Sitting here trying to formulate a gameplan for my two hours of track time at BHF this Sunday, and how I can maximize it without pushing too far, too fast.
I love a good question like this one. Kudo's to you for asking it!
Screw pushing anything. Work on being smooth, and make your lines flawless.
I agree with working on being smooth and having flawless lines, but disagree with not pushing. The hard reality is that you will not get faster without pushing hard to get past your current comfort zone.
You can't be too cautious or it will never happen. You can't be too reckless or you will just crash your brains out and never learn anything. But between these two extreme is a "happy medium" where real progress is made and where real risks are mitigated.
With time, comes speed.
With time comes proficiency, increased comfort and confidence. But, the trick is to never settle. Time can be your enemy if you fall into riding at one pace and never make the significant effort to improve past that pace. The longer you stay in that comfort zone, the harder it is to move from it.
I see many riders reach a certain level and never move past that level for various reason. Some riders are happy with that, but it sounds like you are not that type of rider.
I also see other riders reach a certain level and keep pushing past that level to reach the next level and then keep pushing past that level to reach the next level, etc. These are the ones with scuffed up bikes and leathers.
Here's the REAL question and the answer to your question. Are you willing to overcome your fear and crash the bike?
I don't know anyone that gets significantly faster without throwing it down the road every now and then. It is the reality of the game and can not be avoided. It is impossible to find the edge without risking stepping over it.
Am I saying you should go out there and push it until you intentionally crash. ABSOLUTELY NOT! Am I saying that the road to improvement includes a high degree of probability that you will at some point crash? ABSOLUTELY.
Make a conscious decision to pursue this with your eyes wide open and knowing the risks. Make sure you have on good gear. Make sure you are on good tires. I'll be looking for you at Blackhawk this weekend.