Get Into a Scale Race Car
A four-cylinder class offers...
A four-cylinder class offers experience in a full-bodied car and a goodstep up from scale racers. -photo by Jeff Huneycutt
There is a lot you can learn in a Kart, Quarter Midget, or Bandolero,but make no mistake, they are still a long way from a full-scale racecar. To help a young driver learn more about the way a race car with asuspension at all four corners feels at speed, you may want to considerthe next step up to a small-scale racer.
These cars come in many different variations, but the most popular areLegends, Dwarfs, Mini-Cups, Baby Grands, and Allison Legacy cars.Usually powered by either a Briggs & Stratton-style single- cylinderengine or a four-cylinder motorcycle powerplant, scale cars have atube-frame chassis and rollcage that's basically a simplified,scaled-down version of a fullsize car. Many feature a fully adjustablefront suspension along with additional chassis-tuning adjustments at therear.
The strength of scale cars is they are good tools for teaching youngdrivers how chassis adjustments affect a race car while still remainingsignificantly cheaper to race than a fullsize car. All the chassisadjustments you learn at this level will work, no matter if you areracing Late Model Stock or Nextel Cup, so the more testing andexperimentation you can do at this level the better.
Get Into a FullSize Race Car
Street Stocks are popular...
Street Stocks are popular for hobbyists, but they can be used for careerdevelopment. -photo by Jeff Huneycutt
If your goal is to race competitively at the highest levels, you willeventually want to move to fullsize race cars on
1/2-mile and larger racetracks. Just remember that you don't have tojump directly to some professional touring series, where the top teamscan have budgets exceeding $100,000 a year.
Instead, decide whether you want to race asphalt or dirt. Find a tracknear you to make your base of operations, and find a class of race carsthat fits your level of experience and budget. When it comes to fullsizerace cars, your options are nearly unlimited. At one end of the spectrumare the Street Stocks and Mini Stocks, classes where the rules aredesigned to keep the cars as stock as possible to minimize costs whilemaximizing competition. Race cars such as these are a great steppingstone because they not only teach you a lot about racing a fullsize car,they are also simple and inexpensive enough to allow you to experimentand make changes to the car to see what works and what doesn't. Becominga successful race car driver is more than just holding the throttle downlonger than the next guy. It's also critical to have a fundamentalknowledge of how a car's suspension works so that you can work with yourcrewchief on finding the right setup. An entry-level fullsize car is agreat way to learn those skills.
Look for opportunities to learn
A self-taught driver is limited by his own experience. If you want torace better and move to the next level, you will need to tap theknowledge of others. It can come from driving schools, coaches, or justtalking to someone who hustles a car around the track a bit faster thanyou do.
"I think almost everyone can benefit from going back to school," saysJoe Oddo, who operates Performance Race Training Center at IrwindaleSpeedway.
Oddo says the best time to take a driving course is early in yourcareer, when a driver is most willing to ask questions and learn.
"Probably the best time is just before the second season," he says. "Atthat point a driver has been in a car long enough that he knows how todrive and has some idea what he needs to work on to get faster." TheIrwindale school is a full-day program. For about $1,500, it includesclassroom instruction, individualized coaching, in-car video for review,and about 90 laps on the half-mile speedway.
"A lot of the drivers who take the school come back to it after anotherseason or two. The more they learn, the better they get, and the morethey realize the benefit of working with someone who can coach them."
Schools aren't the only way. Some drivers hire instructors to come to atrack and coach them for a night or two, or simply ask one of the pastchampions for advice.
Perhaps the greatest amount of knowledge can be gained by simply comingto a track early and well prepared. If you don't have to spend Saturdaynights in the pits working on the car, you'll have time to stand next tothe track and watch other drivers' lines, watch where to turn in, andwhere to pick up the throttle and brake.
--Jerry F. Boone
Learning to build a car can...
Learning to build a car can often be a key to success. Knowledge of howa chassis works is invaluable to a productive career.
If you are going to race, you should know how to build a car. You aregoing to be a driver. Drivers are pilots, right? They just gas, brake,and go. If you want to be successful in finding a ride, you need to knowthat the ride provider is not going to look only at your right foot.
Knowing more about building a car means being familiar with each andevery part. As a driver, you will be better able to communicate withyour crewchief and the crew in the shop. Communication in this teamsport is vital. The driver who has more knowledge and skills has abetter chance to land and keep a good ride. Knowing how to build a car,not necessarily building it, is a good first step.
There is no doubt that the engine is the most intensely developed partof NASCAR's top series race vehicles. It lies at the heart of a team'ssuccesses or failures. Because it is developed by dedicated specialists,this probably makes it the least important aspect the driver needs tounderstand, but that doesn't eliminate it from the list. Drivers need tohave a tuned ear and a working knowledge to the extent that they make areasonable diagnostic tool for the crewchief in the event of a problem.A driver also needs to separate what might be chassis/driver problemsfrom engine tuning problems to be able to evaluate what the car'sperformance shortfall might be, relative to the competition. Knowing howmuch work goes into an engine build and having to occasionally build anengine will go a long way toward having a more engine-sympatheticdriver. This is a positive asset when it comes to making equipmentlast--especially on NASCAR's road courses.
If the engine is the heart of a race car, then it could be said that thechassis is the arms, legs, and feet of the car. Even if the heart is bigand strong, all it can do is feed power to the chassis. The chassis mustbe able to take the power and use it properly. The more you can learnabout how to utilize the abilities of the chassis, the faster you willbe able to go. Chassis setup is all about grip. It is the grip the carhas on the track. The race car chassis is a study in physics. The studyand application of physical principles to every moving part in thechassis area will yield big results in performance.
The benefits of touring are...
The benefits of touring are tremendous, whether you run a regular seriesor choose to tour different tracks on your own. -photo by Kevin Thorne
No one becomes a concert pianist by learning to play only "Chopsticks."And no one becomes a Nextel Cup driver by being successful at only onetrack. Experience at a variety of tracks is among the keys to openingthe door to something like Jack Roush's winner-take-all "Gong Show."
"One of the things we look at is how many races they've won and if theyhave been involved in a touring series," says Roush Racing's LoriHalbeisen. "If a driver can win at a number of different tracks, we knowhe can adapt to different conditions. It means a lot more than if he hasall his wins at one track."
Ask a driver or crewchief in a Nextel Cup garage for their secret ofsuccess, and the most common word is "communication." It is a driver'sability to tell the crew what the car is doing and what it needs toperform better. That doesn't happen when the crew has an almost staticsetting at the same track week after week.
A touring series is simply more expensive than racing at the same trackweek after week. In addition to the cost of just hauling to the track,touring will require more hardware, such as springs and shocks.
Last November's Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway waswatched by a number of team owners and talent scouts, each looking for adriver who demonstrated the ability to master a track somewhere otherthan his backyard. One of them was a finalist in Roush's "Gong Show,"and at least one other is moving up into NASCAR's professional ranks in2006.