Bad driving tip #6: on track praying

When driving a racecar, there is no place for faith. If you look at your brake lines and see they are cracked, you don’t blissfully head on to track because you have faith in the almighty that everything will be okay. The consequences of such an oversight could be harmful if not fatal to you or someone else. Similarly, if you’re a safety marshall and you see that someone has their harness straps under their HANS device, you don’t say a silent prayer for them while sending them on their way, you stop them right there!

OTP (on track praying) is a term I made up for spinning when dropping 2 wheels off track. Why is this called OTP? Because it’s like cracked brake lines or messed up harnesses: obvious and avoidable. You know you’re approaching the edge of the track long before you actually leave the asphalt. That moment you realize you’re running out of room is just like observing cracked brake lines. It’s time to do something about it. That something is not hoping everything will be okay. Yet that’s what a lot of amateur racers do. They keep the steering wheel and throttle fixed and hope the racing gods will take care of them. I have for news for you. The racing gods are unkind.

In the video above, the text reads “Once that left rear goes in the dirt it’s all over…”. Yeah, if you’re cornering at something around 1.0G and your outside rear tire can only sustain 0.6G once it hits dirt, you’re going to spin. But you don’t have to corner at 1.0G. There is an alternative. You could corner at 0.6G and then you wouldn’t spin. How can change from 1.0G to 0.6G? OPEN THE WHEEL. Go off track on purpose and under control. Don’t hope that you will stay on track. Hope is forsaken in these lands. Be proactive and do something about the problem before it becomes a disaster for you and other people.

The problem with OTP is that it’s nearly impossible to practice live. You can’t go to an HPDE session and constantly drive off track. And you can’t (legally) slide off the road on your daily commute. So what can you do? The least expensive is to role-play. You can do this entirely in your head. Imagine you’re about to go off track. Right before your tires hit the dirt, picture yourself unwinding the wheel so that you go off track in a straight line. For a little more realism, pretend you’re holding a steering wheel while watching the video above. Open the wheel to prevent the spin. For an even more authentic experience, get a simulator.

How To: hope for the best

Ah yes, we’re talking about how to suck at racing. Well, one method that has proved very useful is to hope for the best (rather than plan for the worst). The most common situation is this: you’re running wide in a corner and there’s a chance you might go off track. What started it? Debris, traffic, missed brake point, etc. It doesn’t really matter. You’re getting close to the edge of the track and aren’t sure what to do. Keep your steering lock (or even increase it) and hope for the best. You just might make it.

Then again, you might not. As an alternative to hoping there’s enough traction to save your bacon, you can go off track intentionally, with the steering wheel straight and the vehicle under control. The video won’t be nearly as exciting though.


We interrupt this blog for an important announcement. YSAR is now available on Kindle! You Suck at Racing: a crash course for the novice driver. Unlike the blog, the book focuses more on what you’re supposed to do rather than what you’re not supposed to do.

We now return you to your previously scheduled programming already in progress…

Turn 9 at Willow Springs is a bit of an adventure. It’s a decreasing radius turn from a blistering fast sweeper onto the main straight. If you come in a little too hot and find yourself running wide at the exit, you have 2 choices (a) hold on to your line and say an on track prayer (OTP) that you make it or (b) open the wheel (OTW) and go off track intentionally. OTP is like procrastination. It’s a bad habit that reinforces its use when everything goes okay. “Thank god I made it” is no way to drive a racecar. Unless you want to end up like this.

It’s much better to open the wheel, zero the steering, and slow the car down under control. LTD.

The 7 deadly spins

Christianity brings us the seven deadly sins.

  1. Lust: Uncontrolled desire, often in a sexual or monetary context.
  2. Gluttony: Overconsumption and wastefulness, usually with food.
  3. Greed: Hoarding of material possessions. Opposite of generous.
  4. Sloth: Laziness, mostly in a spiritual context (e.g. not praying)
  5. Wrath: Hatred, anger, range, often against other people.
  6. Envy: A desire for what others have or sorrow for their successes.
  7. Pride: A belief that you are superior to others. This is considered the deadliest of the 7.

In the church of racing (which I just made up), there are seven deadly spins (the links below refer to previous YSAR posts).

  1. Lust: Your uncontrollable desire to go faster clouds your judgement about when to brake. By the time you realize you’re going too fast, you’re fail-braking out of control.
  2. Gluttony: You overuse the clutch. It’s not a brake, and using it as one makes you prone to down-shitting all over the track.
  3. Greed: Your oversteer recovery uses the whole track: left-right-left-right. Around here we call that a tank-slapper.
  4. Sloth: You’re lazy and rely on hope/faith instead of experience/skill. As you begin to run out of track, on-track-praying isn’t nearly as effective as opening the wheel.
  5. Wrath: Your anger in the slowness or incompetence of other drivers causes you to stomp on the throttle and spin out of control. Enjoy your instant karma-supra.
  6. Envy: When you see another driver spin, your immediate reaction is to take advantage of their misfortune by passing them as quickly as possible. Doing so, you walk straight into a dope-a-dope.
  7. Pride: You’re a little too enamored with yourself and your driving ability. You can’t help but show off. You love donuts, burnouts, and drifting. Hey everyone, look at me!

FYI, the team was banned for the season.


Imagine you’ve just had a brief loss of concentration and missed your reference point for the upcoming turn. Consequently, you’ve entered the corner a little too fast and you’re starting to run out of room at the exit. Which of the following actions describe your steering response?

  1. Turn the wheel more to ensure you will make the turn
  2. Keep the wheel as is and hope for the best
  3. Unwind the wheel and drop 2 wheels off track

Turning the wheel more increases the slip angle. If turned too far, this decreases traction on the front wheels and results in understeer. The result is that the car doesn’t turn at all and runs off track on the outside of the turn.

Keeping the wheel in the same place and hoping you don’t run off track is a form of on-track-praying. Faith has no place on a race track. If you’re about to run off track, it’s entirely up to you to fix it, and that doesn’t mean keeping the wheel in the same place and hoping everything will be alright.

As soon as you drop two wheels off track, your grip goes to shit. The tires that had the most grip were the outside tires, and instead of being on asphalt, they’re now on dirt or grass. Your 1.0g of traction just became something like 0.6g. The only way out of such a situation is to increase the radius of your turn. That means unwinding the wheel. If you suspect you’re about to drop wheels off track, do it intentionally and on your terms.

Maybe you were wrong about your speed and by holding your line you actually make the turn. Bravo, except that you’re reinforcing bad driving habits. “Phew, I made it” is an inferior learning experience to “I handled it like a pro”. The next time, you may not be so lucky. A sudden loss of traction is much harder to control than a planned loss of traction. Efforts to control unexpected oversteer often make matters worse as the vehicle crosses the track one or more times.