(059) DRIVER IMPROVEMENTS (9 of 13) Intelligent Racing, Minimal Spending: The Definitive Introduction To Racing Concepts


Welcome to the ninth part of this racing concepts series. Remember: the most dangerous words in the English language are “I already know that.”

OK. Let’s get down to business.

Knowledge of the racing world is the difference between good drivers and drivers who are consistently winning.

It really is that simple.

Drivers who purposefully seek out an intricate education in theory, technique, vehicle dynamics, and tuning will always be faster.

Do some people naturally have more talent? I’m inclined to think so.

But whoever puts in the most work will usually come out on top.

Understanding the value of racing knowledge is imperative.

It will produce better results, it will save you time, it will save you effort, it will save you money, and it will generate consistency.

It’s also important to understand that you should improve the driver before throwing tons of money at the car.

Expensive parts may make you a bit faster, but you’ll simply be a slightly faster unintelligent driver–switch cars or remove the parts and you’re back where you started.

An educated driver who possesses a thorough knowledge of why he’s doing the things he’s doing can not only perform at his maximum potential, but he can do so in any car.

This is the driver that can recognize small mistakes, make a positive change through knowledge, and successfully implement the change.

To make positive changes to himself and his lap times, the driver must understand the intricacies of racing.

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics in previous posts, let’s get into some driver basics.


Seating Position

The driver’s seat position plays a large role in his ability to feel the car and use the controls effectively.

You should be close enough to the steering wheel so you can reach out and easily lay your wrists over of the top.

Your thighs should be resting on the lower seat and not hovering above it.

At the same time, you should be able to place your left foot flat on the dead pedal while not using the clutch or left-foot braking (we’ll get to that in a later post).

This creates extra stability as your body reacts to G-forces, as well as giving you another contact point to feel the car.

Regardless of the type of seat you have, I also recommended using your seat belts inertia reel to your advantage.

Scoot the seat back a couple notches too far and lock the shoulder belt by pulling it quickly. As you keep tension on the belt, move the seat forward again.

If done correctly the belt should be very tight across your chest and lap, providing maximum stability and contact to the car.

The lower your seat is, the better. Obviously you do not want to impair your vision.

Always be aware of how the vehicle feels. As you become accustomed to the vehicle, you’ll be able to tell if something isn’t feeling quite right.

Right front tire feeling spongy or losing grip? You may have a tire going down. Car isn’t slowing enough between the braking point and the turn in? The brakes might be overheating and causing brake fade.

The ability to diagnose an issue before it becomes a catastrophe is an excellent skill to develop.

Example: I once had an amazing sway bar setup that worked wonders for the car. 

But one the lock nuts that held the bar to the link had an annoying tendency to work its way loose.

I could both feel and hear that this had happened.

Rather than waste a run with a non-function anti roll bar (or worse – break the whole setup), I was able to tighten the locknut and return to racing.

Smoothness Is Everything

I see it all the time.

Drivers in mid corner making large or frequent inputs through acceleration, braking, or steering.

Any time the driver makes unnecessary adjustments to the vehicle while driving at the limit, he is producing unnecessary weight transfer.

As you learned in the previous post about weight transfer, excessive weight transfer keeps the vehicle from producing maximum traction, therefore reducing its potential speed.

I frequently see drivers make several steering corrections during a corner (also called ratcheting).

Even small inputs to the steering cause unneeded weight transfer and are a serious killer of speed. Remember: corner exit speed is a priority.

In the case of cornering, a fast driver will pick a single smooth arc that allows the car to hit the apex at the most advantageous spot, and easily drift out, under power, toward the opposite side of the following straight.

You also learned that the application and release of brakes should be done smoothly as well.

And, of course, the same is true of the throttle.


Look Ahead, Hit Your Marks

One of the greatest techniques a racer can employ is looking ahead.

This will allow you to plan, in advance, where you want the car to go, as well as when you should begin an input to make it happen.

While approaching a corner, you should be looking at the reference point where you’ll begin applying the brakes.

When you reach that, you should start looking for your turn-in reference point.

While you approach that point, you should be looking around the corner for the exact apex you want to hit.

As you approach the apex, you should be looking for the corner exit point.

