Racers are a unique group of people within any culture, and a group filled with contradictions. But racers are the ones knocking on the door of technology and sometimes breaking it down to innovate and utilize new processes and products that will net an upper hand with the competition. We tend to be very stubborn when change is thrust upon us, though. Nonetheless, if it is our idea, it is OK. The mantra among many of us is "technology is good if I have it and you don't."
Often, racers can make the racing process more difficult than necessary. When making decisions and solving problems, we can be tied to problem-solving models that are not the best for a given situation. The processes that surround how we make tuning decisions can be daunting.
As you can see, there is a...
As you can see, there is a lot to adjust on this Modified.
What follows are some suggestions that you may find helpful to streamline your decision-making process or individual problem-solving model. None of these suggestions are revelations from a higher authority. They are just common-sense tools that anyone can use to improve their problem-solving skills.
1. Abandon problems that have been solved.
We tend to get wrapped around the axle or wander down small rabbit trails and work on problems that are really not problems. This tends to waste one of our most valuable resources-time. Concentrate on the real issues, and don't waste time working on problems that are not real problems. Focus on the problems that are making your racing life more difficult. Time spent fixing something inconsequential may be better spent working on the larger and more significant problems.
While the group is working...
While the group is working on the car together, being a team is critical.
2. Use your brain, not your billfold.
Often, we are convinced that the only way out of a problem is to spend money. While it may seem like an easy fix, just throwing money at a problem is not the answer. No matter how many examples I can recall, money was never the solution to any problem. While spending money may seem like a valid problem-solving method, it is probably the least clever option we can select. Stand back, look at the options-there are always options-and think about what you are doing and what you are trying to accomplish. In other words, use your brain. Racers are clever but sometimes expend resources unnecessarily.
Spend money as a last resort and remember that we have tools for a reason, so use them. It is very easy to blame a lack of success on the lack of money. But look at the Cup teams out there that are spending millions of dollars and not winning or even coming close.
An open engine at the track...
An open engine at the track is never a good sign.
Being successful in racing is not just about the dollars. Look at the winning ways of the teams that are regular winners. They have a process and come to the track prepared from a mechanical perspective. You can do what they do. If you spent your last day at the races working on the brakes or doing maintenance, then more money is not the solution. Quit sniveling and start solving!
3. Look for the simplest solution, not perfection.
Simple is good. A wise man once told me "if you go to the kitchen hungry and you can't find a steak, get a sandwich; it will do just fine." This applies to race cars as well. We tend to look for the most complex solution, when simplicity will work just fine. Keep reminding yourself that we are working on a machine, not curing cancer. There are multiple solutions for a given problem, and the simple answer may be the best. An issue with the car may not require a new part or a major change. It may only require a different driving style or a subtle change. Do not try to out-think yourself. Look for a simple solution. The most elegant solution is often the simple one.
Post-race, the tech inspectors...
Post-race, the tech inspectors will see if you have been working on the right systems on the car.
4. Fix errors as soon as possible.
If you make a mistake, fix it right away. Don't wait until later or after the next heat race. Errors have a way of growing, and a small mistake can turn into a bigger failure if left alone. The important thing to remember is that mistakes are not a bad thing. A mistake once in a while is a good thing, provided you learn from the mistake and do not repeat it. This links back to keeping good notes, learning more about the car, and developing a database of knowledge. It is all about learning, and there is no better teacher than our own mistakes.
5. Problems are opportunities.
Days at the track with no problems are an uncommon occurrence-or are they? We look at days where everything just fell into place and think about how lucky we were that day. We have a tendency to view problems and failures with disdain. While that is understandable, it is not a profitable perspective. We can view problems as opportunities to learn more about the racing process. Problems are more than unfortunate occurrences, and we need to look at them as opportunities to make the process better. We tend to formalize our thinking and the way we do things. We may fix the broken part, but the overall process stays the same and we have not analyzed the cause of the failure. We need to understand the problem so we can make the necessary changes to ensure it will not happen again. The decision to essentially do nothing will get us back to the same place repeatedly.
The guys who sell parts at...
