Don't settle for mediocrity...
Don't settle for mediocrity when you can enjoy success by making necessary changes to step your program up to the next level. Photo by Kevin Thorne
We have all seen the team that unloads at a track and is considered one of the favorites to win. This is the same team that has the swagger and confidence that comes with success.
But no matter the accomplishments from past years, I believe that every racer wants to win more races and finish up front on a more consistent basis-in other words be more successful.
There is an old saying, "If you don't make changes, don't expect anything to change." This is one of my favorite sayings and I believe every race team should have this hanging up inside the shop. If you are going to the racetrack and are consistently struggling to make the field, then something needs to change before you can enjoy success. But it shocks me the number of teams that merely accept mediocrity and choose not to put the time and effort into improving their program.
You can jumpstart this year by following a few steps that will help ensure success for your race team in 2008. Behind these steps are a few different rules that must already be applied in order to succeed. One is that you must be racing as much as you possibly can. If you go a month between races, it will take longer to find success than it will take someone who is racing every weekend and learning where he can improve his program. Even if you have to rent the track for a test day, that is better than not driving at all.
Don't assume that the top...
Don't assume that the top teams you race against are running up front just because they are in a better financial situation. Photo by Kevin Thorne
Second, you don't have to have unlimited funds. This sounds like a contradictory statement, but a lot of race teams that see success in a rival race team are quick to jump to a conclusion that money is the only reason that team is winning. Let me assure you that money can only get you so far. The team that is constantly finishing up front at each race is doing so because its entire program is firing on all cylinders.
Finally, your driver seat has to be filled with a decent driver. There are drivers who are not so much drivers as steering-wheel holders just along for the ride. Drivers like this, once they hit the track, are not controlling the car, the car is controlling them. You need a driver your team believes in and will do anything to help. So whether you are driving the car or hiring a driver, make sure the driver can get every possible 10th out of the car.
These five steps are in no particular order, and each one is as important as the one listed before or after it. I can guarantee you that if your team applies these steps and genuinely follows them, your program-no matter how great it already is-will improve.
Preparation is the key to...
Preparation is the key to avoiding short race weekends. You must be able to put in the time and effort to ensure you don't have a run of mechanical failures at the track. Jeff Huneycutt
Preparation is key to having any type of success, and if one step can rank above the others it's this one. The right preparation can ensure that everything about the car is near perfect when you arrive at the track. If you skip the preparation, you run a huge risk of not only experiencing failure while at the track, but you also put yourself into harm's way.
For instance, arriving at the track with work to do on the racecar is just plain ridiculous. Sometimes it can't be avoided, but it must be if at all possible. You will have so much vying for your attention while at the track, that having any extra work to do will pull your attention away from where it needs to be. Proper preparation can be broken up into three sections: prep work on the car, on the toolbox taken to the track, and on the trailer.
The preparation to the car is obviously the most important of the three. If you don't already have a check sheet, create a one that is reviewed thoroughly every time the car arrives back at the shop after a race and before the next race. The prep work that is completed on the car after it has finished a race is as standard as just checking the weld points on the chassis to make sure that nothing is bent or broken. It can also extend to checking for exhaust leaks, cracked heads, and so on.
As a racer you want to associate...
As a racer you want to associate yourself with people who have had proven success within the series or division you are racing. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Double-check your setup every week, just to make sure that nothing has changed from an accident.
Develop a checklist for tightening every nut and bolt on the car, so that you can ensure not only your setup but also your safety. I watched a situation unfold last year where a loose bolt on a carburetor cost a racer an entire car when his throttle hung wide open and the car slammed the outside wall the first lap of practice.
The toolbox also should be checked before each race to make sure you have the proper equipment for the race weekend. It is annoying when you have someone repeatedly come into your pit stall to borrow tools. Don't become this person.
