’re looking to push further.

Now that you’ve tested yourself, let’s move onto a couple of practical exercises that’ll help you improve your peripheral vision.

Peripheral vision field view 1

Credit: Ken J.

The Awareness Drill

The Awareness Drill may seem simple, but it’s one of the most straightforward and impactful exercises for expanding the range of your peripheral vision. In this exercise, the objective is to immerse yourself in your environment, heightening your awareness of everything that surrounds you. Investing a little time with this drill can help with your overall situational awareness.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose a stationary target situated approximately 5 to 10 feet away from you.
  2. While keeping your focus on this target, expand your attention to encompass your surroundings outside your immediate line of sight.
  3. Consciously survey your environment (while maintaining your focus target) in all directions: up, down, left, and right.
  4. Pick out specific details in your surroundings, and then verify these details by shifting your gaze directly to them.

 

Wall Ball

This exercise is super straightforward, requiring nothing more than a wall and a tennis ball. Expect a few fumbled catches initially as you acclimate to the exercise. Achieving a state of relaxation in your eyes for this technique will likely require some practice.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Identify a point on the wall positioned slightly above eye level.
  2. Begin by throwing the ball against the wall, alternating between your left and right hands as you catch it in succession.
  3. As you execute the throws, maintain your gaze fixed on the designated spot on the wall. Resist the urge to focus directly on the ball. Instead, rely on your peripheral vision to track the ball’s trajectory and its position within the space.
 

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Final Thoughts

As your speed on track increases so does your risk, a broadened field of view can make all the difference. It’s not just about going fast; it’s about going fast safely and with strong on track awareness. We all lead busy lives, but building time into our daily schedules to improve our favorite (? – it’s definitely mine!) hobby while away from it can only benefit us in the long run.

So, why not include these exercises in your pre-track day preparations? Dedicate 5-10 minutes each day in the week(s) running up to an event, I’d wagger you’ll notice the difference on track.

Do you use different techniques or have suggestions that might help others? I’d love to hear from you and will add to the article where appropriate!

Drive safe!

 

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