One of the things that makes racing so challenging is that there’s a constant conflict between being aggressive and being careful. Finding the appropriate balance depends on a lot of variables that are constantly changing. When should you push hard and when should you hold back? If you’re being held up by the car in front for what feels like too long, you may get impatient and do something unwise. The most common form of impatience is trying to steal the apex of the car in front. Let’s see what that looks like.
Another area where people get impatient is when a car spins in front of them. It looks like a great opportunity to gain a position, but spinning cars have a way of changing directions and crossing the track multiple times.
There’s almost always time to brake and come to a complete stop if necessary. But the urge to get past is strong, and driving around the trouble should be faster, right?
Cars reacting to spinning cars can be just as dangerous as the spinning car.
Jeet Kune Do is an eclectic and hybrid style fighting art heavily influenced by the philosophy of martial artist Bruce Lee, who founded the system in 1967, referred it as “non-classical”, suggesting that JKD is a form of Chinese Kung Fu, yet without form.
To ensure the block, trap, and strike motions are performed with circular motions, JKD practitioners are encouraged to imagine tracing the outline of a wheel in front of them. Practicing JKD while driving is possible but not recommended.
When you drive in a budget amateur racing series like ChumpCar, LeMons, WRL, etc., you are surrounded by cars and people that radiate bad judgement. Although the cars have to pass a rigorous safety inspection, the drivers do not, and few have actual racing licenses. When the car in front of you starts to spin, do you really expect them to make a graceful recovery?
Ouch. That accident was 100% avoidable. Slow down and make sure the incident is definitely over before proceeding. Sure, you may lose a few seconds, but the alternative could mean going home early. Are we blaming the victim here? Yes. When you’re in an avoidable car wreck, it’s not about who started it, it’s about the wreck. Racecars, even cheap ones, are too expensive not to protect. Oh, and then there’s your life too. Pitch that donut and get a proper neck brace. You don’t want your head separating from your neck in a sudden stop.
If you didn’t see this one coming from a long way off, try some simulation racing (see the How To page linked above). It’s an endless source of suspect driving that will train the mind without breaking the bank.
Oversteer probably accounts for more crashes than anything else in the world of amateur racing. Oversteer occurs in a corner when the front tires have more grip than the rear tires. It’s easy to make this happen. Applying your brakes or suddenly lifting off the throttle will shift the weight and traction forward, which can cause the rear tires to slide out. You can also induce oversteer by hammering on the throttle in a rear wheel drive car because a spinning tire has very little traction.
Most cars come from the factory with understeer. That is, the front wheels start sliding before the rears. The knee-jerk reaction to a skidding tire is to slow down, and this is exactly the recovery action for understeer because it transfers the weight forward, to the skidding tires. Recovery from oversteer is totally different. You can’t release the throttle or you will only transfer more weight to the front and oversteer more. You have to OPEN THE WHEEL and either maintain throttle or increase it.
In this video, the unfortunate driver has a car with natural oversteer. The car wants to turn in all by itself. You can hear the tires squeal a bit as the rear begins to step out. The driver then lifts off the throttle very gently, but it’s still too much. By the time the driver is doing his hand-over-hand parking lot maneuvers, it’s way too late.
Whether it’s traffic, debris, exuberance, or incompetence, sometimes you may end up with two wheels off the track. This is a dangerous situation if you don’t know how to handle it. The knee-jerk reaction is to turn the wheel more to stay on track. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do.
At 0:31, the driver could have solved this gracefully by straightening out the wheel in preparation going for 2 wheels off. This lowers the side-loading on the car. The outside tires have most of the grip, and once in the dirt, they have almost no grip. It’s impossible to make a 0.9 G turn when you have 0.2 G grip. By 0:32 the car is entering a spin. At this point, the driver could have locked up the brakes and the car would have spun in the original direction. But the driver tries to save it with a countersteer. By the time he realizes it’s not going to work and locks the brakes at 0:33, the car is headed towards the wall and the inevitable misery that follows.
One hand on the wheel? Check. One hand on the automatic shifter? Check. Shifting an automatic transmission? Check. Downshifting in the highest speed corner of the track, locking the rear wheels, and spinning? Check. At least you’re wearing your HANS device. Oh wait, you’re not even wearing a donut. How the hell did they let you on track?
You have to admire the controlled skid that was executed without the use of the brake pedal. It must have been the martial arts cross-block on the steering wheel. Thankfully, no crapcans were injured in the making of this clip.
One of the most common crashes in crapcan road racing is a chain reaction from oversteer to spin to twisted metal. There’s a saying “when in a spin, two feet in”. It’s a nice rhyme that helps you recall what you were supposed to have done after you crashed your car and took out other people in the process. Locking all 4 wheels makes your car travel in a predictable path. The “two feet in” is one foot on the brake, one foot on the clutch. Lots of older cars have a third pedal that operates the clutch. If you’re in an automatic, I guess you should stomp on the brake with both feet. The pedal is wide enough.
If you think all the fault lies with the driver of the blue MR2 (like the driver in the video), you’re wrong. You’ve gotta know that the idiot spinning in front of you is going to try to recover from the spin and ricochet across the track a few times. Here’s another rhyme you can use after a failed attempt at dodging the spinning car front of you: “don’t be a hero, slow down to zero”.