First-timers

This was originally YSAR post #99. Simply put, what advice would I give someone about to go wheel-to-wheel racing for the first time. The advice has nothing to do with lap times and everything to do with safety.

  1. I didn’t see = dangerous driver
  2. I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver
  3. Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact
  4. Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury
  5. Drive with people, not against them

Rule #1: I didn’t see = dangerous driver

You might think that driving the limit is your #1 job… It isn’t. Your highest priority on track is being safe, and that starts with seeing everything around you. First off, flags and flag stations. It’s not enough to know where they are and what the colors mean. You have to actively look for them. Judge Steve of Lemons has a phrase worth quoting: “corner, unwind, look for the next flag station”. If you miss a flag station, you may end up ruining the weekend for yourself and someone else.

If you ever find yourself in car-to-car contact and explain yourself by saying “I didn’t see” then you really have no business being on a race track. That’s your #1 job. It doesn’t matter if you have right of way. You should never be surprised by the presence of another car. If this happens, you need to work on your situational awareness in a safer environment (HPDE, simulation).

Rule #2: I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver

In some ways “I didn’t expect” is an even worse response than “I didn’t see” because it shows a lack of judgement. It’s like saying “I could have avoided the incident but I chose not to”. You have to expect other people to suck at racing and drive accordingly. You also have to know your own abilities and not drive beyond them. Everyone has lapses of judgement. Try not to let the excitement of the moment ruin the weekend.

Rule #3: Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact

The most common cause of car-to-car contact occurs when a driver tries to improve time or position by aggressively braking. With all of the grip going to slowing, there’s none left for turning. If this concept is unfamiliar to you, go buy any racing book and look at the friction circle. Locking your wheels pretty much guarantees you’ll be ending someone’s weekend. Let’s see a couple examples.

A less common type of late braking occurs when a driver hits their brakes mid-corner. This results in sudden oversteer. The situation is exacerbated in front-wheel drive cars and in downhill corners where the weight is already biased towards the front of the car.

Almost everyone knows the adage “in slow, out fast” but knowing doesn’t equate with doing. The key to going faster isn’t braking later, but getting on throttle sooner. That means moving the braking and turning earlier in the cornering process, not later. The only people who benefit from braking later are rank novices dealing with the initial fears of high G-forces. If you’re a rank novice, you don’t have any business racing yet. And if you’re not, late braking isn’t going to get you anything but trouble.

Rule #4: Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury

As soon as a car puts even part of a tire off track, it loses grip. In these situations, holding the steering wheel in the same place pretty much guarantees you will spin. It’s critical that all drivers understand how to leave the racing surface and how to return. In both cases, the wheels have to be running nearly parallel to the track. If you’re about to run off track, zero your steering and go off track intentionally and under control. Otherwise you may find yourself spinning uncontrollably.

Other people who go off track are some of the greatest dangers you will face. They often collect other cars in their attempt to regain control.

If you see another car kick up dirt, expect something bad to happen. Hopefully, trouble doesn’t come looking for you.

And when you’re ready to come back on track, make eye contact with a flag station to make sure it’s okay. When it’s safe to proceed, do so gently. Tires don’t turn so well on dirt/grass, and a common mistake is to steer too much. Racecars don’t like going off track, and often break something when they do. It’s easy to tell if your suspension is crooked, but torn brake lines or radiator hoses are not so obvious. Try to evaluate if something is wrong before going full speed.

Rule #5: Drive with people, not against them

Hey, this is amateur racing we’re talking about. If you have professional aspirations, what are you doing slumming on this blog? There are no cash prizes or racing contracts in your future. Take a fucking chill pill. Don’t endanger other drivers, protect them. Damage to cars and drivers is unacceptable. If you see someone spin in front of you, don’t try to rush past. Make sure that you and those behind you aren’t going to make a bad situation worse. Slow down, control your car, and position yourself to maximize safety. It’s a lot better having someone come over to your pit and say “thanks, you totally saved me” rather than “fuck you asshole”.

If you’re a fast driver in a fast car, your closing speeds with less capable cars can be really high. Less experienced drivers might not see you. Don’t assume they will. Make yourself as visible as possible and get around them with minimal fuss. Yes, it can be frustrating to follow a slow and oblivious novice for a couple corners. Please, don’t be a jerk who tries to teach them a lesson unless that lesson is how to drive with courtesy.