The Tao of Racing

Hi again, guys.

As Brogan posted something about overtaking at the best F1Technical forum in the world, I would like to retribute his kind "crossed pollinization" with one of my favorite posts. I hope some of you can find some comfort in its wise words, after a complicated season.

It's my version of "The Tao of Programming", by Geoffrey James, who atributes its origin to Anupam Trivedi, Sajitha Tampi, and Meghshyam Jagannath (I swear I'm not making this up).

I adapted it from system engineering to racing ("adapted" is an euphemism for "rip off"... ;)). This is the first half, sorry for its length, perhaps someone will find it interesting. If it is so, I could continue with Books 5 to 8.

The Tao of Racing

Book 1 - The Silent Void

Thus spake the master engineer:

"When you have learned to tune the pilot to the car, it will be time for you to leave."


Something mysterious is formed, born in the silent void. Waiting alone and unmoving, it is at once still and yet in constant motion. It is the source of all races. I do not know its name, so I will call it the Tao of Racing.

If the Tao is great, then the engine is great. If the engine is great, then the vehicle is great. If the vehicle is great, then the race is great. The fan is pleased and there exists harmony in the world.

The Tao of Racing flows far away and returns on the wind of morning.


The Tao gave birth to the road. The road gave birth to the engine.

The engine gave birth to the race car. Now there are ten thousand races.

Each car has its purpose, however humble. Each car expresses the Yin and Yang of racing. Each car has its place within the Tao.

But do not use solid axles if you can avoid it.


In the beginning was the Tao. Space and Time were the first things created from Tao. Therefore Space and Time are the Yin and Yang of racing.

Engineers that do not comprehend the Tao are always running out of time and space for their races. Engineers that comprehend the Tao always have enough time and space to accomplish their goals.

How could it be otherwise?


The wise engineer is told about Tao and follows it. The average engineer is told about Tao and searches for it. The foolish engineer is told about Tao and laughs at it.

If it were not for laughter, there would be no Tao.

The highest sounds are hardest to hear.
Going forward is a way to retreat.
Great talent shows itself late in life.
Even a perfect car still breaks.

Book 2 - The Ancient Masters

Thus spake the master engineer:

"After three days without racing, life becomes meaningless."


The racers of old were mysterious and profound. We cannot fathom their thoughts, so all we do is describe their appearance.

Aware, like a fox crossing the water. Alert, like a general on the battlefield. Kind, like a hostess greeting her guests. Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood. Opaque, like black pools in darkened caves.

Who can tell the secrets of their hearts and minds?

The answer exists only in Tao.


Grand Master Fangio once dreamed that he was a race car. When he awoke he exclaimed:
``I don't know whether I am Fangio dreaming that I am a race car, or a race car dreaming that I am Fangio!''


A engineer from a very large car company went to a car show and then returned to report to his manager, saying: "What sort of engineers work for racing companies? They behaved badly and were unconcerned with appearances. Their hair was curly and unkempt and their clothes were wrinkled and old. They crashed our hospitality suite and they made rude noises during my presentation."

The manager said: "I should have never sent you to the conference. Those engineers live beyond the physical world. They consider life absurd, an accidental coincidence. They come and go without knowing limitations. Without a care, they live only for their race cars. Why should they bother with social conventions?"

"They are alive within the Tao."


A novice asked the Master: ``Here is an engineer that never draw, documents or tests his designs. Yet all who know him consider him one of the best engineers in the world. Why is this?''

The Master replies: "That engineer has mastered the Tao. He has gone beyond the need for design; he does not become angry when the car doesn't work, but accepts the universe without concern. He has gone beyond the need for documentation; he no longer cares if anyone else understands his designs. He has gone beyond the need for testing; each of his race cars is perfect within itself, serene and elegant, its purpose self-evident. Truly, he has entered the mystery of Tao."

Book 3 - Design

Thus spake the master engineer:

"When the car is being tested, it is too late to make design changes."


There once was a man who went to a racing trade show. Each day as he entered, the man told the guard at the door:

"I am a great thief, renowned for my feats of shoplifting. Be forewarned, for this trade show shall not escape unplundered."

This speech disturbed the guard greatly, because there were millions of dollars of racing equipment inside, so he watched the man carefully. But the man merely wandered from booth to booth, humming quietly to himself.

When the man left, the guard took him aside and searched his clothes, but nothing was to be found.

On the next day of the trade show, the man returned and chided the guard saying:

"I escaped with a vast booty yesterday, but today will be even better." So the guard watched him ever more closely, but to no avail.