As you become faster and are more proficient at driving at the cars maximum ability, you can slowly modify your reference points to reflect changes in speed.

You’ll also have to modify your reference points with changes to the environment, rubbered track, such as a wet or busy track.

Looking ahead is a fantastic method for consistently hitting your marks.

It also allows you to envision the desired cornering arc, which can be made without any ratcheting whatsoever. Smooth driving, provided you’re driving at the limit, is always faster.


Always Be Willing To Experiment

When I was first starting to race autocross I found that I was able to log very consistent times. Unfortunately, none of them were competitive.

After an embarrassing length of time had passed, I finally realized that I wasn’t trying anything new; I was simply repeating what I was doing, hoping for better results. This is literally insane, as defined by Einstein.

But once I realized this, I began to explore new techniques, varying lines on the track, and I experienced a sharp spike in my driving intelligence.

As I became more competitive, I realized that knowledge is real the catalyst of speed.

A competent driver is able to recognize where improvement might be made.

Then, based on his knowledge of the racing world, he can make a rational change to his technique or the car.

If it pays off, excellent! If not, repeat the process. You should always be willing to take positive and logical risks for improvement.


You Don’t Have To Learn Everything Yourself

I highly recommend paying close attention to what faster drivers are doing. Are they late apexing certain parts of the track? What tires are
they on? Are they choosing to stay in a particular gear that you haven’t tried?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek advice from the fast guys-they’ve already figured out what you want to know.

If you can, save yourself the hassle and learn from their experience. You may be able to invest the time and effort you saved into learning something they haven’t.


Excitement, Excitement, Excitement

If you love racing, you’ll probably be overly excited in the moment.

And you’ll never be more excited than when your car is next in line to attack the course.

Before the first run of the day it’s not uncommon to be excited, nervous, sweaty, and all kinds of other distracting things.

While this is completely normal, you may wish to take active steps to negate this. It’s a shame to waste your first run because you’re excited.

It may be difficult, but take a few minutes to relax, listen to some music, and think about something other than racing. A short break from the fray can slow your heart rate and focus your mind so you can perform when you roll up to the line.

Personally, I like the following routine:

  1. Get amped up on a few really hard hitting songs. (Some of my favorites are Rock My Car by Scorpions, Tail On The Wag by Kix, Baptism By fire by AC/DC, Same Old Situation by Motley Crue, something like that.)
  2. Right before your first run listen to one ridiculously relaxing song. (Thinking About You or One Flight Down or Rosie’s Lullaby by Norah Jones, We’ll Meet Again by She & Him, Lullaby + Exile by M.Ward.)

I  also choose to arrive at racing events extra early so I can set up the car and then take a breather. Nothing is as stressful as being late and having to hurry.



In the moment, it’s quite easy to hope that braking later will help you wake up time. I can assure you, however, that it will make you slower. 

Common effects of braking too late include the following:

  • Wheel lock up. Obviously, this should be avoided.Tires that are locked and skidding generate almost zero grip either laterally or longitudinally.This means that until the brakes are released and the tires are rolling again you will have almost no control.Depending on which wheel (or wheels) locks up, there’s a high probability that you’ll induce understeer or oversteer.In addition, a great tire can be ruined in a moment by the wear caused by the skid (often called flatspotting).
  • Pushing wide. Another common result of late braking is missing the turn-in point or the apex. Since we already talked about corner exit speed, you know how this will be detrimental to your lap times.If your speed is too high but you turn in anyway, you won’t be anywhere near the apex.In fact, you may be so far away that you end up off the outside of the track.If you do manage to keep the car on the pavement, you’ll have certainly blown the corner and the following straight.

Improvements to line choice and corner exit speed provide the highest potential gains in lap time reduction. Braking should be worked on later.

Braking in a straight line should always be performed at the maximum, with as much pressure as possible without locking up any wheels.

This on-the-edge braking concept is often referred to as threshold braking.

If you begin mixing braking forces and cornering forces, it gets a little more tricky, but we will discuss that later in another post.


NEXT WEEK: The Left Foot Braking Advantage

The next part in this series is only a week away. Go back and read through this again. Make sure you truly understand what you just saw, because the series progressively builds as it continues.

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