The trailer will also need to be gone through to ensure that you have every part you might use on the car. Our team goes through the trailer before every race to make sure we have every spring we believe we might use and each gear as well. If you make preparation a priority, you can avoid a lot of the annoying issues that can plague you at the racetrack.
The communication etween...
The communication etween a driver and his crew chief is vital to your success. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
There is something to be said for helping a new company or person in the class or series you are racing. But the individuals who have had success in whatever racing you are doing are the people you want to be associated with. This extends to more than just your crew chief or the team you choose to hang around with while at the track. For example, let's say you are trying to find someone to rebuild your shocks, and you have the choice between a few different companies that specialize in this. Take a couple weeks (if possible) and walk over and talk to the winning team and ask, "Who builds your shocks?" If it is done in house, trust me, they will be more than glad to tell you they build them. However, most teams turn to a shock specialist and are more than glad to give the company or person more business. The same principle will apply when researching engine builders or chassis manufacturers.
By associating yourself with individuals who have had success, you are setting yourself up for success. I experienced this with my own team when I first started racing in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. I had a crew chief who at the time was a decent guy and had some Late Model success on his resume. However, he had never worked on the Pro Cup cars and at our first race it became increasingly evident that he was struggling with the transition. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but we had to sever our ties with that crew chief and search for someone who had already experienced success in these types of cars. We ended up finding exactly what we were looking for in Mardy Lindley, a former driver and a multiple winner in the series. We went from barely making the field at our first race to qualifying Top 5 in our second start.
Make no mistake, it is going...
Make no mistake, it is going to take a little luck and some good driving to have success. But you want to make sure that you are giving yourself the best opportunity to win races when you unload at a track. Photo by Kevin Thorne
This can extend to your crew as well. You need to have a crew that, first of all, loves to race, but also has an incredible work ethic. They are hard to find, but if you can find that crewmember who is dedicated and loves to work on racecars, he or she is the person you want and need to keep on your team. But you also need a crewmember with experience in the series you are racing in, one who has worked on the type of cars you are racing. This is a particular advantage if a situation arises and you only have a certain amount of time to fix a problem. The crewmember with experience will know what he is working on and fix it quickly.
Sponsorship dollars are no doubt great, but if you are racing in a division where you can afford to race every weekend, sponsorship dollars become less important. Sponsorship or not, you can save a lot of money by doing as much as you can in your shop instead of hiring someone else to do the work for you.
I am a firm believer that...
I am a firm believer that a driver is only as good as the crew that is at the track with him. Make sure this year that your crew has experience working on your type of vehicle. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
That said, there are some things that should be left to the experts. There is just too much expertise out there that should be applied to your racecar. For instance, transmissions have always been a struggle for me. Because of that, I take mine to a specialist. However, it is easy for me to do some body repairs to my car that don't require a professional. Even if there's a pesky dent in the side of the car that just won't come out, it isn't that big of a deal ultimately because of the money I can save by doing the work in-house.
By choosing to do as much as you can in-house, you free up more finances that can be invested back into your team. This is a great way to learn more skills as well. Maybe after some time you will be able to rebuild a transmission and not have to pay someone to do it.
A prime example of this is replacing the ratchet springs in quick-change rearends. It is not a difficult task for someone who has done it before. All it requires is a special tool and a steady hand. But to someone who hasn't done it before, taking it to a specialist will cost $150-$200 in labor, not to mention the price of the springs. To learn how to do this yourself, you might have to spend some time in a specialist's shop, but it will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Scott Bloomquist is a proven...
Scott Bloomquist is a proven winner. I don't know of anyone more dedicated to making sure everything is perfect on his car. Jeff Huneycutt
Some readers might be saying, "Wait a second, John, you said to race as much as you can, so how can I expect success if I am not racing?" This is indeed true, because you need to be racing every weekend to have a better chance at reaching the level of success you desire. But there might come a time this year when you're involved in an accident or where other priorities keep you from putting the necessary time into your racecar. You may be pressed for time and have to make the decision whether or not to try to make the race.