On the final day of the trade show, the guard could restrain his curiosity no longer. "Sir Thief," he said, "I am so perplexed, I cannot live in peace. Please enlighten me. What is it that you are stealing?"

The man smiled. "I am stealing ideas", he said.


There once was a master engineer who built his own cars in his own shop. A novice engineer, seeking to imitate him, also began to build his own cars. When the novice asked the master to evaluate his progress, the master criticized him for building his own cars, saying, "What is appropriate for the master is not appropriate for the novice. You must understand the Tao before transcending structure."


There was once an racing engineer who was attached to the court of the warlord of Wu. The warlord asked the engineer: ``Which is easier to design: an street car or a race car?''

"A race car", replied the engineer.

The warlord uttered an exclamation of disbelief. "Surely a street car design is trivial next to the complexity of a racing car", he said.

"Not so", said the engineer, "when designing an street car, the engineer operates as a mediator between people having different ideas: how it must operate, how its looks have to be, and how it must conform to the car laws. By contrast, a racing car is not limited by outside appearances. When designing a racing car, the engineer seeks the simplest harmony between machine and ideas. This is why a racing car is easier to design."

The warlord of Wu nodded and smiled. "That is all good and well, but which is easier to test?"

The engineer made no reply.


A manager went to the master engineer and showed him the requirements document for a new vehicle. The manager asked the master: "How long will it take to design this car if I assign five engineers to it?"

"It will take one year", said the master promptly.

"But we need this model immediately or even sooner! How long will it take if I assign ten engineers to it?"

The master engineer frowned. "In that case, it will take two years."

"And what if I assign a hundred engineers and all the management resources to it?"

The master engineer shrugged. "Then the design will never be completed", he said.

Book Four - Construction

Thus spake the master engineer:

``A well-built car is its own heaven; a poorly-built car is its own hell.''


A car should be light and agile, its parts connected like a string of pearls. The spirit and intent of the design should be retained throughout. There should be neither too little or too much, neither needless pieces nor useless devices, neither lack of structure nor overwhelming rigidity.

A car should follow the `Law of Least Astonishment'. What is this law? It is simply that the car should always respond to the user in the way that astonishes him least.

A car, no matter how complex, should act as a single unit. The design should be directed by the logic within rather than by outward appearances.

If the car fails in these requirements, it will be in a state of disorder and confusion. The only way to correct this is to redo the design.


A novice asked the master: ``I’m building a car that sometime runs well and sometimes runs poorly. I have followed the rules of building and testing, yet I am totally baffled. What is the reason for this?''

The master replied: ``You are confused because you do not understand Tao. Only a fool expects rational behavior from his fellow humans. Why do you expect it from a machine that humans have constructed? Computer aided design simulates determinism; only Tao is perfect.

``The rules of design and construction are transitory; only Tao is eternal. Therefore you must contemplate Tao before you receive enlightenment.''

``But how will I know when I have received enlightenment?'' asked the novice.

``Your car will then run correctly,'' replied the master.


A master was explaining the nature of Tao of to one of his novices. ``The Tao is embodied in all cars designed - regardless of how insignificant,'' said the master.

``Is the Tao in a Volkswagen?'' asked the novice.

``It is,'' came the reply.

``Is the Tao in a Trabant?'' continued the novice.

``It is even in a Trabant,'' said the master.

``And is the Tao in the GM Chevrolet Corvair of the 60’s?''

The master coughed and shifted his position slightly. ``The lesson is over for today,'' he said.


Prince Wang's chief designer was building a car. His fingers caressed the carbon fiber. The car was built without an assembly error, and the car ran like a gentle wind.

``Excellent!'' the Prince exclaimed, ``Your technique is faultless!''

``Technique?'' said the designer turning from his workbench, ``What I follow is Tao - beyond all techniques! When I first began to car design I would see before me the whole problem in one mass. After three years I no longer saw this mass. Instead, I broke the car into pieces to be reused in different models. But now I see nothing. My whole being exists in a formless void. My senses are idle. My spirit, free to work without plan, follows its own instinct. In short, my car designs itself. True, sometimes there are difficult problems. I see them coming, I slow down, I watch silently. Then I change a single piece or gear and the difficulties vanish like puffs of idle smoke. I then built the whole car. I sit still and let the joy of the work fill my being. I close my eyes for a moment and then I leave the shop.''

Prince Wang said, ``Would that all of my designers were as wise!''
Welcome back Ciro, haven't seen you for a while.

Nicely done, I feel all enlightened and spiritual now :D

Look forward to the next instalment.
I find these wise words... er... wise. <sits crossed-legged> I shall meditate on that which you have shared and await further enlightenment from your kind offer of stories from 'The Tao of Racing'. :)
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