The guys who sell parts at the track provide a valuable service and should be viewed as an asset to your racing program.
We will be doomed to repeat our mistakes if we do not make changes. We are not suggesting change for the sake of change, but without change we will find ourselves in an endless do-over loop.
6. Think of ways to make the impossible possible.
Not long ago, I took my son to his first World of Outlaws Sprint Car show at Manzanita Speedway. The fast qualifying time was in the mid 15-second range. Manzanita is a half-mile dirt track without a lot of banking. It was not that long ago when 19 seconds was a fast lap. If you told the racer who just set the fast time at 19 seconds that 15-second laps were possible, he would have thought you were crazy.
What do you consider impossible? Racing shocks for under $100? Brand-new engines that make 500 hp for under $15,000? Synthetic motor oil that has a VI rating of under 5W? Does this all sound impossible? Five years ago, these things were not something the average racer could obtain. Now they are available to the Saturday night competitor.
Take the time to reflect and...
Take the time to reflect and think about what you are doing as you adjust the car.
How would you feel about a full season with no DNFs, or a season with Top 5 finishes in every race? Would it be possible to have a race where your team wins over 90 percent of the events? In order to make the seemingly impossible happen, you have to define the impossible first.
7. No excuses needed.
Don't focus on why you can't do something. Instead, focus on how you can make it happen. It is far easier and requires less brain power to complain and make excuses about why things are not going your way than to work to improve the situation. In the not too distant past, I was at the track listening to some racers talk about why another racer (whom I will call "Racer X") was winning so often. One of the racers commented that Racer X had to be cheating. The other racer was confident of this fact because he was cheating and Racer X would just drive by him into and out of the corners. Subsequent post-race technical inspections revealed Racer X was completely legal. The point is that we sometimes find it easier to complain than to look at our own racing program and see where we are deficient.
Use your powers of observation...
Use your powers of observation to help you make decisions. Learn to read the track; it will tell you volumes about the needs your car will have in upcoming races.
8. Ask why five times.
If you have had the opportunity to spend much time around young children in the range of 4 to 6 years old, you may have noticed that they tend to be inquisitive to the point of being annoying. But one good thing is that they seem to ask why over and over again. If we utilize the same tenacity and the same level of inquisitiveness when we are faced with a problem, it is surprisingly effective at forcing ourselves to think about the issue from a simplistic level.
9. Seek ideas from many people.
There is power in numbers. In this case, there is a greater level of knowledge in a group of racers than in a lone racer. When we are trying to solve specific problems, there is no shame in consulting with other racers. Ask questions and then actually listen to the answer, even if you do not agree. All racers seem to enjoy helping out a fellow racer and are free with their information (for the most part). There is an exception to this truism. As soon as you start beating other racers with regularity, they will not be so free with their information. That is the burden of victory.
Improvements are a good thing....
Improvements are a good thing. Ask the right questions and use data to make decisions.
10. There is no need to improve what is working.
Some racers like to tinker and try to improve. This can be a good thing, but sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. We have enough to work on in our endeavor to keep the car on the track. I am not suggesting we do not try to improve the car, but we need to prioritize our actions. Fix the car and make it ready for the next race. If you have time to experiment, then great. But we need to make sure the car is ready to race, and our desire to improve may place our racing at risk. Examine the process and define what is working and what is not working. Work on the areas and components that are not working first. After you have fixed the broken parts, you can work on improvements.
11. If it is not broken, leave it alone.
Most Saturday night racers don't have time to accomplish random acts of mechanical exploration. If the car is ready to race and you have a notion to tear down a component to play with it, resist the temptation. Instead, try to develop a plan for improvement. Ask questions, employ critical thinking, and gather data about the component or components you want to improve. Process improvement activities are part of what makes a racer and separates the winners from the field fillers.
These suggestions are just a starting point. The key is to employ critical thinking, ask questions, keep good notes, and develop some discipline around your tuning processes. Look to the winning teams and see what they are doing differently. If you look closely, you will find that winners are not any different from the rest of us. They have just applied different structure around tuning, record keeping, and maintenance. Keep your pencil sharp, and we will see you on the podium.