This past year we were pressed for time on the night before one of our races at Shenandoah Speedway in Virginia. We had crashed hard the race before and had multiple repairs to make. We spent several late nights in the shop, and we still hadn't stopped working on the car at 3 a.m. the day of the race. We ended up finishing around 4 a.m., loaded the car in the trailer (still with wet paint) and headed for the track. We were all tired and, to make things worse, on the way to the speedway we blew the engine in our tow vehicle and had to have someone come and finish towing us to the track. We arrived late, missed all of practice, and qualified with a damaged driveshaft that had to be changed prior to the race, meaning we had to start at the rear of the field.
We somehow managed to get a good run going, but an oil line broke in the middle of the race because it was secured in a bad position, causing us to spin into another car and dropping us from the field. This was something that-with adequate prep time-we would have found in our routine maintenance check of all nuts, bolts, and lines, and the oil line would have been secured in a better location. We might, or might not, have found the driveshaft issue. The engine was going to blow in the tow vehicle no matter what, but my point is, we should have made the call not to race. We just were not well prepared. It was a miracle that we didn't run the motor completely out of oil and blow it sky high, which would have sidelined us for quite some time.
Again, the problem with working that way is that you are putting yourself in harm's way. You are choosing to go without sleep so you can go racing. It was not a smart decision on our part, and it affected the decisions we made.
Apply the five steps listed...
Apply the five steps listed here and no matter how great your program is, I guarantee you will step it up to the next level. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
You might have to make a call this year where you say, "We just don't have the time to be able to get the car where we need it to be." By foregoing a race in that circumstance, you will be able to get the car prepared for the following week, and you will have everything dead-on for the next race. You want to unload the car at the track with the best opportunity to not only make the race but also have a great chance at winning.
If, however, you can see the end in sight and can make it to the race with all of your work finished on the car and not lose a ton of sleep, then I suggest doing all you can to finish the car. But ultimately a decision has to be made whether or not you are going to try to make the race, and whether it's safe to do so. But not having the car adequately prepared is asking for trouble, and choosing to miss a race is tons better than arriving at a track without the maintenance work finished on your car and then having a vibration or failure that causes you to crash.
One of the most dangerous things that can happen to your race team is to win the opening week of the year. Once you win, you feel like you have found the hidden setup at that track. When the setup works in cold weather and for the first few weeks of the year you feel like Superman, but once the summer months hit, you are more than likely in for a wild ride.
You need a driver your team...
You need a driver your team believes in and will do anything for. So whether you are driving the car or are hiring a driver, make sure that the driver can get every possible 10th out of the car. Photo by Kevin Thorne
This is especially true if you run at your local short track on a consistent basis. If you keep bringing the same setup from week to week, eventually you will notice that you are not running up front as much. You must be able to adapt and change the setup throughout the year. You also need to talk to people at the track and find out what type of setup combinations they are trying. Anything you can learn and test for yourself could step up your race team's consistency.
The biggest thing to remember is to keep a notebook throughout the year and constantly write down everything you try and everything you hear about other people trying. This also goes back to testing. When you have the opportunity, go testing and change as many things as you can and see how the changes affect your car. This is how you become more consistent every time you unload your car at the track.
Just remember that everything has to be there for you to run up front every night. Anyone can run at the front once and then head back to their normal 12-17th-place finish. But it takes a great team to travel from track to track and consistently run in the Top 3.
These, of course, are five steps that can be proved simply by applying them. Ultimately, it does take a little luck to have success in racing. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't been in racing very long. Any avid race fan can remember how many Daytona 500s Dale Earnhardt should have won. If it weren't for a blown tire, a flip down the backstretch, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time numerous times, he more than likely would have won on more than one occasion.
This year, apply these five steps and with or without a little luck you can still expect to have your progam step up to the next level in ways you never imagined.