If Winston de Wardt's fellow racers didn't know any better, they might mistake de Wardt's pre-race ritual for a nap.
Long before anyone else gets in a race car, de Wardt is belted in behind the wheel, sitting silent with his eyes closed. He said he's thinking about the course and going over the turns in his mind.
Whatever he's doing, it seems to be working, as he raced to a second- and third-place finish in the Formula Dodge National Championship Series July 3 and 4 at Road America in Wisconsin.
At earlier races at Road America on May 22 and 23, de Wardt finished fifth and third. His series of strong finishes has prompted the instructors at the Skip Barber Racing School to flock to de Wardt after the race and congratulate him on his improvements on more than one occasion.
"That's a big boost," de Wardt said.
Another boost was the presence of his family and friends. A former classmate of de Wardt's from The Lowell Whiteman School came to the races. So did de Wardt's college roommate.
"It was a cool feeling," he said of having fans.
What de Wardt is displaying in just his second year of racing on the Formula One ladder is consistency, a trait that separates the better drivers from those who luck out with better cars.
At the Road America track, which has long straight-aways, drivers with better cars can use that to their advantage, though the mechanics try to keep the racecars the same at the national level.
Last weekend, de Wardt left the Wisconsin track disappointed he didn't win but with an increased confidence in his ability to drive because he was one of the fastest in and out of the corners.
"Your times through the corners and exit speeds make the race," de Wardt said.
Nowhere will that be more apparent than in his next races July 31 and Aug. 1 at Mont Tremblant in Quebec. The Canadian course has more of a Formula One feel with sharp turns, sharp elevation changes and blind corners.
"It's a lot more challenging," de Wardt said. "It's my favorite course."
De Wardt is sixth in the overall points standings in the regional series, despite not racing in the first two races of the season in late April. He said he is learning important lessons this season, but wouldn't mind figuring them out from a different position.
"There's still lessons to be learned, but you can learn them in first," he said.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org