For most racers, Saturday-night short track racing is a trial-and-trial error sport. Most racers lack big-time budgets and free time during the week to test new ideas. So knowledge generally come from two sources: advice from more experience racers and trying new things out for yourself on race night. If you are lucky, you can confirm whether or not a new setup works during the limited practice you get before qualifying. But then you just cannot be sure until you test that setup in the heat of the competition.
Like testing, many drivers learn how to drive a race car by simply going out and doing it. Driving a race car is a technique which only you the driver has to develop on their own. If you have a good night, take what you’ve learned from that event and try to duplicate it in the next week. But mistakes can be very costly. A mistake on the track can mean bent sheetmetal, broken parts, tempers flaring, hurt feelings, and spending late hours in the shop with possibilities of not making it to the track the next week. That’s why its much easier to to avoid bad driving habits before they begin. After all, learning from you mistakes on the track may sound like a good theory, but it’s not the best idea when those mistakes can cost you cold, hard cash.
In order to avoid mistakes on the track, pay close attention to what’s happening in front of you and behind you at all times. Do not take risky chances. Races are never won on the first lap. In order to earn respect from more experienced drivers, you show respect. Always drive other drivers the way you want to be driven. Remember, racing is an expensive sport.
You must always drive your line and your line only
The biggest thing I try not to do is following the guy in front of me. In other words, when you chase the car in front of you and do what he’s doing, you are going to make the same mistakes as he does. This may sound like a pretty simple thing not to do, but it’s easier fall into this habit than you might think. When you’re following a car you’re always looking a way to get around him, and it’s easy to start driving the same line as he is. In order for you to get around him, you must change your driving line to confuse him and get around him. So try a different line, change your apex, or do something to make him make the mistake, then take advantage of it.
Along those same lines, I think a lot of racers stick with old habits for too long, and tha’s because what got most of us to where we are as race car drivers is driving very, very hard. Most racers want to push their cars over the limit, and put too much motor than the car and tires can handle. People have the equipment in every series to run really hard for a few laps. But the next thing you know, the tires start to go away but the motor is still there, and suddenly everything changes with the way the car drives. In that situation you’re just overdriving the car. You must set the car up to last throughout the race and not overdrive the car at the beginning. You have to find out how the car likes to be driven with a full tank of fuel, partial load of fuel, and with the fuel cell nearly empty. How you do you need to adjust your driving style when the tires are worn versus when they are brand new? Being able to do this is the difference between winning a losing.
Don’t overdrive your car
It’s important not to develop a habit of overdriving the race car. Overdriving means when you’re pushing the car beyond it’s potential. General rule it’s not a good idea to be on the brakes and the gas at the same time. That rarely works out well.
When you’re on the brakes and gas at the same time, that overheats the brakes quickly. It’s also hard to get a car to rotate and turn if you are on the brakes. It’s always best to brake before entering the turns and let the car roll. That allows the suspension to set so the car can rotate. It may feel slower, but it will turn better, be easier to drive, and overal make you faster.
Never abuse your tires
One of the biggest problems I see with inexperienced drivers is they have a tendency to hammer the gas pedal coming out of the turns. This is what separates the men from the boys. With the power available from these engines, it’s easy to give the engine too much throttle and spin the tires. This is especially easy to do on short tracks, or flat tracks with tight turns. When you do that, you end up doing what we call “frying” the rear tires. This puts excessive heat into the tire, and also burns what we call the “goodie” off the tire. Your best laps are when the goodie is still on the tire.
Tires last awhile, but once you start spinning them, the maximum traction goes away pretty quickly. The tires are the first thing that takes abuse on a race car. If you can keep the momentum of the race car up through the corner and get into the throttle more smoothly, you will increase your speed. It takes a lot of touch to be able to give all the throttle the car can handle without spinning the tires, but once you’re able to do that, you are going to be faster for more laps.
It gets really tricky when your car starts getting loose. At this point you have less grip available and the car wants to spin out. When you are loose, it’s very difficult not to spin the tires. Come into the throttle a little bit sooner and use the power of the engine to control the wheel spin. The idea is to keep the engine from blasting the tires by being even smoother on the throttle than before.
Having a spotter
Having a good spotter that will work with you is very important, especially on restarts. When everybody is lined up in one or two rows, it can be difficult to see what’s going on three to five cars ahead of you. That’s when you need a good spotter to let you know if the lead car is taking the green flag clean or if he’s checking up at the last minute to stack up the field before he takes off. If your spotter is on his toes, he can tell you if the good lane is the outside or if you need to avoid trouble forming ahead of you.
Finally, I think one of the most important things to remember is that you have to race people the way you want to be raced. Show respect for other people and their equipment. If you don’t, then that kind of stuff is going to come right back on you later. It can be difficult to see what’s going on with three or five cars lined up in front of you. That’s when you need a good spotter to let know what’s going on in front of you and behind you. He’s also you extra set of eyes so you don’t have to multi-task and break concentration on what’s ahead of you. If your spotter is on his toes, he inform you of your surroundings and keep you out of trouble.